TEN THOUSAND MONKS. “In prayer for a better world.” Caleb, Megan & Jim
WOOD PRAIRIE WEATHER REPORT. These Home Farm fields we finished Chisel-Plowing Friday evening. The weekend brought Northern Maine storms totaling 2.5″ rain. That rain changed over to snow last night.
This morning it’s +33oF with snow being blown horizontally by a stiff wind.
Today we’re shifting over to inside work, grading Organic Seed Potato and shipping orders. Caleb, Megan & Jim https://www.woodprairie.com/category/the-organic-garden/certified-organic-maine-certified-seed-potatoes/
HUGE MURAL DEDICATED TO LOCAL POTATO FARMERS, FORT KENT, MAINE. Circa 2012. Local talented photographer Lovena West took this photo and shared the story behind it.
Local artist Darren Connors choose as his canvas a wall of the old A.D. Soucy Farm Supply building on Market Street in the Acadian town of Fort Kent, the town at the extreme northern tip of Aroostook County where the U.S. Route 1 highway begins. It measures 35-foot by 15-foot.
The mural is extraordinary in its detail and rendering of a traditional barrel-system Potato harvest on a typical Aroostook County family farm. After spending 95 hours on the project Darren finished the mural in June 2012. He dedicated it in honor of Fort Kent’s farmers, past and present.
Sadly, it has weathered badly over the years. Caleb, Megan & Jim
LAST DAY OF FARMING SEASON ON MAINE’S WOOD PRAIRIE FAMILY FARM. With Maine in the crosshairs of two major wet weather systems merging on top of us this weekend, we decided Veteran’s Day was a good time to finally incorporate our last Organic Cover Crop and put away the tractors for the year. These home farm fields will be planted to Organic Certified Seed Potatoes in 2023. https://www.woodprairie.com/category/the-organic-garden/certified-organic-maine-certified-seed-potatoes/
We received an inch of rain last night, and another inch or two is in the forecast before our storms finish up Sunday night, possibly as snow.
In this shot Caleb is driving the silver White 105 tractor (essentially the same machine as an Oliver 1850 with its 92-HP Perkins Diesel engine, except the 105’s Perkins has a Turbocharger which amps it up to 105 HP plus that boxy silvery cab). He is pulling a 7-foot Woods Bushhog Mower to chop up the knee-high crop of soil biofumigant Rapeseed. The Brassica family member Rapeseed is especially rich in natural ‘glucosinolates’ (GSLs) which researchers have proven – including after a multi-year study performed by UMO and USDA scientists on our farm – reduce soil borne pests such as pathogenic nematodes, and funguses, plus it inhibits weed seed germination.
Jim is driving the green Oliver 1850 Diesel which is pulling the red IH 7-tooth Chisel Plow. The teeth have ‘twisted shank’ feet which not only rip into the soil 12 inches deep but turn under 90% of the crop top residue. As that residue decomposes in the soil it gives off the natural cleansing gas which science has proved is AS EFFECTIVE as bad-boy-farm-toxin Methyl Bromide, a perennial candidate for getting banned and a known deadly Ozone depleter.
Almost 50 years of organic farming has taught us that there’s usually a good organic solution for challenges faced by farmers. A good solution benefits the environment and doesn’t poison the soil or the food we eat or the seed we sell.
A good solution is Win-Win. Caleb, Megan & Jim
THREE MOOSE IN A WOOD PRAIRIE RAPESEED FIELD THIS MORNING. We’ve been seeing these three Moose off and on for the last few weeks. Even when we don’t see them we know they’re around because they knock down the electric fence keeping our cattle in.
At 630am this morning, Lizzi took this shot from the kitchen window of her and Caleb’s new house up by the Big Pond. It’s looking west towards our stream which is just into the woods.
The Moose are eating a sweet plowdown crop of Biofumigant Rapeseed. Next year these same home farm fields will be growing Organic Potatoes. Brassica Rapeseed cleanses the soil and reduces the level of pathogenic fungii in the soil and makes for a higher quality Organic Certified Seed Potato crop. https://www.woodprairie.com/category/the-organic-garden/certified-organic-maine-certified-seed-potatoes/
Before this weekend’s heavy upcoming rain we’ll chop and chisel plow these fields starting tomorrow after we finish up a big potato order.
Once, about 15 years ago – at exactly this same time of year – we had a dozen Moose grazing the Rapeseed just as we moved in to plow it down. We believe our frosty night’s have sweetened up the Rape to a point where the Moose can’t resist it. Caleb Jim & Megan
BRADBURY BROTHERS’ ‘TRACKSIDE’ POTATO HOUSE, BRIDGEWATER, MAINE. Circa May, 1965. Photo by Mike Andrews.
[The ‘Maine Tales’ article below was written and first posted in October 2011].
We got done digging our potato crop late last week towards evening as a cold rain was beginning to fall. It wasn’t long before Aroostook County got another couple inches of rain. It has been wet ground ever since and no one in northern Maine ‘has spun a wheel,’ that is, worked the field, since then. By the sound of the wet forecast ahead it looks like the potatoes that were still in the ground last week will still be in the ground next week.
While of course it is good that we are done, we can’t help but fret about our neighbors who have potatoes left to dig. Potatoes are still the big deal in this little potato town. Other places, a sunny day in Fall is merely ‘pleasant’. Here, a sunny day is recognized by everybody as ‘a good day to dig’. The fortunes of our town still rest upon the success of the potato crop, just like it always has going back 150 years. Everyone hereabouts knows that Fall weather can turn wet and wicked and against a potato farmer in an awful hurry.
The Old Code
There is always a big collective sigh of relief in Bridgewater when the last potatoes are dug and put under cover. And for most of the last century there’s been nobody in town more relieved to see that last potato picked than Elden Bradbury. To run into Elden this time of year was to hear his query ‘Didjagitdunn?’ (‘Did you get done [digging]’?). Upon hearing an affirmative reply, you would see Elden walk away with a little lighter gait as a certain measure of burden was lifted off from his shoulders. Elden was from the old school. How the other farmers in Town were faring was Elden’s genuine concern. In his day it was everyone’s concern. If a farmer was having bad luck and was having trouble getting done, the other farmers in town after they got their own crops dug, would bring over their crews and equipment to help the straggler finish up. No one was done until all were done. That was the old code.
The Bradburys landed here into Bridgewater back in 1882 when Eldon’s grandfather, that would be Lewis Oswald Bradbury, got established. Since that time there’s been little daylight to be seen between a Bradbury and a potato. Elden planted the first potato crop that he could call his own in 1941. Then Uncle Sam came calling and got him off the farm and over to Europe for the four years following that next year. Once he had finished with his patriotic duty, Elden was back to Town and beginning in 1947 planting and digging potatoes along his brothers Earl and Wilbur in the farm operation that came to be iconic and known as ‘Bradbury Brothers.’
It’s What Potato Farmers Do
Elden never missed a potato crop after that. It is no exaggeration to say he worked every day, every year. This crop year of 2011, at age 93, was Eldon’s 66th crop of potatoes. He died a few weeks ago in late September while shoveling up the spilled oats leftover from helping unload a truck. The Bradbury potato crop was a good ways towards being dug. Eldon’s sons Dale and George and daughter Carrie, his family farming partners for forty years, plus his grandkids, have now been getting the rest of the crop out and into storage without him.
With the passing of Elden, the last potato farmer of his generation, we’re seeing the close of an era in our Town. His contemporary, Dan Bradstreet, had passed just a couple years ago at age 92, Dan himself working grading potatoes for half days up until the very end.
Hard Work and No Fuss
Elden was a serious man and on the quiet side. He spoke no more than what needed to be said. He spoke softly and with authority. He would be the last person in town to want a fuss made over him. And it was incomprehensible to imagine this potato man of potato men for any reason being in the middle of an interruption of getting our Town’s potato crop out of the ground.
His family had planned his services and they fell on a Saturday that was very gray. Early in the day we had good success digging and had dug all the fore noon, expecting rain to stop us at any minute, but it held off. Shortly after noon the drizzle had picked up to a light rain. We hurried and got the harvested potatoes put away just as the rain was picking up in intensity to something steady and more than light.
So it really came as no surprise at all that on that Saturday afternoon when Elden’s graveside service was held, our misty gray day had turned into a steady no-digging rain, hard enough that the fields had become muddy and there was no more digging to be done that day.
Working right until the end and not wanting to cause a fuss. That was Eldon’s way.
Caleb, Jim & Megan
BRAND NEW ISSUE OF ‘WOOD PRAIRIE SEED PIECE’ NOW AVAILABLE! This issue’s ‘Maine Tales’ was first penned 11 years ago and covers the passing of a Bridgewater legend. Megan offers her seasonally-appropriate ‘Potato-Leek Soup’ Recipe. Plus Farm Photos, Stories, Flowers & Much More!
Find our new ‘Seed Piece’ here:
Caleb, Megan & Jim Gerritsen
Wood Prairie Family Farm
GRAZING IN THE GRASS! Checking out a nice crop of ‘Aroostook’ Winter Rye (https://www.woodprairie.com/product/rye-seed-organic-aroostook/) during an unseasonably warm evening walk this week.
Grazing on the Rye, from left to right, Caleb and Lizzi’s 18-month-old Rottweiler, Ralph; and 7-month-old brindle Cane Corso, Rudy; plus Amy’s 3-year-old Australian Shepard, Oakley.
This field was harvested of its crop of Organic Maine Certified Seed Potatoes (https://www.woodprairie.com/category/the-organic-garden/certified-organic-maine-certified-seed-potatoes/) in late September and immediately planted back to a crop of ‘Aroostook’ variety Winter Rye which will be harvested as an Organic Seed crop next July. ‘Aroostook’ is the hardiest Winter Rye and handles low soil temps allowing it to grow late into the Fall and start in growing again early the next Spring while patches of snow still grace farm fields.
We undersow the Rye with a combination of three types of Nitrogen-fixing Clover (Medium Red, Alsike and Yellow Blosson Sweet https://www.woodprairie.com/product/clover-seed-organic-medium-red/) plus Timothy Grass seed. The Winter Rye serves as a fast-growing “nurse crop” which protects and encourages the establishment of the slower growing Clovers and Timothy.
The field in the background grew Organic Seed Potatoes a year ago. That field also was planted to Winter Rye immediately after harvest. You can see the lush green crop of Clover now growing out above the silvery grain stubble left after we combined the grain last Summer. Next year we’ll take an early cutting of Clover hay for our cows and then allow them to graze the regrowth beginning in August.
We have a long 4-year Crop Rotation: one year Potatoes followed by three years of soil-building sod. The sod plants take atmospheric Carbon (CO2), and combined with sunlight, convert it into valuable ‘soil organic matter’ (where the “Organic” in Organic Farming comes from) — transferring excess Carbon to where it belongs: in the soil and removed from the air. Caleb, Megan & Jim
MAINE TALES. THAT COLD OCTOBER. BRIDGEWATER, MAINE. Circa 1979.
Winter can arrive early in Aroostook County, during the second half of October. Sometimes with snow and sometimes without.
It had not been an easy Fall. Persistent rain had prolonged the Aroostook Potato Harvest long into October. Weeks before, ‘Potato Harvest Break’ had ended and area students were back hitting the books and in their classrooms studying their Ps & Qs. After Harvest Break ended, harvest help was hard and getting harder to come by.
It was the end of October and neighbor Grover Patterson and his son, Scott, were still struggling to dig their potato crop which was planted on the west side of what map makers call ‘Estabrook Hill.’ Back in 1880, Wilson Estabrook came over from Canada and bought 500 acres of wildlands for $2 an acre. This plot was in the middle of nowhere but located in the ‘Portland Academy Grant’ on the south side of Bootfoot Road. Never marrying, ‘Wils’ worked hard, cleared off the trees and succeeded in establishing a productive farm.
Back in pioneer days, times were friendlier and first names sufficed. The local kids attending the nearby one room ‘Bootfoot School’ called it “Wilses” Hill. The Winter attraction which gave Bootfoot kids purpose and a good reason to get out of bed on cold Winter mornings was the fun of sledding down nearby Wilses Hill before school and during recess.
Compared to the flatlands of Aroostook, Wilses Hill is high and offers the best views in our corner of the Township of Bridgewater. On top you could see numerous farms, and out to the west and north, the Maine Woods for miles and miles over to Number Nine Mountain and Maple Mountain on the horizon. Wilses Hill was high enough that there was nothing to obstruct the arctic air blowing in from the northwest. A gentle breeze on our Wood Prairie Family Farm – protected by the Maine Woods – nearby to the west might be a near gale up on the highlands of Wilses Hill.
So, Grover came by one late October morning relating that he had virtually no crew left and wondered if Jim could help him and Scott get out the last of their potatoes. He could.
Knowing that it would be cold Jim prepared, only he didn’t prepare enough. Those end-of- October days that Fall were uniformly overcast, with daily high temps in the upper-thirtys. Up on Wilses Hill the bitter Canadian air blew as a relentless blast from sunup to sundown. Still in his mid-twenties Jim had not yet figured out that the only hope of cutting the wind and staying warm was to wear one-piece insulated coveralls. His layers of wool clothing were effective for the calm of the flatlands, but no match for the daily tempest on Wilses Hill. But there was work to be done, so no choice but to just soldier on.
Grover and Scott dug their crop one potato row at a time with their old John Bean Mfg ‘Barrel’ Harvester. Dug potatoes exited the ‘Secondary Lag Bed’ and funneled into sturdy 12-peck cedar Potato Barrels which hold 165 pounds of potatoes. When the barrel was full a foot-operated pedal allowed the floor to drop, the barrel to then kiss the ground and gently get left behind as the harvester steadily crept forward. The aftermath was a straight row of potato-filled-barrels awaiting their turn to be picked up later on by the flat-bed barrel truck with its hoist and barrel grapple.
Harvesting potatoes directly into accompanying bulk body trucks was the coming thing. However, some smaller and traditional farmers still back in those days held fast to the potato-barrel-centric systems that they and their fathers and grandfathers knew well and trusted.
That cold Fall we succeeded in digging every Potato we could get off of Wilses Hill. The wet holes never dried enough to surrender their cache. Rain that comes to Northern Maine in October doesn’t evaporate, it just accumulates there in Potato ground and gets in the way. The straggler potatoes left behind got froze solid with Winter’s approach. They thawed the next Spring and then decomposed down to again become one with the earth.
And during planting that following Spring, with past hardships forgotten, amidst the sunny, bright mornings there was universal, infectious optimism among farmers that this year has all the makings for one fine crop of potatoes.
Caleb, Megan & Jim
DIGGING POTATOES ON BOOTFOOT ROAD SIXTY YEARS AGO. BRIDGEWATER, MAINE. Circa 1962. (photo credit: Ray D. Yerxa, Yerxa Family Farm). In addition to our next-door-neighbor Grover Patterson, another farm on Bootfoot Road also dug their potatoes with a John Bean One-Row Barrel Harvester.
Yerxa Family Farm is halfway out Bootfoot, where the Whitney Stream crosses the road. ‘Yerxas’ are on the north side of Bootfoot in the ‘Bridgewater Academy Grant.’ In this shot taken by Ray, driving that Oliver Super 77 or early 770 tractor is Ray’s son, Bill. On the ‘Bean,’ Bill’s wife Irene is the one doing the waving. Bill and Irene’s son, Bo, is at left next to the harvester engine.
Of the three remaining workers, one is a local woman from Town. The other two are a Micmac couple from the Big Cove Reserve in New Brunswick. They were the last of three generations from the same family who would come over from Big Cove to work on the Yerxa Family Farm. That one fact says something significant about both families. Caleb, Megan & Jim