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Friday, June 10th, 2022
Volume 31 Issue 6

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In This Issue of The Wood Prairie Seed Piece:

   The Weather Pendulum Swings.


Planting the 2022 Wood Prairie Organic Certified Seed Potato Crop in Northern Maine.

We started out this May with cool temps and dry soil. Then a sudden spell of hot weather arrived and pushed up soil temperatures enough to encourage us to begin planting just about on time according to the calendar. Soon, however, the weather pattern shifted with rains returning, slowing down field work and putting a delay to the completion of planting. Thankfully, reliable winds have mostly kept the Black Flies at bay while we work.

Megan took this shot one cool morning before the rains. Jim is creeping along at 1/2 MPH driving the Oliver 1750 Diesel tractor. Working on our farm-fabricated two-row "Tuber Unit" Potato Planter are (left to right) Kenyon, Amy (Caleb's sister), Miguel (Caleb's nephew-in-law) and Rob (Caleb's brother-in-law) who cut appropriate-sized seed pieces from the whole spouted-seed-tubers while the tractor is crawling along.

In an old-time technique rarely practiced anymore by any other seed farm, we’ve been Tuber Unit planting for over 30 years. Mother-seed-tubers are manually cut by the crew into seed pieces. They then place together the Daughter-seed-pieces from a single group - or "Tuber Unit" - sequentially on a slow moving segmented conveyor belt. Planting by the Tuber Unit allows us to be much more successful over the Summer when roguing out tuber units which have become infected with potato virus spread by aphids.

Tuber unit planting is just one of many reasons why University research has proven that our seed outperforms the competition.

We hope that wherever you garden you are having a safe and happy Spring!

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

 

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Maine Tales: The Fine Art of Maine Rock Picking. Bridgewater, Maine. Circa 1920.
Caleb’s Sister, Amy, Driving the Farmall Tractor Pulling Our Rock Dump Cart.  As soon as the last potato seed piece has been planted, Aroostook County shifts gears and engages in a colossal annual ritual known as hand rock picking.

Almost everyone has a hankering to be number one at something. Not to brag, but it’s widely known around here that we have the #1 rockiest farm in the entire Town of Bridgewater. The many glaciers which have come through this country over the eons appear to have run out-of-gas and left deposits on this farm of more than our fair share of rocks.

Aroostook County pioneers began clearing the trees off high ground to create potato fields prior to the State of Maine becoming the twenty-third State in 1820. Right after tree-clearing and stump-pulling, they began removing rocks. And Aroostook farmers have never deviated from their rock obsession. Recalcitrant rocks commit the unforgiveable cardinal sin of bruising potatoes and busting-up equipment. Picking rocks remains the one obsession which ropes together every Aroostook farmer.

Years back, we were farming a field which abutted another overgrown field and we needed to pick the rocks from one stony corner immediately adjacent. We shut off the tractor which pulled the red Rock Cart and we set to picking. Without moving the tractor again from that single spot, we filled the three-yard-capacity Cart. Had we been a bit brighter, this experience might have served as an omen. One of the school boys helping us fill the Rock Cart asked if this corner had once been a farmer’s rock pile. No, sadly, it had not.

Sometime later, almost twenty years ago, needing more land to farm we decided that we would clear off all the trees from this same four-acre overgrown field. By counting the rings on the Spruce and Fir tree stumps which remained, we determined that the old field had been abandoned seventy years earlier. That seemed odd at the time since seventy years prior was not long after the field had first been cleared from the original forest around WWI. After we cleared the re-grown trees - and then their stumps - we commenced to working up the ground. Then, we drove systematically back-and-forth across this new field with a tractor pulling a mechanical lag-style Rock Picker and we hauled out the rocks, load after load. By the time we got the field fit to farm, we had removed 800 cubic yards of rocks from this single four-acre field.

We came to conclude that the pioneer farmers who first cleared this field from the primeval boreal forest had become so discouraged with nature’s inundation of rocks that soon after they just abandoned it, allowing the Maine woods to reclaim the ground.

On every Aroostook potato farm, once potato planting has been completed in June, there will always remain certain unruly rocks laying atop of potato rows, singularly dedicated to causing mayhem for farmers.

After many decades of mechanized rock removal efforts by various types of farm machinery the number of rocks left to pick in Aroostook County is nowadays only a small fraction of what the glaciers left behind. However, despite the mega-mechanized world of modern potato farming, post-planting rock-picking is still the one job that no one has invented a way to avoid the use of hand labor. So to this day, the need to 'pick rocks' by hand remains a universal Aroostook affliction, impacting everyone from the smallest of fry - like us - to the most megalithic of Maine potato farming operations.

Caleb, Megan & Jim
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Wood Prairie Family Farm Photos.



Megan Harrowing Ahead of Wood Prairie Potato Planter.
On a cool May day and ahead of the potato planter, Megan drives our 92-HP 1966 Oliver 1850 Diesel tractor which is pulling a 19-foot wide International Harvester Vibrashank harrow. The shot was taken by Jim from the seat of his Oliver 1750 Diesel.  It is pulling our two-row Lockwood Potato Planter which we modified over to become a custom labor-intensive ‘Tuber Unit’ planter.  Front-mounted twin stainless steel 55-gal tanks dispense a special organic blend of soil inoculants into the rhizosphere surrounding the planted seed potato tubers. 


Wood Prairie Roadside Organic Potato-Planter Filling-Station.   After completion of every round-trip planting we pull the tractor with the Potato Planter up to this Station for a refill.  On the green 16-foot hay wagon sits the red Fertilizer Hopper containing a field-specific custom-blend of organic ground rock fertilizer.  Two Caged Water Tanks (275 gallons each) supply the carrier water for our organic biological soil inoculants.  Amy is brewmaster and carefully mixes the ingredients for inoculating the soil with beneficial fungi and bacteria.  We apply this slurry of inoculants in-furrow while planting at a rate of about 200 gallons of inoculant per acre.  Wooden pallet boxes and palletized 'Tulip Crates' of warmed-up seed potatoes sit ahead of the 'red hopper.' Another pallet contains the various liquid and powdered soil inoculants.  The green Clark Forklift has been outfitted with a hydraulic 'Box Rotator' which allows us to unload a pallet box of seed potatoes into the planter's seed hopper with minimal human effort.  The resting green Oliver 1650 Diesel tractor at left is outfitted with a rear-mount narrow Brillion Cultipacker Roller.  We use this implement to prepare the soil for strategically-located Beneficial Flower Beds planted to varieties offering valuable nectar and pollen sustenance to Beneficial Insects which predate upon harmful Potato insect pests.



Time-Lapse Video of Amy Mixing Our Beneficial Flower Seed. With the weather cooperating, we finished planting our field crop of Organic Maine Certified Seed Potatoes.  The next day, with more rain in the forecast, we quickly shifted over and prepped and planted flower beds located strategically both inside and around our two potato fields. Amy made this time-lapse video (0:34) while working with her mother, Megan, weighing out and blending together Flower seed along with carrier black granular Organic Pelleted Poultry Compost Fertilizer.   This time around, we narrowed down last year's mix of 70 varieties of recommended Flower species - ones reputed to attract and feed Beneficial Insect Predators - to the most promising 17 varieties. Among our favorite Beneficial Flowers are Organic California Poppies, Organic Seashells Cosmos, Organic Best Find Phacelia, Organic Goldilocks Rudbeckia, Organic Evening Sun Sunflowers, Organic Colorful Blend Nasturtiums and Organic County Fair Blend Zinneas.  In farming, timing is everything.  Just as Jim and Amy finished sowing the last of the Flower seeding mix, the skies let loose and began a series of thunderstorms which would amount to over 2 1/2" of rain over the course of the weekend.  



How We Propagate Our Rare Organic Potato Varieties on Wood Prairie Family Farm.  We have been patiently waiting out the rain, looking for dry weather in order to plant our Potato Minituber seed plots inside our portable 600-foot ‘Long Screenhouse Tunnel’ (covered with aphid-excluding netting). We just finished planting 3000 tiny tissue-cultured Potato Plantlets (each the size of an Alfalfa sprout) from their Petri dishes into home-made Soil Blocks made from organic compost. After the roots grow out strong in a week or so, we'll transplant these Soil-Blocked-Plantlets into grow-tubs filled with organic compost and located inside our second 'Short Screenhouse Tunnel.'  Our harvest this Fall from these Plantlets will be the disease-free Minitubers which we'll plant out next year into the Long Tunnel. After that we'll multiply up for another year or two before we sell our Organic Certified Seed Potato tubers to home and market gardeners like you.  In this photo, Amy is bent over with clipboard, recording final count of trays of Soil-Block-planted Plantlets laid out on five pallets. Seated and finishing up planting Potato Plantlets into Soil Blocks are (left to right) Kenyon, Megan and Cassidy.

For many of the organic potato varieties we grow and offer for sale – including Butte Russet, Caribe, Charlotte, Prairie Blush, Red Cloud and Rose Gold we are about the only Certified Seed Growers in the United States who grow them.  Going the extra mile is the only way we can make these fantastic organic varieties available to you.

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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