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Friday, May 6th, 2022
Volume 31 Issue 5

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In This Issue of The Wood Prairie Seed Piece:

   Cool Mother's Day.


An Amish Mother Going From Here to There.

There’s no indication from this Library of Congress photo whether this young Mother is providing taxi service or - more likely - just taking Junior along for the ride.

Here in Northern Maine it’s been a cool Spring so far. Our 6” deep soil temperature has not yet reached 40ºF so we have a ways to go before we hit the 50ºF mark we like to see before we start planting our new crop of potatoes.

If you haven’t placed your seed order yet, don’t worry. There’s plenty of time! We still have a good supply and can meet your needs when it comes to all types of top notch organic seed and supplies: Organic Maine Certified Seed Potatoes, Organic Vegetable Seed, Organic Herb Seed, Organic Flower Seed, Organic Farm & Cover Crop Seed, Smart Bags for Container Planting, Organic Fertilizer, and Garden Tools & Supplies.

We’re now caught up on shipping orders and we’re back to our normal fast turnaround.

So here in Maine, we’re waiting for warmer ground.

Stay Safe & Stay Warm!

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Caleb, Jim & Megan Gerritsen & Family
Wood Prairie Family Farm
Bridgewater, Maine

 

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Maine Tales: That Odd Cold Spring. Bridgewater, Maine. Circa 1992.
Dusty Work on Wood Prairie Tuber-Unit Potato Planter. With mounted seed knives, Megan and Kenyon cut into seed pieces sprouted organic Prairie Blush seed potatoes. Using an old-time seed growing technique known as “Tuber-Unit Planting,” they lay each daughter seed piece from a single-mother-tuber sequentially onto the slowly-revolving segmented conveyer belt. Planting by tuber-unit provides superior rewards when later in the Summer we systematically rogue our seed fields to remove the tuber-units afflicted with potato virus. Luck doesn’t bring about excellence. However, performing each and every detail correctly adds up and gives us the ability to grow the very best organic Certified Seed Potatoes.


That odd Spring thirty years ago had been cold and dry. Without the benefit of warm Spring rains, Winter’s penetrating frost persisted and remained as deep-buried, unthawed-ground. In the weeks ahead of planting, we had gotten ensnared into a mushrooming project of rebuilding and converting over a 2-Row Iron Age conventional-pick-style potato planter into a unique Tuber-Unit-Planter with segmented-conveyer-belt feed. Our new planter would be styled after a prototype we’d seen invented by a ingenious seed farmer over in Canada. Like most projects, this one was taking a lot longer than anticipated.

Come the middle of May the weather abruptly broke out of its stubborn cold pattern. All of a sudden we were gifted with four unprecedented and consecutive days of sunny, hot weather into the 90s. On the second of those days every farmer in Aroostook County – except us – was going great guns planting their crop of potatoes. It would be another full week before we got our refurbished planter up and running. It is a lonely, sinking feeling when everyone else around you is planting but you aren’t because you weren’t ready.

One farmer in the next Town north got stuck when the tractor pulling his heavy and loaded 4-Row Lockwood Potato Planter couldn’t turn around on the sloping grassy headlands. The rubber lugs on his tractor’s tires couldn’t get traction on that Spring’s icy permafrost located just beneath the sod layer. In hindsight, that slippery ordeal might have served as a harbinger of trouble ahead.

A week after everyone else got going, we had completed the building of our ‘new’ planter and started planting our own potato crop. The weather held until early June giving us enough time to get our crop fully planted.

Then the pendulum swung. The rest of the entire Summer turned cold and wet just like an Irish Spring. Thankfully, we had done a good job greenspouting the seed for our entire crop. Those primed and sprouting tubers, once mechanically planted into the soil, progressed in rocket-like-fashion and emerged quickly with outstanding germination. In farming, timing is everything and as it turned out our potatoes loved that cool, moist Summer. That year we grew one of our best organic potato crops ever, both beautiful and bountiful.

On the other hand, most of Northern Maine was in store for a multi-pronged potato disaster. The crop growing from seed planted too early in the thawed layer over frozen ground had in a great many cases become afflicted with a non-disease physiological disorder known as incipient Hollow Heart. The Hollow Heart malady had been triggered by the adverse cold soil conditions when new developing tubers were nothing more than match-head-sized swellings on potato stolons. One neighbor, made a valiant but in-the-end ineffectual attempt to arrest cavity development in a crop of Atlantic seed potatoes he was growing to sell to chipstock growers in Florida. He gambled and top-killed his potato crop record-early on August 2 when the tubers had only bulked up to the size of Clementines. Unfortunately, however, those Atlantics did not escape the bane of Hollow Heart.

In many other area fields potatoes came to be afflicted with a disease that at first blush had been misdiagnosed by experts as Pink Rot. Eventually, affected tubers were sent out West for DNA fingerprinting and weeks later the verdict came back that the problem was in-fact a brand new-on-the-scene Mating type of Potato Late Blight known as “A2.” Farmers the world over had been dealing with PLB Mating type A1 since the days of the Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s. Then in the late 1980s this new and aggressive virulent Mating type A2 had been first identified in East Germany. After erratic worldwide journeying for a decade A2 had eventually found its way into Mexico and is believed to have hitchhiked into the USA on infected Tomatoes.

Sadly, in the fullness of time a third of that problematic ’92 Maine potato crop succumbed to its woes, was found to be worthless and unmarketable and was unceremoniously dumped.

Sometimes, going against the flow turns out to be good for us, even when we may have been clueless to the protection that we were actually being afforded at the time.

Caleb, Megan & Jim
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Wood Prairie Family Farm Photos.



Maine’s Last Snow of the Year?
Well, maybe, maybe not. The latest we’ve ever seen accumulating snow was back in 1991, back when Springs were earlier. That year we had just finished planting our crop of organic Certified Seed Potatoes and the new snow piled up on top 4 inches deep on May 20. Then two years ago in 2020, we received 10” of snow on May 9, and that followed 14” on April 10 and another 8” on April 22. A post-potato-planting snowfall is what the old timer’s called “Poor Man’s Fertilizer.” A planted potato crop that is snowed-on in the Spring has often been often observed to perform particularly well. We believe the reason is because every drop of slow-melting snow water gets utilized by the potatoes. Happy potatoes possess optimism and have a higher ‘set’ (number of tubers per hill), an important factor which establishes the foundation for the biggest possible crop. Last week, buffetted by stiff winds, our farm received an accumulation of 3" of new snow. During that slow moving storm we hovered in the low 30s for thirty hours. During the same period to north of us in Hudson’s Bay temperatures had descended down into the single numbers (Degrees F). Here, in this shot Caleb & Lizzi's one-year-old Rottweiler, Ralph, wanders about and relives Maine’s familiar six months of Winter.


Scientists Prove All Seed Potatoes Are NOT Created Equal.   Almost 15 years ago researchers at North Dakota State University put together a three-year trial which compared different sources of organic seed potatoes. The variety used for testing was Yukon Gold. We’re happy to report Wood Prairie Certified Seed Potatoes came out on top, besting all others including the control, conventionally-grown MN Blue Seed Tag Certified Seed. Quality of seed is a nuanced issue and impacted by a vast array of important factors. Some of those factors include biological activity of soil, level of balanced soil fertility, seed tubers’ nutrient density and physiological age, the care seed tubers receive not only in the field but in the storage, and freedom from disease. In order to be productive seed potatoes must be healthy and firing on all cylinders. To reward yourself for all the hard work you do in your garden, it definitely will pay to secure the very best organic seed you can lay your hands on.



A Familiar Underground Wintertime Scene at Wood Prairie Family Farm.   Pictured here is a very typical scene witnessed most any Winter's day in our windowless, heavily-insulated underground potato storage - known universally in Aroostook County as a Potato House. A Yale forklift powered by a huge electric battery allows pallet boxes of Organic Maine Certified Seed Potatoes to be stacked high up to the top of the 14-foot ceiling. Color-coded pallets of cartons of seed potatoes headed to market farmers across the USA are in the process of being built, variety-by-variety. Beyond the forklift is a red and yellow potato-cleaning ‘Wide Nylon Potato Brusher’ built by a local company. It helps us conduct a final inspection of seed tubers right before packaging. Behind the Brusher lies 40-year-old stonework giving away the fact that this now twenty-three-year-old Potato House is a built-on addition to an underground labyrinth of connected potato storage space in every direction. We maintain our sprawling potato storage at 38oF and high humidity and ship to all 50 States - ten months a year - from September until the 4th of July.
 
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Caleb & Jim & Megan Gerritsen
Wood Prairie Family Farm
49 Kinney Road
Bridgewater, Maine 04735
(207) 429 - 9765 Certified Organic, From Farm to Mailbox
www.woodprairie.com