WOOD PRAIRIE WEATHER REPORT. Weekend rains that began Friday evening in Aroostook County left us with a total of 3.35″ of rain recorded in our weather station. Interestingly, we have concluded that our manual rain guage relics are less accurate and consistently have been overestimating rain events for years by about 15%.
Kenyon – over in Dyer Brook (influenced by Katahdin) – received over 5″ this weekend.
Including Tropical Storm Henri (which deposited 1.66″ of rain), in the last 35 days we’ve had 10.36″ of rain.
We’ll have to let things dry out before we can get back to digging potatoes. Thankfully with five good days of digging last week we harvested potatoes from the lowest ground and what’s left to dig are rows on the highest ground on the farm in full sun away from the shade of trees.
By historical comparison, in June 2011 we received 10″ of rain in the week following completion of planting. In 2012 we had 11″ of rain in the last three days of June (Houlton received 14″). Then in 2013 during planting in May & June we got 10″ of rain. Since 2013 we have been trending dry during the farming season.
Temperature-wise this September has been remarkably mild with especially high overnight lows. We’ve dropped into the high 30s just three times and have yet to have a frost. This means that whenever the frost arrives (Tuesday night?) it will be the latest First Fall Frost we’ve ever experienced in 45 years of farming. Caleb, Megan & Jim
“DEEP DOWN INSIDE EVERYBODY WANTS TO BE A FARMER.” Aaron Bell’s buoyant assertion in this valuable short (6:56) film (https://vimeo.com/12225749) produced a decade ago by Cecily Pingree & Jason Mann of Pull-Start Pictures is familiar ground in the minds of family farmers.
Modern-day maniacally-production-centric ag economics notwithstanding, there is a lot to be said for the relative freedom and independence afforded by family farming and the manifested ability to decide when to get up and what to do in the day ahead.
We’ve been friends with Aaron & Carly since they first graduated from the UMO Sustainable Ag program twenty years ago and moved back to resuscitate the 9-generation farm. Their girls and our Wood Prairie girls are the same age and all became fast friends growing up together during MOFGA farmer events.
Six years ago next January, Carly and Jim traveled together to the 2nd Agrarian Elders Gathering held at Esalen in Big Sur, California. Caleb, Megan & Jim
PROBLEM SOLVING ON A MAINE POTATO FARM. Elsewhere, hammers have received a whole lot of credit for distilling difficulties down to bite-sized nail-like solutions.
In Maine, chainsaws are king. In our case, that would be ‘Jonsered.’
When a repaired pallet box was too tall to fit onto our Juko Potato Harvester, Caleb’s no-brainer field-solution was to grab the Jonsered from his jeep and conduct a brief attitude improvement session.
While cavemen may have given us the ‘hammer, oozing with sophistication Maine’s contribution to world civilization would be the chainsaw. Caleb Megan & Jim
GETTING RID OF ROCKS DURING POTATO HARVEST ON WOOD PRAIRIE FAMILY FARM. Our ‘Juko’ Potato Harvester mechanically sorts potatoes from rocks. Rocks get accumulated into the Juko’s ‘rock dump.’ When full, the rock dump door is tripped and a deposit of congregated rocks is left in numerous piles across the field.
Here, Caleb driving a 66 HP Oliver 1650 Diesel and pulling a two-row ‘Lockwood’ Rock Picker is picking up those rock piles.
Originally, this rockpicker had a side boom which conveyed rocks directly into a dump truck which drove along side, working in tandem.
Old-timers have said we have the rockiest farm in town. On one grown over once-cleared 4-acre field that we had cleared of its trees, we hauled out over 400 yards of rocks left behind by many glaciers. After that rockpicking job was completed, we removed the side boom assembly and then fabricated the traditional hopper-style collection box.
A hydraulic powered door opens on command to empty the rockpicker of its load. The elevator is composed of rugged metal ‘digger lags’ which allow dirt to drop through back to the field and simultaneously convey the captured rocks to temporary detainment in the rockpicker hopper. Caleb, Megan & Jim
DIGGING A NICE CROP OF ‘KING HARRY’ POTATOES ON WOOD PRAIRIE FAMILY FARM. Despite this growing year flirting several times with drought, the potato crop we’re now digging is showing itself to be both high quality and good yielding.
In this shot taken yesterday, looking westward, we are digging a near perfect and bright, beautiful crop of naturally-bug-resistant ‘King Harry,’ a remarkable variety conventionally bred at Cornell University by crossing a wild hairy-leaved potato relative with a stalwart Round White variety. https://www.woodprairie.com/product/organic-certified-king-harry-seed-potatoes/
Helping on our Finnish ‘Juko’ Potato Harvester are (facing east) longtime co-worker Kenyon; (facing west) Caleb’s brother-in-laws Rob & David; and Stef, hidden from view riding the cart pulled by the Juko and gleaning small tubers which drop through the cracks.
We’ve had a good stretch of dry days but now have rain in the forecast beginning sometime Friday. Caleb, Megan & Jim
TIME TO MARK YOUR CALENDARS: MAJOR SOLAR ECLIPSE DUE APRIL 2024. This time around Northern Maine will be ground zero as the Maple sap runs and the Winter’s snow is melting.
Graphic and data below posted by Eric Hendrickson. Caleb, Megan & Jim
Timezone EDT (Eastern Daylight Time)
Duration 2 hours, 27 minutes, 8 seconds
Duration of totality 3 minutes, 31 seconds
Partial begins Apr 8, 2024 at 2:04:49 pm
Full begins Apr 8, 2024 at 3:18:17 pm
Maximum Apr 8, 2024 at 3:20:02 pm
Full ends Apr 8, 2024 at 3:21:48 pm
Partial ends Apr 8, 2024 at 4:31:57 pm
WEEKEND POTATO PICKING ON WOOD PRAIRIE FAMILY FARM. This Fall we’ve taken to hand-picking Fingerling potatoes on weekends, catering to schedules of Houlton schools which no longer close down for Potato Harvest Break. The tradition of Aroostook County schools closing for harvest goes back to 1945 and is still followed by schools in Mars Hill, Presque Isle, Easton, Fort Fairfield, Caribou and Washburn.
With perfect soil conditions our Finnish ‘Juko’ potato harvester will successfully dig small and long Fingerling potatoes. However, after getting more than 7″ of rain in the last four weeks we can do a better job digging up the rows with our old John Deere #30 digger and then picking the spuds up by hand.
When Caleb married earlier this Summer we gained a willing weekend crew of Houlton nephews, nieces, sister-in-law and brothers-in-law.
Two hours after this picture was taken we finished up just as lightening bolts and a thunderstorm hit the farm. Caleb, Megan & Jim
WELCOME MILESTONE: POURING THE FOOTING FOR NEW WOOD PRAIRIE PACKING SHED STORAGE. Yesterday was sunny, and warmer than one could hope to expect for mid-September in Northern Maine.
It took three truckloads and twenty-two yards of concrete to fill the over-sized beefy forms needed for the footing for our heavy ICF (Insulated Concrete Forms) building. By pouring on a Friday the forms can be removed on Monday.
In this photo, Paul is giving directions on the concrete consistency he wants, while his brother, Ezra, is raking the initial flow of concrete. Paul is a master builder. He worked for us one winter years ago when construction work was slow demonstrating he is a perfect and productive worker. His two oldest boys are helping us hand-pick Fingerling potatoes on weekends.
The two men atop the bank are the concrete truck drivers. They have the near perfect job. Company regulations prevent them from helping with the grunt work. There are times when the best drivers ignore that reg and also offer valuable how-to advice. They get to drive all over Aroostook County and discover treasure-like de-centralized building activity in hidden corners off the beaten path.
Their longevity on-the-job is revealed – as well as the possession of remarkable memories – when more than once one has made a comment like, “Yeah, I was down here 20 or 30 years ago when you fellers were pouring a footing.” Caleb, Megan & Jim
A ROLL OF THE DICE IN BUZZING WOOD PRAIRIE BUCKWHEAT FIELD. This field – ablaze with Buckwheat – will produce next year’s crop of Wood Prairie organic Maine Certified Seed Potatoes.
In early August after having spread and disked in barnyard manure we planted a dual soil-building crop of Buckwheat and the biofumigant Rapeseed.
As is its custom, the Buckwheat grew fast and tall, and now overstories the slower-growing foot-high Rapeseeed. A million Buckwheat blossoms are literally abuzz with hundreds (thousands?) of wild honey bees. Can you spot the brown bee in the center of the photo?
By the calandar we expected the very-frost-sensitive-Buckwheat to have been blistered with cold by now, but our mild Fall has had other designs. When the frost does come, the Rapeseed will rise like a phoenix from the ashes and grow and prosper until chopped and plowed down in November as our last rite of the farming season.
We’ve heard stories of driven old-timers who would patiently follow foraging bees back on their beeline to their hive hidden somewhere in the woods in a hollowed out tree. The detective’s reward would be a sweet bonanza of ‘free’ wild honey. Caleb, Megan & Jim
CONSTRUCTING A BIG FOOTING FOR A HEAVY PACKING SHED STORAGE. Twenty-two years ago we built an addition to our underground potato storage. The additional room allowed us to switchover from ‘Barrels & Bins’ to our current Potato Pallet Box system. That addition – still in daily use – was the first potato house in Maine to deploy the then new concept of ICF (Insulated Concrete Forms) blocks. The ICF system uses Lego-like 18”H x 48”L tongue-and-groove blocks consisting of two rectangular pieces of 2.5” foam connected to one another by rugged plastic ‘spiders’ creating a 6” or 8” cavity. The cavity gets filled with concrete and re-bar. The result is a super-insulated, super-strong, long-lasting concrete building. Fortunately, one of the benefits of ICF is once you get the footing and ground work done, the laying of ICF blocks and rebar is relatively fast.
With all that massive weight of concrete one must build oversized footings to properly handle the building and snow load. Here, Megan is in the pit next to the stepped forms which will become the 12”x32” reinforced footing. The rise twenty feet behind her is a stubborn streak of ‘blue ledge’ bedrock running NW to SE which we first encountered 45 years ago when constructing our first building in this same general vicinity. Caleb, Megan & Jim