Friday, September 26, 2014

Winter Trials Summary: Lettuce, Greens, and Herbs

At the end of last year (2013) we conducted two winter trials on specific types of Lettuce, Greens, and Herbs at our Research Farm in Albion, Maine. Steve Rodrigue, the Johnny’s Product Technician who oversaw the trials, summarizes the process below:


The overwintering trials took place in two of our caterpillar tunnels at the Johnny’s Farm. The caterpillars we used were slightly different from those we offer via the catalog and online, because they have both end walls and side roll-up walls. With roll-up walls, we were able to ventilate much more throughout the trial - until the snow eventually prevented us from doing so. We had several small trials happening in the tunnels, which included  Salanova Lettuce, Baby Leaf Lettuce, Greens, Spinach, and Cilantro

   The Salanova performed very well and lasted into the New Year. For that trial, we had two different seeding dates at two weeks apart. The earlier seeding allowed for the plants to grow to a marketable size whereas the later seeding and transplanting did not mature before going into the Winter. This is another indication of how important it is to experimenting with several seeding dates.
   We had some issues with Bottom Rot with the Salanova, but we felt that was due to inadequate ventilation. Moving forward with our future overwintering trials, temperatures will be monitored several times throughout the day in order to best time the removal of the inner covers (agribon). Also, while the caterpillars did a fair job at protecting the crops through the harsh winter, we found them to be more of a challenge for adequate temperature regulation than a Hoophouse or High Tunnel. The short height and smaller volume of the Caterpillar Tunnel results in much larger fluctuations in temperatures, which means you have to do a lot more regulating of the temperatures.
  1. To learn more about our Research Department, head to the Johnny’s website 
  2. Explore information on our Breeding Department 
  3. Shop our Vegetable Seed line 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Banker Plants

Protected culture structures, such as hoophouses and greenhouses, are by nature limited in growing space. Many growers make the most of the available space by planting crops that have high returns; i.e., tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and eggplants. In a closed environment, it is also well worth it to put a little of the area aside for banker plants.

Any crop that provides a habitat for beneficial insects can be used as a banker plant. One of the greenhouses at Johnny’s research farm is dedicated to peppers and eggplants - both of which are susceptible to predation by aphids. In addition to the peppers and eggplants, space has been reserved for containers of oats which serve as banker plants by providing habitat for oat aphids. The oat aphids are released into the oats, which are then covered to allow the population of the pest to grow.

Why would someone release an aphid of any kind into their greenhouse and then build their population? The oat aphid is host specific to only oats; it won’t attack any other crop. At Johnny’s, once the oat aphid population has grown, Greenhouse Manager, Pam Carter, releases parasitic wasps that attack aphids of all kinds, including those that pose a danger to the peppers and eggplants. As a side benefit, the oats can also provide habitat for ladybugs, another beneficial insect and predator of aphids.

For those of you with concerns about the use of insecticides, banker plants are a practical alternative. In many cases the resulting natural controls by beneficial insects will reduce the need for insecticidal applications.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Beat the Heat - July 2014

The high temperatures we've been experiencing at the Research Farm in Albion, Maine have made for great conditions for our trial crops, but they've also challenged the Johnny’s staff to find ways to stay cool in the intense sun.

Here's a look at how we've tried to beat the heat recently:

Andrew and John Paul from the Johnny’s Research Department stay cool in their wide-brimmed hats, as they prune and trellis 2 successive rows of peppers. 

The other crops shown in the foreground of the greenhouse photo above, are eggplants. 

Jill is cultivating the soil at the edges of the plastic. 

The red umbrella was attached to the tractor using a factory kit with modifications.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

At the Research Farm - July 16, 2014

Johnny's Research Farm Shop Clerk, Bruce Webber, completes repairs and modifications to our Bedding Pro, a tractor attachment that shreds round bales.



Friday, July 4, 2014

What’s in Bloom at Johnny’s Research Farm - July 4th

     Almost everything is starting to bloom this week and we are all sensing the excitement as yet another wonderful growing season ramps up. Truthfully, there’s always a little anxiety about keeping up with it all, in our short growing season, but we always seem to manage to get the work done and have a little fun too.

     While walking the farm today and checking on how the trials are progressing, I thought it would be fun to collect some of the edible flowers in bloom.

All the edible flowers in bloom!
Flowers; violas, snapdragons, marigolds. Herbs; lavender, sage, chive, chamomile, thyme. Vegetables and fruit; strawberry and peas and field peas.


Lavender, sage, marigold, chamomile and pea flowers

     These edible beauties would make a perfect dessert garnish; strawberry, lavender, pea, and field pea flowers.


 Photo – herb flowers, lavender- useful in baking, deserts and garnish, chamomile for tea and garnish, thyme, sage and chives are great for incorporating into all kinds of dishes

    These herb flowers make a great addition to pizza. After pizza is cooked and while still warm, pull the flowers from their stems and sprinkle on pizza or most any savory dish for a beautiful and flavorful topping.



 Photo – Chive, thyme and sage flowers


     Other useful edible herb flowers (not yet in bloom here are basil, oregano, dill, rosemary and fennel.

Check out our edible flower techsheets at Johnnyseeds.com for a whole list of edible flowers with flavor descriptions and tips on how to use them:
- Flavors and Suggested Uses
- Recipes
- Additional Information 

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Planting Riddles from over the Years

     Let’s face it. Some old wives’ tales are something to roll your eyes at. If you cross your eyes, they’ll get stuck that way. Or the numerous omens of death, like a bird or moth or bat in the house. Then the infamous step on a crack and break your mother’s back.

     Those old wives might have known a thing or two when it came to gardening. Years of experience provided them with countless tips and tricks for ease, efficiency, and success. After all, their livelihoods depended on the prosperity of their gardens. Their advice often was based around planning for holidays, such as the Fourth of July.

     Plant so you’ll have peas for the Fourth. Peas are a cool weather crop. Depending on the days to maturity of the variety, if you have harvestable peas by late June you would have sown them in late April. This is a time when the soil is cool in many areas. Especially here in Maine, where some years we still receive snow in late April. Planting your peas when the soil is warm will result in lower yields.

     Your corn should be knee high by the Fourth. Of course, there’s a reason they’re called old wives’ tales. Even if there was once some truth in them, it might now be dated to think that your corn will only be knee high. Treated seed and cold-tolerant varieties allow for earlier plantings, especially in ideal conditions

    Whether or not you put any stock in them, these tales represent something that is important on any farm: the sharing of knowledge from one generation to the next.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

An Update From Albion - July, 2014

The past several days at Johnny’s Research Farm in Albion have been quite the contrast to each other. Last Thursday was overcast with rain in the morning. Even though the first day of summer was only a week prior, it felt more like the typical, damp spring in Maine. Hillary Alger, the Product Manager for flowers, snapped a wonderful photograph of the delphiniums that were cut at the farm that morning before it began raining. The cool color tones of the flowers truly reflected the slight chill in the air.

Delphiniums at the Farm
Alternatively, the next day, Friday, the temperatures hit 80°F. Birdhouses are scattered throughout the farm and the birds could be seen zipping through the air, glad to have clear skies and sun. As with any open field in Maine, the killdeer were also active, protecting their nests. Walking through the fields, it was easy to see the rain from the previous day had done its work. Everything was lush with color. Bunch a couple of stands of spinach and, not only could you see the sunlight reflecting off the leaves, you could see how rich with green the leaves were.

Spinach
If you could only choose one type of weather to have, it would be a difficult decision. Early in our lives, aren't we all told the simplified version of what basic needs of a plant are? It’s really simple, but it holds true: Beside soil, it’s water and sun.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Disease Resistance: How’d they do that?

In my territory, one thing there is no shortage of is nasty little organisms that are just waiting to take advantage of a defenseless vegetable plant. Here in the southeast our weather can get hot and humid; perfect for all kinds of fungi and bacteria. To make matters worse, insects that can carry viral diseases like Tomato Spotted Wilt and Papaya Ring Spot Virus are all too willing to add to the misery. Fortunately, plant breeders are constantly developing new vegetable varieties that are resistant or tolerant to major disease-causing pathogens.

Genetic resistances can sometimes be the only thing standing between success and total crop failure. One example is resistance to bacterial leaf spot (BLS) in sweet pepper hybrids. When weather conditions favor the development of this disease, there is no effective chemical control - organic or synthetic - that can be applied to the plant. I have personally seen entire plantings completely defoliated due to this pathogen.

The process of incorporating disease resistance into a new variety begins with identifying a suitable source of resistance. This can be challenging as the diversity in cultivated species is sometimes very limited, so breeders often turn to wild crop relatives that they can use in crossing. When the resistance donor is a wild species or related plant which does not look anything like the typical cultivated, the breeder may choose to carry out a back crossing program to eliminate the undesirable wild traits. This method involves selecting progeny from the initial wild x cultivated cross that carry the resistance gene and repeatedly crossing them back to the cultivated parent for several generations until a uniform line which resembles the cultivated plant but has the resistance from the wild donor is created.

Depending on the crop, this process can take many years before a finished line is produced that has the
potential to be a parent in a new hybrid (F1) or an open pollinated (OP) variety. If the resistance gene is recessive, then both the female (seed) and male (pollen) parents of the hybrid would need to have the resistance gene for the resulting F1 seeds to be resistant to the disease. On the other hand, if the gene is dominant than only one of the two parent lines needs to be a carrier.

You might ask how do you know which plants to save for the next generation? In the past, a breeder would expose (inoculate) plants to the pathogen for which resistance is desired. The resulting disease symptoms, or lack thereof, would then be evaluated to determine which plants carry the resistance.

Traditional plant breeding is now being tremendously accelerated by modern breeding techniques that allow you to determine which genes a plant has without having to perform laborious disease screens, simply by taking a tiny bit of plant material (often leaves or seeds) and analyzing it’s DNA for genetic markers (pieces of the DNA that are associated with the resistance genes). These new techniques save the breeder a lot of time and resources because they can eliminate plants without the resistance genes much faster than ever before.

Innovative plant breeding techniques are continually being developed. However, the basic challenges for identifying and utilizing disease resistances in breeding remain the same:
   1. Find a source of resistance
   2. Incorporate it into one or both parental lines
   3. Somehow get back to the original fruit type while “dragging” the resistant genes along for the ride.

A large challenge indeed, but at Johnny’s we appreciate the benefits that resistant varieties offer to our customers and work hard to identify and develop such varieties to support our growers needs.

Rod joined the team at Johnny's as Southeast Sales Representative in 2011. With degrees that include a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a Master's in Agricultural Entomology, Rod has been in the vegetable industry since 1988. 

The majority of his experience has been gained in field production of major vegetable crops. Rod has broad interest in the many different growing systems utilized by Johnny's customers. Located in Tifton, Georgia, Rod enjoys learning about the challenges that growers in the Southeast are facing. 

Current Sales Territory: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. 

Email » rheyerdahl@johnnyseeds.com 
Direct Line » 229-392-3844