Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Product spotlight: Pelleted Basil Seed

Pelleted Basil Seeds

Basil is usually directed seeded, and utilizing pelleted seed is a great time and money saver. Whether by machine or hand, sowing is more accurate. This, in turn, reduces the need for thinning as well as making weeding easier. We are pleased to offer two types as pelleted seed.

Moveable Caterpillar tunnel

Genovese, the classic variety used for pesto, is available as nonorganic pelleted seeds. It also is available as raw organic and raw nonorganic seeds. Genovese is tall, with smooth green leaves about 3" long. It's slow to bolt, so a good choice for multiple cuttings over a long season.

Nufar is an Italian large-leaf type with fusarium resistance. The leaves can grow to up to 4" long, and it can be used for field, greenhouse, and hydroponic growing. Nufar is available as raw organic seed or as nonorganic pelleted seed.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Photos: Visit to Jericho Settlers Farm in Vermont

Last week, a couple of Johnny's employee owners visited Jericho Settlers Farm in Jericho Center, VT (near Burlington). The farm is a year-round diversified CSA operation.

Watch slideshow below for photos from the visit.

Read more about the trip in the Tool Dude's blog.

Product spotlight: Peppers

Johnny's is renowned for its wide selection of peppers, from the sweetest big bell peppers to the hottest little Habaneros. Johnny's research farm crew loves to grow peppers, and we have bred a few new varieties ourselves. This month we want to focus on three peppers from three different cuisines around the world:

Padron peppers are small pimentos, named for the town in Spain where they originated. There's a saying in Spain: "Os pementos de Padron, uns pican e outros non," which translates as "Padron peppers, some are hot and some are not." In fact, about 1 in 20 Padron peppers is hot and the rest are mild, which makes for an interesting eating experience. They are traditionally tossed with olive oil, pan charred, dusted with coarse salt, and served as tapas (appetizers). To eat them, grab one by the stem and bite off the fruit, being prepared for the possibility of mild heat. Padrons should be picked quite small, 1-1 1/2" long for best flavor. If they get 2-3" long, most will be hot.

Mellow Star
A very similar pepper, served the very same way, is popular in Japan. Mellow Star is a Shishito pepper that is three times as big as the Padron and has no heat. It is served as an appetizer, pan charred and salted. It is also popular in tempura and stir fries. In Japan, the peppers are eaten green, but they also can be left to mature to a sweet red.

Red Rocket
Red Rocket is an organic cayenne pepper with considerable heat. Only 85 days to bright red maturity, these slim, thin-walled chiles are perfect for stringing into ristras. They dry quickly and can be sold for many months. Red Rocket ristras are both decorative and useful in the kitchen the tender flesh of the dried fruits softens up when cooked.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

JSS Advantage Newsletter -- January 2012: Peppers, Pelleted Seed


Choose Peppers to Support Local, Ethnic, and Regional Markets

Expand your market by growing a wide selection of peppers. Hot and sweet peppers are used in cuisines around the world so the more types of peppers you offer customers, the more likely you are to find buyers. Think of all the cuisines that use peppers: Mexican, Southwestern, Cajun, Indian, Thai, Italian, Ethiopian...the list goes on and on. By growing a diversity of peppers, you are likely to attract a diverse customer base.
PeppersJohnny’s has more than three dozen varieties of peppers, so you can choose specialties that meet the demands of your customers. You can cater to specific ethnic groups that may have trouble finding their favorite peppers in supermarkets. You can encourage customers to try new peppers by providing recipes and preparation suggestions.
Peppers have a long and illustrious history. Native to Central and South America, they were in cultivation by the Aztecs when the Spanish explorers arrived. The Spanish, who were hoping to find a new source of expensive black pepper, realized that the local hot peppers would be a good substitute, so they brought them back to Spain. By the first half of the 16th century, they had spread to Italy, France, and Germany and within a few more decades to India and the Balkans. The English re-introduced them to America.
Most of the peppers in commerce today are of the species Capsicum annuum. They are broadly divided into sweet and hot peppers — though there may be the occasional crossover. With the Spanish heirloom Padron, for example, one out of 20 fruits will be hot, the rest mild. Sweet peppers include bell peppers, pimentos, cone-shaped frying peppers, and long, lobed Shishito types. Weather can often produce unexpected heat or mildness in some peppers, with hot weather generally leading to hotter peppers. Another important pepper species is Capsicum chinense, with Habanero being the best-known variety.
Hot peppers, known as chile peppers, are categorized by their capsaicin content — their heat. They are ranked on the Scoville Heat Unit scale, on which a bell pepper has 0 Scoville Heat Units, a Numex Joe E. Parker has 4,500, a Serrano 25,000 and a Habanero 150,000-200,000. The hottest pepper known is the Bhut Jolokia, a C. chinense pepper from India that scores 1 million Scoville Heat Units.

Shop for Peppers by Heat Scale


Very hot!

Very hot!

Very hot!

Very hot!

Sweet and hot peppers are grown the same way. They should be sown inside or in a greenhouse 8 to 10 weeks before you plan to set them out. Heat lovers from the start, they require a soil temperature of 80-90°F/27-32°C to ensure fast germination. After the seeds germinate, they should be transplanted into 2” cells or pots so that they can develop strong root systems before planting. The ideal seedling for planting outside has buds but no open flowers.
Peppers should not be transplanted outside until the soil and weather have warmed. In cooler climates, they do best on plastic mulch covered with row cover on hoops until the weather gets hot. Plants should be watered in with a high-phosphorous solution.
The first peppers should be picked as soon as they reach full size to encourage further fruit set. After that, fruits can be left to ripen to their mature colors of red, yellow, or orange. Peppers are packed with antioxidants and vitamins, and they are very low in calories.
Whether your customers like their peppers hot or sweet, nearly everyone buys peppers.

Pelleted Seeds for Accurate Sowing, Reduced Thinning

Pelleted onionsThe popularity of pelleted seeds continues to grow among market farmers and serious gardeners, and Johnny’s now offers 80 varieties that are available pelleted. Pelleting is a process in which small or irregularly shaped seeds are coated with an inert material to make them round and uniform. The benefits of pelleting are numerous:
Pelleted seeds can be planted with a mechanical seeder. The uniformity of shape and additional weight of the pellet make it possible to plant even tiny seeds directly to the field using a seeder.
Pelleted seeds can be spaced regularly, either with a seeder or by hand. Even spacing prevents the need for thinning later on. The development of pelleted seeds is often attributed to California outlawing the use of short-handled hoes on vegetable farms, which were widely used to thin and weed but caused worker injuries. When plants are evenly spaced, workers can use long-handled hoes.
With root and bulb crops such as onions, carrots and parsnips, even spacing results in straighter, more uniform roots because each plant has the same amount of soil in which to grow. The occurrence of small or deformed roots is much less common from pelleted seeds.
Pelleted seeds are often used for growing plugs. The pellets allow for easy use of a hand-held seeder and precise placement of one seed per plug.
Some seeds, particularly lettuce, are primed before pelleting, which begins the metabolic process leading to germination. Because some of the early steps toward germination are completed before the seed is planted, germination happens more quickly.
Germination times can be 50% faster with primed seed. When seeds germinate quickly, they may avoid potential problems including soil crusting, weeds, and soilborne diseases. On the down side, primed seed doesn’t have the same storage life as unprimed seeds, so we recommend that you purchase only enough for the current season.

You can find pelleted varieties of these vegetables and herbs: Basil, Carrots, Celery, Lettuce, Onions, Parsnips.

Among flowers, pelleted varieties include Celosia, Coleus, Dianthus, Digitalis, Lisianthus, Petunia.
Photos: NOFA NY Winter Conference 2012

Recently, a couple of Johnny's Maine-based Territory Sales Reps attended the NOFA NY Winter Conference. Johnny's "Tool Dude" Adam Lemieux also attended and gave a presentation on season extension.

Check out a few photos from the conference:

The Johnny's booth set up at the beginning of day 1 at the conference

Johnny's own Adam Lemieux bending pipe during his presentation on season extension 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

What's New at the Farm? New Fields for 2012 and Stone Walls

As we head into the last days of January, I wonder what the rest of winter will hold for us. Although it’s been relatively mild so far, we could still get nailed with cold temps and heavy snows. Actually we could use some snow to finish filling up our irrigation ponds. Our pond here at the farm is full but our new pond has quite a ways to go. It’s got about five feet of water in it but I’d like to see 10 before we start using it next summer. We’ll see.

2011 is all but wrapped up now and planning for 2012 starts now. Actually it’s already started as we think about where we’re going to plant our crops this year. We’ve added 25 acres to our land base and will get that into production sooner than later. One field we’re going to start using is what we call the “Movie Palace” field. What’s a Movie Palace? Back in the 1970s and ‘80s there was a small store across the road from this field that you could rent videos from. It was called the Movie Palace; that was the only thing around there at that time so that’s how the field got its name. We’ve tried to call it other names but we always come back to the same name. Guess it’ll stick.

The soil at this field is mostly sandy loam. We put drain tile in it last summer to help dry it out in the spring, and dug an irrigation pond to water our crops there in the summer. We’ll also use the pond water to protect the crops from frost next fall if needed. After using a small part of this field for several years, it’ll be cool to see it in crops like it should be. The rows in this field could be around 1,200 feet, but will probably be closer to 900 -- a long row to hoe, ha, ha.

Another field we picked up is a 15-acre field on route 9 in Albion. It’s about a mile from the Big, New Field and we’re wondering what we should call this one? Perhaps “The Really Big, New field” We’ll probably just call it the Hammond Field as that’s who owns it -- the Hammond brothers. It was last plowed in the early 1960s and seeded down with a grass mixture, which has been hayed ever since. Before that there were several years of dry beans on it, so even though it’s been a while, it has been used for row crops. When I asked the local farmer, who seeded it down, if there were any rocks on it, he replied “no more than any other field around”.  It stands to reason that had it been really stony soil they wouldn’t have used it for row crops.

A good way to tell if a field has any rocks in it, how big they are, and how many is to look at the stone walls surrounding it. If the stone walls are large with lots of large rocks in them, well, guess where those rocks came from. If, like this field, the stone walls are small and eventually peter out, chances are there aren’t a lot of rocks there. There are a couple of “islands” of rocks on one side of this field; I assume this is where there were some large, unmovable rocks so they dumped more rocks around them instead of carrying them all the way to the edge of the field. Over time, trees grew up and they became islands enabling wildlife to hide in the middle of a large field.

This new field has about 12 acres that I intend to plow. It has an ever so slight west, southwest slope to it. It should be excellent field for many of our crops. It does not have access to water however, but most of our fields don’t. As the field is square, I think I’ll leave a driveway up through the center and around the perimeter and plow the rest. This year it will get a liberal dose of compost plowed under and seeded to buckwheat to help rot the sod down.  I may plant some squash just to see how they do. I’ll have pictures once the weather warms up some; it looks pretty bleak out there now.

And speaking of stone walls, I have always found it interesting to find stone walls out in the middle of the woods. What a tale they could tell! Last month, under the pretext of bird hunting, I was out tramping around in the woods next to where our farmhouse was when I was growing up. The house and barn are gone now, but the memories remain. Where we played as kids certainly has changed over the years. The farm pond my father dug for water for his cows has been drained and has grown up in little trees. The apple trees next to the pond have been cleared and spruce and pine grow there now. The neighbor’s hen house is gone and his fields have all grown up in pine and other trees. Now, down in the woods, probably 300 feet from anything, is a stone wall that follows the edge of a ridge several hundred feet.

It’s not a big stone wall, not like some of the other ones around, but you can see it plainly. On the north end it peters out and on the south end it cumulates into a large, unorganized pile of rocks. I would guesstimate this was a small, maybe two- or three-acre, pie-shaped field. Like most stone walls at the back of a property lie telltale signs of a dump; old buckets and cans, some glass and broken pottery. Folks had their own dumps years ago and many of these dumps exist if you know where to look. My mother grew up on this farm in the 1920s and ‘30s and she remembers the dump I’m talking about, and also this was a field they used. Many of the trees growing there now are better than two feet on the stump. I think I’ll go back one of these days and poke around some more.

I was in an antique mall a while back and found an old photograph of Fort Knox in Bucksport, Maine. Actually it was the ferry next to the fort. And in the background there were no trees. I’ve read a quote somewhere that described sailing into Penobscot Bay and all the land was free of trees.  The old stone walls attest to the fact there was more cleared land at one time than now.  I’m sure as the fields became woods once again, lots of history got lost as well.  If not for these stone walls, one might think nothing had ever happened on this land. I wonder what mark we’ll leave on the land when we’re gone? Hopefully something good.

Until next week, Brian

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Johnny's on the air: Northern Gardening Show

Last week, Johnny's enjoyed some air time, courtesy of WTIP 90.7 FM in Grand Marais, MN.

Dianne Booth, host of the station's "Northern Gardening" program, interviewed Paul Gallione of Johnny's research department during her hour-long, bi-weekly show. The discussion included  the challenges of growing produce in northern climates, Johnny's breeding program, and new varieties.

You can listen to a recording of the program on WTIP's website.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

What's New at the Farm? Welcome to 2012!

One thing we can all talk about is the weather. 2011 certainly had some interesting weather patterns to contend with. Being farmers, we have to deal with the ever-changing weather conditions on a daily and, sometimes, hourly basis.  The weather during the 2011 growing season was no exception. We had a cool start, but a long and warm fall to finish up. Of course, no weather is perfect for everyone. We have to contend with the cards that we have been dealt.  As I write this, it's 18.1˚F in the shade. Last Monday my ducks were taking baths in the puddles in the driveway.

We've had ample rain this late fall and early winter, and now we could really use some cold temps. As we are focused on trying to keep warm, freezing or below freezing temperatures help us in several ways. Freezing kills many insects, so early season insect predation may be somewhat reduced. Notice I said "may be", not will be. Still, cold temps can reduce some numbers better than a year without frozen ground.

I'd like to say freezing temps kills ticks, but I can't find any information to back up that statement. Ticks go dormant in cold weather so you'll see fewer of them in the winter, but they may come out on sunny, warm days. I surfed a lot of sites regarding ticks and most of the recommended controls involve spraying insecticides. That's kind of like the shotgun approach -- spray all the areas and kill all the bugs and you'll kill the ticks too. Yep, here it comes -- my recommendation for organic and safe tick control --  Guinea fowl!  Can't have too many either. Our 35 guinea fowl make the yard safer by consuming all insects that they can find. Up to 90 percent of their diet in the warmer months is comprised of insects. They just take some getting used to.

Having the ground freeze before the snow helps curtail some mouse damage in fruit and ornamental trees. Next to the ground, the mice will make tunnels and go where they need to in order to feed. Without the ground being frozen, the snow melts away from the ground and creates a whole snow-free area they can move in. They spend less time digging tunnels and more time feeding. This information is from a local grower of fruiting trees, whom you can imagine has tremendous problems with mice girdling his trees. Nothing like nurturing fruits trees for several years to have them killed by mice eating their bark.
Now is a good time to think about insect control for the upcoming season. Last week I mentioned onion thrips. This week let's focus on another challenging insect the Striped Cucumber Beetle. Striped cucumber beetles overwinter in the woods and protected areas, and in some instances, garden residues. There's not much we can do to kill them before the next season. Last year we did an experiment with a seed production of winter squash and using/not using row covers. We transplanted a full acre of seedlings and covered half of the field with AG 19 floating row covers and left the other half uncovered.  This was a new field for us and had grains in it for many years previously. We assumed (never assume anything) that the cucumber beetle pressure would be light as no cucurbits had been grown here before.

Wrong! I think the cucumber beetle pressure was fairly high right off quick, and despite an aggressive spray program, the plants in the uncovered side of the field did poorly. The trade off in labor and row cover savings didn't compare to what we could have reaped had we used the row covers.  Lesson learned; won't do that again.

    Many, many crops we plant here at the farm get row covers. We use them to exclude insects and to provide additional heat and protect from weather extremes.

    Crops that are transplanted are covered immediately with row covers to exclude insects. The row covers also provide a protected environment so the seedlings can get a healthy start and be protected from wind, driving rains, and hail. Direct seeded crops like brassicas get row covers the day they are seeded so they get protection sooner than later.  If we cover them as soon as we plant them, we are less prone to forget to cover them, and have the seedlings attacked as soon as they come up.

    One problem we encounter with row covers is the weeds growing underneath them.  Although some of our crops are passed by a hundred times a week by farm crew and research department members, you don't think about what you can't see. You can't see under the row covers so you don't see a weed problem brewing until the weeds are pushing the covers up. By then the crop may be lost or at the least compromised. If it looks like the wind is raising the covers, but there isn't any wind, you may have a weed problem. Solution: Put the installation date on the calendar and then reminders to look under the covers at 7, 10, and 14 days. Much easier to kill the weeds when they're small and not wait until the weeds are so big they have to be hand pulled.

    I seem to be rambling. It goes to show that growing crops is never far out of my mind. How to grow crops better, controlling weeds and pests and taking better care of our lands are all subjects that are bouncing around in my head most of the time.  So, anyway, keep those suggestions rolling in about subjects you'd like to see covered here. I have some thoughts for upcoming articles including old stone walls, cover crops, weed control, and an array of other subjects pertaining to growing crops and preserving our soils for future generations.
    Until next week, Brian

    Wednesday, January 4, 2012

    Vermonters Help Grower with New Barn

    About one year ago, Pete Johnson, a longtime Johnny's customer, and proprietor of Pete's Greens in Craftsbury, VT, lost his barn, which housed thousands of dollars worth of farm equipment and vegetables, to fire. The structure was rebuilt with help from friends and neighbors. Last month, Pete celebrated his new barn with an open house. Vermont Governor Peter Schumlin, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I), and Rep. Peter Welch (D) all attended.

    Read article here about this event in the Country Folks magazine.