Friday, January 31, 2014

Getting the Most out of your Pepper Harvest

Do you want to add value to your pepper harvest? In this post, we’ll first discuss choosing the correct pepper variety, then cover finding creative ways to package your peppers, and lastly, we will refer to a few common value-added processes.

Carmen (F1)
Choosing the correct pepper variety:
Before the seed is ordered, it’s important to make the correct varietal choices. Ask yourself the following questions: What types of peppers perform best in my region? Are there regional favorites that my customers have asked for? What is the intended end use for the peppers? Are there under-served ethnic markets or restaurants?

Here at Johnny’s, we help our customers clearly identify the main benefits and attributes of each of our pepper varieties, including their intended end use. It pays to research the specific demands in your region before picking a type or variety of pepper.

Check out what other growers are selling at local farmers markets. If you have adventurous customers and most growers there are not growing specialty peppers, this might present you with an opportunity. If your customers are culinarily conservative, maybe the standard pepper varieties are best for you. Another good idea is to contact restaurants in your area to find out what they are looking for. You can show them pictures of unique varieties in Johnny’s catalog or on our website.  It’s better to do your homework ahead of time so you don’t get stuck with peppers you can’t sell.

Creative Packaging:
If you’re looking for a new, unique way to package your pepper varieties, try some of the ideas below:

  •           Sell your snack peppers in mixed pints of small bags and market them as the perfect-sized, healthy snack
  •           Offer different colored bell peppers in mixed packages
  •           Combine similarly-sized specialty peppers such as Aura, Glow, and Lipstick and offer them as a colorful snack-pack  

Red Flame (F1) (OG)
Value-Added Processing

  • Ristras: They take a bit of effort, but they typically sell quite well. String the peppers before they are dry to prevent breakage. Red Flame is a good choice for Ristras and wreaths. Bangkok would also make a nice mini ristra or wreath.
  • Chiles: Chiles can also be dried and ground to sell as powder or flakes. Please note, this requires eye protection and a respirator so you won’t burn your eyes or lungs in the process. Again, it’s important to research the demand for this type of product in your area, as the selling price of this product would have to be quite high to justify the effort. 
  •  Jalapenos and Serranos: Peppers can be smoked and sold as whole or powdered chipotles.
  •  Anchos (Poblanos): These can be dried and powdered and made into mole sauce.
  • Anaheims (Numex): These peppers are easily roasted and can be sold for several times what unroasted peppers fetch.

Specific Pepper Varieties:

Highlander (F1) (OG)

Continue exploring additional resources on the topic of value-added processing at by reviewing  “Getting Started with Value-Added Crops”. This article covers finding your niche and business basics for value-added processors. Also, be sure to read our profile on Johnny’s customer, Freedom Farms in Maine, where we discuss their process for roasting peppers.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Not all Open Pollinated Heirloom Seeds are Created Equal

The great thing about heirloom seeds is their proven performance. They’re also generally widely adapted and have great market acceptance and recognition. Growers all over the world have been saving seed from these open pollinated varieties.  The question is where should you source your seed? 

Russell's Extra Choice Mix
It really depends on what you’re trying to accomplish.  It’s nice to imagine saving seed year after year and having pride and legacy develop on your farm or homestead, but how do you know if you’re getting the same high quality tomato that was first planted one, five, or even 25 years ago? Do you remember when your favorite tomato variety seemed to have more pronounced shoulders, a rounder shape, or a more upright plant habit?  

The truth is, not all seed savers, or seed production companies are created equal. Seed quality and performance can vary greatly from stock to stock. Let me help explain this, by presenting two examples below:

Find out more about our Breeding
Program at

Company A contracts a farmer to grow heirloom tomatoes. Since they’re desperate to ensure a seed source and their inventory is getting low, they provide the farmer with the remainder of their seed stock, which is leftover seed from a previous years’ production. The seed is in poor shape and the farmer struggles with low germination and poor plant vigor. Half of the transplants don’t make it to the field. To meet his contract, the farmer delivers seed from every tomato produced, regardless of the quality. This includes the fat ones, the skinny ones, the seed from the fruits that have some purple blotches, as well as seeds from the purple fruit with some red blotches. The farmer saves seeds from the plants that barely set fruit, the diseased plants, and the ones that might have cross pollinated with his own tomatoes.  Compound this seed saving process over a few productions and the tomato’s original great characteristics start to fade away.

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On the other hand, Company B contracts with several well-established and seasoned seed growers. The seed company provides disease-free, high germinating, true-to-type seeds to farmers geographically located in an area where common tomato disease and pest pressure for that crop are low. The farmer isolates the production crop from his crops of the same plant family on the farm.  The seed company frequently visits the growers and walks the production. Together, they select fruits that are healthy and disease free. They grade the plants and fruit on their health and for being the best possible match to the characteristics of the variety’s lineage.  They identify any off types, or lower quality plants and quickly remove them from the production. Upon harvest, the seed is lab tested to ensure high germination, and vigor. Grow-outs are performed to test seed quality prior to being released to consumers. The process is repeated next year using these “true-to-type” seeds.

Brandywine tomato
These scenarios happen every year in the seed production industry.  Don’t believe it? Try growing the same exact heirloom varieties from three different seed suppliers. Grade each one based on uniformity, plant health, and being true-to-type. 

Johnny’s knows that as a grower, you’re proud of your product. We know you may not always be the only one to market with a Brandywine tomato, but we can help you have the best looking one there, by ensuring our seed production is held to a high standard that we are proud of.  We also rely on our seed growers to return to us the type of seed they would be proud to buy. One of the reasons we are able to offer our customers such great quality seed is due to the specialized seed growers we work with.  They are the ones that walk countless times during the season to make sure Johnny’s gets a product they are willing to put their name behind. 


Please do not hesitate to ask me any questions about seed saving, our seed production or anything else you might be curious about.
Randy Cummings
Territory Sales Representative
South Central U.S 

Friday, January 17, 2014

Winter Caterpillar Tunnel Structural Trial (2011)

In March 2011, we tested our caterpillar tunnel under heavy snow load to see how the structure would respond. Now that winter is upon us, we're re-posting our results from the trial. Let us know your thoughts on our findings by leaving a comment under this post!

Goal: To see if either caterpillar tunnel version (with, or without purlins) could withstand winter snow load.

Results: Very interesting. We picked two of the four tunnels that were built in May, 2010, planted onions in them, and buttoned them up for the winter. Both tunnels were structurally the same, with a center ridgepole made of chain link fence top-rail, but one of them also had purlins about three feet from either side of the ridge. These purlins, were used in the summer to trellis vine crops, and carried that load quite well. They really stiffened up the whole structure. However, in summer, they tended to cause the plastic to collect rainwater. This made me think that the purlins would either make it so strong that it would better carry the snow load or they would catch more snow than the tunnel without purlins and cause a collapse. It looks like the latter is the case.

Summary and recommendations: It is important to note that we intentionally did not remove snow in this trial, as we were looking for structural failure in worst case conditions. Removal of snow, even just next to the tunnel that failed, probably would have prevented its failure. Doing so would have greatly reduced the pressure bearing in on the sides (and therefore the plastic's weight felt on the top). If you intend to use a structure like this to overwinter crops in northern climates where snowfall is a concern, I would recommend a maximum of four foot bow spacing during construction, not using side purlins in winter tunnels because they catch snow, and, of course, the removal of snow whenever possible from the sides and top of the tunnel. It would also be prudent to shore up the bows internally with notched two-by-fours placed vertically under every other bow as a means of additional snow load insurance and peace of mind.

You can view the complete gallery of this trial below:

The 26-page illustrated manual for the bender used to make these tunnels may be downloaded on the Quick Hoops™ High Tunnel Bender's product page.

Adam Lemieux
Johnny's Tools & Supplies Manager