Friday, April 29, 2011

What's New at the Farm? Sun finally comes out in time for a few photos

I’ve been waiting for the sun to come out so I can get some pictures of the Farm for this weeks’ column. Seems like today we have at least some sun so here goes:

This is a shot of the farm looking north west from the other side of our irrigation pond.

Here’s another shot looking east from the top of the hill:

 Nearest the camera is winter rye planted mid October last year, then the overwintering Quick Hoops™ trial followed be fields 13 & 14 and finally our compost area.

Here’s some chard that overwintered under our Quick Hoops™ low tunnels:

Looks pretty good for the last of April doesn’t it?

And finally a couple of shots of cover crops planted last fall and bursting with regrowth now:
Winter Rye
And the last one for this week – field 9 where we had pumpkins last year. The plastic has be pulled and it will be plowed next week.

Ready to be worked

Until next week, enjoy the spring.

I’m off to check for fiddlies!


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Photos from Four Season Farm

Adam, Johnny's Tools Manager, and John, our staff photographer, recently visited Four Season Farm in Harborside, Maine. The farm, run by Eliot Coleman and Barbara Damrosch, is in full spring planting mode as you can see in the photo slideshow below.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Earth Day: A Good Time to Share Green Gardening Tips

A while back, we asked Johnny's customers for their ideas on how to conserve resources with sustainable agriculture methods. Below are a few of their stories and tips:

Drip irrigation gets to the root of the problem at Mass. farm

One of the major projects this past winter was the creation of a drip tape layer. It works by digging a furrow roughly 4 inches deep (can be changed by adjusting the mid mount hydraulics). The tape is laid into the trench and at the same time organic pelletized chicken manure is added  to the soil. Cultivator sweeps then roughly fill in the trench. Finally the bed shaper creates a nice even smooth bed and marks a double row. Thanks to the ease of drip installation, roughly 90% of our crops are now on drip irrigation. This means we can water more effeciently placing the water directly on the root system, helps to eliminate soil errosion, prevents runoff of fertilizers, starves weeds in the pathways of water saving us from having to cultivate and best of all lowers the risk of fungus and foliage disease meaning we have to spray less. The ability to  mix in the organic manure into the soil makes the nutrients more readily available, and also helps to runoff of fertilzer. The best part of this addition to our tractor is that all the steps for getting a row ready for plating installation of irrigation, fertilizing, bed shaping and double row spacing are completed with a single pass of a tractor, allowing us to be more efficient with our time, resources and money!
Happy Farming
Your friends at Small Farm
Stow, MA

Recycle whatever is available

I use a lot of things. Since we moved to Ohio from Texas and haven’t sold our house in Houston, money it tight. I use plastic milk jugs with lid and a small hole in the bottom to water my vegetables. I also get leaves, grass clipping, and any green matter to make compost. I also add horse manure. I rotate my crops. I also cover my potatoes with straw instead of hilling. My husband is working out of state and I just can’t do it all. I also use organic sprays on all my plants. I also use my chicken and turkey egg shells to grind up and use as additive to my soil.

Soil enhancements, naturally

I have a rather large garden.  I do not use chemical herbicides, insecticides, or fertilizers -- and organic ones only sparingly. In my opinion, the fundamental key to success is healthy soil. Healthy soil yields healthy plants which are more tolerant of fickle weather conditions and normal insect infestations. I've surrounded the garden with bird houses and gourds for the birds which definitely keep down the bug population. I include flowers with the vegetables to attract beneficial insects. And, I've turned hard, nutrient deficient soil, into a rich medium for the plants. Admittedly, it takes a little time, but within a few years the change is dramatic. Each year, I rake my rows into raised beds. Each has a soaker hose in it. In some cases, I use black plastic (tomatoes), compost (beans etc), and hay (potatoes). In between the rows, I sow White Dutch Clover. I cut it with the perimeter grass that goes into the compost.  There is no exposed soil during the growing season. After the cool weather crops (broccoli, cauliflower, peas, and cabbage) are harvested, I sow buckwheat in their rows. At season's end, after the large plants are removed, everything is tilled under adding biomass to the soil. To prevent erosion over the winter months, Winter Rye is sown, and in no time the the entire area is again covered with plant life. Come Spring, the Winter Rye is turned under adding more biomass to the soil, and the cycle repeats itself. 
Montrose, PA

Square foot gardening make difference in Minnesota

We live in the country in central Minnesota. We have horses and hens. We are vegetarians and compost all our food waste all year 'round, except what we feed to our hens (it all comes back to us as chicken manure and eggs). We compost egg shells and horse manure, too.
I did some experimenting in the garden this year so-so results last year. I did "square foot gardening" instead of row planting in dirt. We made 4' x 4'
boxes and filled them with a half-foot of a mixture of 1/3 compost, 1/3 vermiculite, and 1/3 peat moss. It's worked surprisingly well. It's very easy to weed - the mixture is always crumbly and everything is within easy reach. It takes so much less space, too.
When I realized I had more plants than raised beds (I started too many seeds indoors - they look so cute and little when they are sprouting, I got carried away), I rummaged through the garage and found a half dozen large flower pots. I planted tomatoes and peppers in the "mix" (again, no dirt).
These, too, are doing wonderfully and are easy to weed and water, plus I can move them to safety if a tornado is coming.
I keep water in 5-gallon pails that my horse supplements come in, and pour water from coffee cans.
To complete my garden area, I cut up large cardboard boxes, laid them on the ground and put mulch over it. (I always ask the power line guys to dump a load of wood chips when they are trimming in our area, and they are more than happy to oblige.) No weeding!
Finally, I still had too many tomato plants, so I said what the heck, and planted them directly in our huge compost pile. I now have a veritable tomato jungle. (Warning: don't do this with fresh cow manure; we have horse and chicken manure.)
Some things are not worth our growing, such as sweet corn. We buy that from a neighbor who does a much better job than we could do and we eat corn every day in August. Other vegetables we don't grow (for lack of room or effort), such as eggplant, I buy at our local farmer's market.
A final tip: plant your garden close to the house. Our garden is just outside the dining room window. I can see right away what needs watering or weeding, and the wild critters don't bother my vegetables the way they would if they were a ways away. The raised beds and pots are nice looking. Who needs more lawn?
In summary: plant in containers; get free mulch from the power line company; make friends with a horse owner so you, too, can have a large compost pile; put items to new uses instead of throwing them away; and keep things close by.
I love watching my little darlings grow up from the seeds I bought from Johnny's.
Monticello MN

Compost with hens; conserve with grey water system

We "go green" by doing the following:
a) Composting all kitchen scraps, plant waste (clippings etc.) and animal manures. We have a 3 tiered system that utilizes our 14 hens as composting divas. They have a wooden composter in their pen and spend part of their day mixing up our compost, eating bugs and providing additional nitrigen fertilizer as they go. From here, the compost is rotated out into two additional composters for hot composting and finishing and placed on our garden beds.
b) We use a combination of horse manure and thick layers of straw mulch (rice straw or wheat straw) in garden beds. This helps to conserve water and keep soil temperatures within a reasonable range;
c) We don't have a formal grey water system but do save the initial water in our shower when we first turn on the faucet (the water that runs cold before the water from the heater can get to your shower). This water is used to water our veggie and flower starts and any plants within reasonable distance of our front/back door area.
d) Also, we use a small electic fountain pump and tubing to pump our bathwather outside and water trees and ornamentals. 
e) We ordered and installed 90% shade fabric over our patio cover and our side yard to help shade the house and yard. Although we have many trees, this fabric really makes a difference in the hot afternoon sun.

Help from horses

I grow an organic vegetable garden, starting with compost we make from our horse manure. When it is finished, it looks like dark earth, it's filled with earthworms and has no odor. We also use this compost to refertilize the horse paddocks, my flower garden beds,  and the lawn, and to hill up the potato plants. I mulch the vegetables with a layer of recycled newspaper (a tip from my sister)  or the torn open  brown paper bag from my horse bedding, and cover that with lawn clippings and/ or uneaten  hay that has dried and bleached in the sun.  Only organic pesticides are used. I have used a soaker hose in the past, but with this mulch layer, I haven't  had to this year. I only water as needed since we have a well.

Goats assist desert grower

Living in the Southwest has been both a challenge and a blessing as far as gardening goes. Luckily, I've had some help from a few of my 'girls'. I milk dairy goats for our family milk supply and goat manure is one of the only manures that can be put directly onto a garden without burning it. I've used it to build up my soil for years. What makes this even more 'green' is the fact that we own a landscape business, and instead of going into the landfill, we sort our tree, shrub, and grass clippings and feed everything non-poisonous to the girls. After the girls strip off all the foliage and the bark, we cut the branches into lengths for firewood. We also feed the plentiful mesquite pods, which are sweet and high in protein to the goats. 
Another way to be green down here in the desert is to find out what grows well and researching has led me to many great resources. Not a whole lot actually produces here in August, but there are a few things that flourish, like yard long beans, okra, and armenian cucumbers. Tomato and pepper plants can be perennial if you cut them back in September they will produce a second crop in the fall. Protect them from the frosts of winter and the spring crop will be even bigger. Microclimate is important, as well as understanding how to manipulate the growing seasons that are divided by heat in the summer, and frosts in the winter. I've learned the most from researching Native American Indian methods of companion planting, planting in waffle grids - in the depressions (not on top of the rows), and water-saving varieties.   

More to come.

We'll try to publish more of these customer tips on a monthly basis. If you have your own ideas you'd enjoy sharing, please leave a comment, or send us an email. And feel free to share your photos or videos by joining Johnny's Flickr photo sharing network or Johnny's Facebook page.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

French Breakfast Radish Touted in Washington Post

Fast-growing radishes are one of the first vegetables you can plant and harvest in the spring. There was an interesting story about French breakfast radishes in yesterday's Washington Post.

Read article "The French Breakfast radish makes a handy snack" by Washington Post gardening writer Barbara Damrosch.

The article mentions D'Avignon, long French radish we carry.


D'Avignon is a good one to plant now in the north while temperatures are still relatively cool. This radish has a nice, fresh, sweet taste with a little zing of spice. It matures quickly. Under the right conditions,  D'Avignon will be ready to eat in about 3 weeks.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

What’s New at the Farm? Chomping at the bit to plant

We’re all anxious to get out into the field and get our fieldwork started but so far the weather isn’t cooperating. Today, as I write this, it’s 35.4 degrees and raining. I’m thinking about firing up my boiler tonight for the first time in a couple of weeks – I thought spring was finally here!

The calendar says spring so I’m figuring it will come all at once, which it often does and we’d better be ready. The fertilizer has been ordered and should be here tomorrow. The field planning is primarily done but is subject to change as the season progresses. Several farm crew members have come over from the other departments they work in the off season as well.

Did I mention last week that I enjoy raking? OK, I’ve had enough raking now, but at least it’s all done before the blackflies come out! Now there’s something to look forward to -- blackflies! I remember some years back we were interviewing a young lady from “out-of-state” for a position here on the farm and I mentioned blackflies “ hordes of tiny, blood sucking flying insects that can block out the sun”.  I think I remember this didn’t dissuade her from the job. There is some speculation they won’t be as bad this year, they actually haven’t been bad in the past few years. And they don’t bother in the evening so when I get home from work they’ve all gone away.

It seems the height of blackfly season is also when the fiddleheads are out in good numbers. Fiddleheads are a northern favorite for many people and we are no exception. We’ve still got some in the fridge (pickled) left from last year we haven’t consumed yet. Two years ago I purchased a mosquito net that covers my upper body and found it ideal for use while fiddling. I never liked those things – it makes one look so silly, but no blackflies can penetrate it so whilst everyone else is spending their time swatting I’m picking fiddlies undisturbed from those hordes of bloodsucking flies.

More signs of spring are showing up daily now. Peepers late last week, a bat yesterday and coltsfoot in bloom nearly everywhere there’s a patch of poor soil:

Coltsfoot is a funny little spring flower that appears this time of year. As it flowers and sets seed early in the spring it almost seems it blossoms from nothing but a stem. The leaves appear later in the season and is generally a non-descript plant of little notice.


As in the picture above it is usually found in clump of many individual plants and can spread although not a lot. It thrives in poor soil as this photo shows it growing in a gravel pit.  Coltsfoot is a perennial so once you have it you have it. Bees like it for its an early season bloomer giving them something to eat once they come out of their winter slumber. Coltsfoot is a sure harbinger of spring!

And now on to the farm:

This is a view of the hoophouse as of yesterday.

Spinach overwintered nicely

The spinach is ready to harvest and many of the greens have gone by. All these crops were planted late last fall and overwintered just fine. As soon as the weather straightens out the spinach will bolt and we’ll grind it up and plant something else there.

Until next week, Brian

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Photos: Spinach under low tunnels

Here's an after-and-before look at our Quick Hoops™ low tunnels trials. We took the covers off the low tunnels this week. The spinach survived the winter and is thriving as spring begins here in Maine. Using season extension methods such as Quick Hoops™ low tunnels can help yield an earlier harvest in the spring and later one in the fall.

More about Quick Hoops™ low tunnels.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

What's New at the Farm? Spring is in the air, but working the soil must wait

Spring is here finally and we’re ready. The birds are coming back in droves, the grass is getting greener with each day and the fields are drying out nicely.
In the past week I’ve spotted swallows, killdeer and one lone Great Blue Heron. On my way to Johnny’s each morning I can check on the progress of two pairs of Ospreys building their nests. There’s one goose at the pond; I assume he’s calling for a mate. The starlings are busy building nests around the home place and as the ice is out of the pond, the ducks are getting ready to nest.
The fields are firming up nicely and I can walk across most of them without sinking in too much.  It’s tempting to drive a tractor out in the field and get started in field prep. But it’s too early and getting out there too early can be detrimental to soils in many ways. How you say? Glad you asked.

Working soil that is too wet causes the soil to lose its structure. The soil will pack soil particles tightly, leaving less room for water and  air to penetrate. This compression forms tight clumps of soil that become “rocks” upon drying and are difficult to remedy at this point. This is called compacted soil. We all try to avoid compacting the soil as it makes it very difficult to grow crops there once the soil has become compacted. Roots find it hard to penetrate as do gardening tools and equipment. Water absorption is greatly reduced so this spot will easily become a wet hole in subsequent seasons making for an even later tilling date than usual.

To remedy this situation tilling large amounts of compost in and planting cover corps will help break up the compacted layers of soil. A crop with a long taproot would be best – Sweet clover comes to mind right off quick. Of course the best plan of action is to avoid tilling until the ground is dry enough to work anyways. Yes, I know it’ difficult to wait, especially after such a long winter, but it will pay off in the long run.

If you need something to keep you outdoors and busy until it’s time to get in the garden, there’s always lots of spring chores to be done. It’s a good time to dig out those garden tools you put away last fall and check for wear and tear. Time to check and replace the lawn mower blades and belts, check your garden hoes and replace heads and handles as needed. And sharpen them; nothing works better than a sharp hoe. There’s always plenty of raking; that’s one of my favorite spring chores. There’s almost nothing better than spending the day with my old steel lawn rake, raking up dead grass and leaves and getting the grounds ready for the upcoming season.

The flower beds all need a good raking and adding some compost would be good before the plants start coming up too much. Installing tomato cages over the taller plants like delphiniums and Hollyhocks will be much easier now (on them and on me) than once they start to fall over. I’ll add more compost to the planters and window boxes and get some fresh paint on them as soon as the weather cooperates.

Last year I learned that I better get all these chores done in April because come May, between Johnny’s, all the chickens and ducklings and bass fishing, I don’t have much extra time to do the before mentioned tasks. There seems to be little time between the winter blahs and seed planting time, but at least it’s at the beginning of the season. We can all look forward to sunny, warm days and green grass and flowers and soon the long, cold and snowy winter will be but a distant memory.

Until next week, enjoy the season,

Friday, April 8, 2011

April Product Spotlight: Flowers and Herbs to Attract Beneficial Insects

Herbs and Flowers to Attract Bees and Other Beneficial Insects

Many insects are important allies in the field and garden. Bees and other pollinating insects increase yields in many fruiting crops. Beneficial insects keep pest species under control. Although pollinators and beneficials are present naturally, it doesn’t hurt to attract them to the places where their services are most helpful. Flowers that provide nectar and pollen can be grown on field edges, in strips, and scattered among vegetable crops. Here are some of the best varieties to use in insectary plantings:

Anise Hyssop is a great bee attractor. Additionally, its very aromatic leaves and flowers can be used fresh or dried in salads and teas. It has a sweet licorice-mint flavor

Red Shades

Panorama Mix and Panorama Red Shades are perennial Bee Balms that attract butterflies and hummingbirds as well as bees.
Panorama mix contains a variety of eye-catching colors, and the semi-double blooms are edible as well as having medicinal properties.
Panorama Red Shades is a showy garden performer and excellent flower producer with low susceptibility to powdery mildew.
Our new Miss Butterfly (Butterfly Bush) is an attractive ornamental shrub in the landscape. It is a tender perennial (in Zones 6-10), and produces long spikes of tiny violet flowers with orange eyes that are attractive to hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees. Easy to grow from seed, it is heat and drought tolerant.
Johnny’s Beneficial Insect Attractant Mix contains a combination of perennial and annual varieties to attract a diverse group of beneficial insects. Mix includes: Yarrow, Ammi, Golden Tuft, Dill, Cilantro, Cosmos, Buckwheat, Lemon Balm, Hairy Vetch, Sweet Alyssum, Mizuna, Lacy Phacelia, Basil, and several Clovers.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

What's New at the Farm? Planning for 2011 Growing Season Like a 50-acre Jigsaw Puzzle

What a difference a week makes! Since last week when I was writing this article we've had a major snowstorm, rain, and windy and sunny days. The snow that piled up so high last Friday is all but gone now. OK by me. The farm looks much like it did last week at this time except we have perhaps less snow; the view out my window is exactly what I saw last week.

The greens in the poly tunnel are growing nicely now. They should be ready for harvesting at any time and we need to think about planting spring greens soon. We overwintered some onions in an unheated poly tunnel and will plant some onion plants this week in there as well, so we'll have plenty of fresh onions long before the field onions are ready. I like fresh onions, in fact I like all onions, and will be sure to grow them in my garden this year.

Planning where all the crops are going continues this week. I placed the big crops last week and will get the smaller ones placed this week. We have lots of crops this year. I am looking forward to a busy and rewarding season. Field planning is a lot like a big jigsaw puzzle; every crop has its needs like proximity to water, labor requirements, isolation distances and fertility needs. Some crops have a much larger acreage requirement than others; tomatoes need about six acres (261,360 square feet) whereas the Okra trial takes up more like 500 square feet. 99% of our crops are planted on "beds". Beds are six feet wide and vary in length according to the crop needs and the field sizes.

On each bed there are one, two or three rows depending on the crop and the goal of each crop. Some beds are covered with plastic mulch and some are simply "bare ground". Beds get one, two or three rows depending, yes again, on the crops' needs. Squash and pumpkins, melons, cucumbers and tomatoes go one row per bed on plastic, Peppers get two rows per bed on plastic, lettuce gets three rows per bed on bare ground. Most small seeded crops like lettuce, greens, salad mixes and onions go three row per bed. Our small cultivating tractor can cultivate three rows easily and the crops will "canopy" over as they grow and will shade out the weeds.

Once I get the general plan done then, of course, there has to be a contingency plan in case we have a wet spring and can't get on to certain fields in our given timeframe so we have to plan a secondary location if needed.  Planning the fields needs to take all the different planting schemes into account along with the timeframe for working all of these fields – and how many are there? This year we will farm 27 individual fields in 6 different locations and covering 53 acres. We have to think about crop rotations, what crop performs best where, where the deer pressure will be the greatest, insect and weed issues of the fields, distance and availability of irrigation water and nuances garnered throughout the years. And then we'll put all this together and call it our field plan for 2011.

In the field plan we'll have all the crops listed and the bedfeet and acreage required. We'll have some extra ground prepared in case we have extra plants we want to plant. Nothing quite like running out of prepared ground before we run out of plants!  We'll have our fertilizer plans – what we're going to use and the rate and date applied. We'll add notes for plant spacing in the rows as needed, and we'll put part and lot numbers as assigned to the crops. And once we get this all done, we'll blow it up and post it where everyone can see it so, hopefully, there won't be any question about where something is planted.

If this sounds like a lot of planning it is, but it's a necessary part of the whole plan. I can look back over the years to see what did well where and what didn't do so well where. We can look at crop inputs, disease, weed, and insect pressure, isolation issues, and weather problems that have helped to complete a banner growing year or contribute to a poor season.  Some things I have just in my head, like to slope of the fields and the thirty year history of many of these fields; stuff that probably wouldn't be of much interest to anyone else but me.

This makes planning my garden look pretty easy.
Until next week, enjoy the last throes of winter,

April Vegetable Product Spotlight: Beets, Parsnips, Broccoli


Most beet seeds actually contain multiple embryos which could result in several plants growing in the same spot, leading to a lot of thinning. Unlike most beets, Moneta is a monogerm, containing only one embryo. This allows for precision sowing and reduces thinning. Sow seed every other week until 8 weeks before autumn frosts to have a continuous supply of greens and tender small beets.
46 days to maturity.


Blue Wind and Bay Meadows are the very best broccolis for early spring planting. Blue Wind is a Johnny’s exclusive, and is a day earlier, much more attractive, and a little easier to harvest than Packman. 49 days to maturity.
Bay Meadows is a widely adapted variety that performs extremely well under stressful conditions. It has attractive, well-domed, blue-green heads. 60 days to maturity.


Parsnips have a sweet, earthy flavor that is increasingly popular with chefs and seasonal cooks. Albion is a new, attractive, whiter Javelin-type with long tapered roots. 120 days to maturity.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Product Spotlight: Agribon+ Row Covers

Tools and Supplies

Protect your crops further from harmful insects by using Agribon+ AG-15 Row Covers. These lightweight-grade row covers are rain-permeable with 90% light transmission. Protect temperature-sensitive crops from cold or late frost with Agribon+ AG-19 Row Covers. These frost protection grade row covers are also rain-permeable with 85% light transmission. Either cover may be “floated” directly over sturdy or sprawling crops, or suspended on Hoop Loops, Coiled #9 Wire, or Quick Hoops™ for crops with sensitive growing points.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

JSS Advantage -- April 2011

Increase Yields With Grafted Tomatoes

tomato graftingJohnny's has everything you need to graft tomato plants successfully, including rootstock seeds, grafting clips, extensive information and a video.

Grafting is not difficult. It involves growing two sets of plants: the variety you want for its fruit, called the scion variety, and a special rootstock variety with extra vigor and/or disease resistance. When the seedlings are a few inches tall, the stems are cut and joined with a silicone clip. The stems grow together, creating a plant that has the strong root system of the rootstock and the desirable fruits of the scion variety. Read "Grafting Tomatoes for Increased Vigor and Disease Resistance for more information.
The vast majority of commercial greenhouse tomatoes are grown on grafted plants, which reduces the risk of soilborne diseases carrying over from one crop to the next. Many growers are now using grafted plants for their field-grown tomatoes as well, due to the grafted tomatoes' higher yields.
At Johnny's research farm, one of our Product Technicians compared the yields of a number of varieties, both grafted and ungrafted. The benefits of grafting were very clear; overall, the grafted tomatoes produced 40% more than ungrafted plants. To read about the results of this trial, download Grafted Tomato Yield Data spreadsheet. The five varieties we recommend for grafting are:
This year, Johnny's will also have a limited offering of tomato seedlings for growers in the Northeast, including the greenhouse variety Geronimo grafted onto Maxifort rootstock.Shop for Johnny's exclusive tomato plants.

For a Longer Harvest Window, Try Succession Planting



Whether growing vegetables for market or your own table, succession planting is an important part of planning. You want to avoid a feast-or-famine situation where the entire crop comes in at once and then is done. It's much better to have a steady supply ready for harvest over the longest possible period. Plus, you reduce the risk of crop failure by having multiple successions in the queue. Succession planting can be accomplished two ways:

The easiest method is to plant multiple varieties with different days to maturity. If you start them all at the same time, they will naturally stagger themselves over a longer period. Johnny's broccoli varieties, for example, range from 49 to 68 days to maturity. Plant Blue Wind, Bay Meadows, and Diplomat at the same time and harvest for three weeks.
The second approach is to make successive plantings of the same crop. The timing between plantings should be approximately the same as the expected "picking window" during which the crop is fully productive.
One of our experienced staff members, who is also a longtime market gardener, offers these succession planting guidelines based on his experience in Maine:
  • Green beans - every 10 days (more frequently if machine picking)
  • Beets every - 14 days
  • Cucumbers - every 3 weeks
  • Kale/Collards - every 3 weeks
  • Lettuce, - full size every 10-14 days
  • Lettuce, - salad mix every 7-10 days and harvest re-growth *
  • Melons - every 3 weeks and multiple varieties
  • Radish - every 7 days
  • Spinach every 7 days and harvest re-growth *
  • Summer Squash - every 6 weeks (or more frequently if vine borers are prevalent)
  • Sweet Corn - every 10 days and multiple varieties
  • Carrots - often planted early May for summer and again early July for fall harvest
  • Cabbage / Cauliflower / Broccoli are often transplanted early May for summer and trans-planted again early July for fall harvest.
  • * seed will not germinate reliably above 80F soil temperature, limiting mid-summer plantings
In other crops like onions, parsnips, and potatoes, different varieties have different maturities, but the crop is harvested once and sold from storage.
Growers with long frost-free seasons may want to plant two or more successions of tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers to maintain a high level of production in case disease pressure is high.

Herbs and flowers

herbs, flowersSome of the most popular herbs and cut flowers also should be planted several times during the season. Basil, for example, might be planted every two weeks if you have a strong market for it and are cutting it heavily. Likewise for cilantro and dill, if your summer weather is cool enough to allow prolonged production. (Both will bolt quickly in really hot weather.) If you keep your first planting well watered after harvest, you can usually get subsequent harvests several weeks later. So if you have made two or three succession plantings, you can alternate between new growth and secondary growth.
Succession planting is essential for cut flower growers, because even long-blooming flowers start to look tired after you've been picking them for several weeks. Zinnias are the perfect example -- they will bloom for months, but most commercial growers seed them every three weeks anyway because the plants eventually produce smaller and smaller flowers and often get foliar diseases. The grass 'Frosted Explosion' is another example; the first seedheads are abundant and beautiful, but they start to look tired after a few weeks in the heat.
In cooler areas, annuals such as Agrostemma, Ammi majus, and Bupleurum can be succession planted to prolong the season. That won't work as well in really hot summers because the plants won't get enough stem length before they bloom.
Single-stem hybrid sunflowers need to be succession planted because each seed produces only one flower. Because they are fairly cold-tolerant, they can be planted early and late, especially in a hoophouse, if you use the daylength neutral varieties such as ProCut, Sunrich, and Sunbright Supreme. Most commercial growers sow sunflowers every week, putting in about 50% more than what they expect to sell each week. The ProCut series is especially uniform, so it's easy to predict how many flowers will be blooming at any given week in the future.

Tracking successions

interactive toolsA good way to keep track of succession plantings is with a spreadsheet program such as Excel or Numbers. Download an example of Johnny's succession planting spreadsheet. This calculator allows you to input the date of your first planting of each crop. Then it calculates the dates for later plantings, based on the succession recommendations above. It also allows you to input your first frost date, counting back the appropriate number of days to determine the last date to plant and still get a crop before frost.
The formulas are embedded in the spreadsheet, but you may want to change them to reflect conditions on your own farm. For example, days to maturity may vary quite a bit for you, depending on variety, time of year, and the weather. By keeping good records of planting and harvest over many years, you get better data about days to maturity and are better able to predict your harvest. You also need to determine, based on your own experience, whether you can plant as late as the final planting date in the calculator. With those caveats in mind, download the spreadsheet here.

Pests and diseases: Cabbage Worms

Cabbage Worm Photo by Jack Kelly Clark

I’m sure we all have our favorite cool-weather spring/fall crops. For those of you who love your brassicas, such as cabbage, cauliflower, kale, and Brussels sprouts, the Imported Cabbageworm can prove to be your arch nemesis. Yes, that’s right; an arch nemesis that you’ll battle with all growing season. One that will leave large holes on those big, beautiful, waxy seedling leaves.

Who would think such a seemingly intoxicated worm, moving around in its slow, sluggish manner could be capable of such damage? You may even mistake some of these voracious feeders to be dead. But if you watch closely, it will crawl away dropping greenish brown fecal pellets to further ruin marketable product. You think….at least… in its adult stage it’s pretty.

Life Cycle
-laid singly on the underside of leaves
-are yellowish to white and cone shaped

-green, very hairy with one faint yellow-orange 
stripe down backs/broken stripes on sides
-up to an inch long
-feed along midrib, at base of wrapper leaves, bore into heads

-green with faint yellow lines down the back and sides
-do not have a spun cocoon
-larvae pupate attached by a few silk strands

-white with 1-4 black spots on wings (often seen fluttering around fields)
-yellowish underside of wings
In the northern U.S. and Canada winter is spent as a pupa in plant debris near or in previously infested crops - yet another reason to stress a thorough fall clean up. Adults emerge from the overwintering pupae in early spring to lay eggs. The larvae hatch in 3 to 5 days and are fully grown in 2 to 3 weeks. During this period they feed voraciously. They then pupate on plant debris settled on the soil near infested plants, and the adult butterflies emerge in 1 to 2 weeks to lay eggs singly on the undersides of leaves.

Plants Affected: Brassicas such as cabbage, cauliflower, kale, and Brussels sprouts

Symptoms: Feeding larvae produce large irregular holes in leaves and heads of cabbage. Older larvae tend to feed extensively on the newer growth, but can also ruin heads by tunneling. Large populations of larvae can also result in loss of marketable product from contamination by fecal matter left by heavy larvae infestations feeding.

Controls: Weekly scouting is a key method of prevention and control. Destroy any eggs, pupae, or larvae squishing by hand or with a rock on the ground. Beneficial insects are a great method of control and are readily available from many vendors, some as local as New Hampshire. Floating row covers applied directly after transplanting or direct seeding can be a very efficient means of control and prevention. There are many “home remedies” such as garlic or hot pepper spray that can be applied on a weekly basis by using a small hand sprayer or larger backpack sprayer. This should be done as soon as butterflies appear. For large plantings, involving many row feet, or entire fields, a tank spray with a pesticide containing BT or spinosad as the active ingredient can also be used. When applying any pesticide please be sure to read and follow and label instructions thoroughly. 

Resources: "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 Crenshaw
-“Cole Crops Imported Cabbageworm” UC IPM Online
-ALL Photographs taken by Jack Kelly Clark
-Permission for use of photographs by UC IPM Online

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

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Tomato grafting a worthwhile pursuit

As the growing season begins to heat up, it's time to think tomatoes, specifically grafted tomato plants.

We've recently published a couple of interesting documents on tomato grafting to our website.

The first article, "Grafting Tomatoes for Increased Vigor and Disease Resistance", outlines the many benefits of grafting -- improved disease resistance, higher yields, cost effectiveness, to name a few. This 6-page article, written by our tomato products technician, includes detailed instructions and color photos to help you learn how to graft your own custom tomato plants. It's worth mentioning that we also have an excellent video from the University of Vermont Extension on tomato grafting, which pairs quite nicely with the article.

The second article shows the results of our grafted greenhouse tomato trial -- "Grafted Tomato Yield Data". We trialed 6 varieties of tomatoes in a hoophouse at our research farm  in Albion, Maine. We compared the yields of plants grafted to the rootstock Maxifort vs. non-grafted plants. Overall, yields were 40% higher on the grafted plants. One of the trial plants  -- Geronimo grafted to Maxifort rootstock -- did particularly well with a 60% higher yield than standalone Geronimo.

So well in fact that Johnny's is now carrying Geronimo/Maxifort plants. These exclusive plants are one of four tomato plant varieties available to purchase on our website. We've selected the following states for participation in this new tomato plant pilot program: CT, IL, IN, ME, MA, MI, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, VT, WI. Visit the new Johnny's tomato plants web page to shop for tomato plants.

Friday, April 1, 2011


On this annoyingly snowy April Fool's Day, many New Englanders might be having the same thoughts as me: I should get my tomato seedlings started.  Or they might have had the thought a day or so ago, when the snowbanks were just about gone and the garden reappeared from under its winter blanket.

Last year I planted too many tomatoes, as usual; we ended up with 50-odd plants in the ground. Of course, when I planted my seedlings, I was about 4 months pregnant, so we'll blame that on second trimester energy.

However, when they started to ripen, I was well into the third trimester, exhausted, with swollen ankles and feet that I was ordered to stay off of as much as possible. My husband did the majority of the picking, and no canning was to happen last summer by my hand.  We ended up with several overflowing baskets full, as last summer was one of the hottest to happen in a long time, and the plants produced prolifically:

Tons of tomatoes!
 We ate a lot of the tomatoes fresh, gave a bunch away, but what to do with the rest?

Caprese salad with fresh tomatoes and basil, and fresh (but not homemade) mozzarella.
Well, it might seem surprising, but you can actually freeze whole tomatoes.  Don't expect to put them on your salad later, but they are surprisingly resilient and easy to work with after the fact.  Just pop them into some freezer bags and toss them in the freezer, easy as that.  You can wash them or not, it doesn't really make a difference.

Frosty tomatoes
To use frozen tomatoes, just rinse them under cool water and the skins will split so you can peel them right off.

A pan of peeled tomatoes
You can then use them in any cooked tomato recipe you like.  I filled up my turkey roaster with peeled tomatoes (I also sliced off any bad spots - just be careful when using a knife on frozen goods) and threw them in the oven at about 400, stirring occasionally.  I cooked them until they fell apart, then pureed them with a stick blender, and cooked them a bit more to concentrate them a bit.  Then I put them in a pan with some other veggies and meatballs.  I wish the basil and oregano had still been available fresh from the garden, but dried was fine.  A little salt and pepper, and viola, homemade pasta sauce.

Sauce cooked down, then pureed
Now, I don't mind tomato seeds, but if you do, you could run this through a food mill to get rid of them before adding it to the meatballs, veggies, and herbs.  It made a delicious sauce - a bit lighter in color than your typical supermarket can, because we grow a lot of colored heirlooms, but very tasty and fresh nonetheless, and a lot less sodium.

So if you want to keep that garden bounty going, and don't want to feel bad about starting too many tomatoes, keep your freezer open as an option. 

Our little pumpkin, who won't be eating tomatoes until summer 2012.

Photos: Late spring snow storm!

We wish this were an April Fool's Day prank, but it's not. Maine, and other parts of the northeast, are receiving wet, heavy snow today. Here are a few shots taken this morning in the front of Johnny's Retail Store in Winslow, Maine. As you can see, it's really piling up. Weather forecasters were calling for up to a foot in central Maine where we're located.

Despite the snow, this is a good time to think about spring planting of cool-weather crops. We have many cold-tolerant varieties. Today, snow peas come to mind as a crop you can get in the ground early, once the soil is workable. But that looks like it may be a while longer here in Maine.

Johnny's events calendar - April 2011

Download printer-friendly pdf version of calendar.