June 10th, 2022
Volume 31 Issue 6
In This Issue of The
Wood Prairie Seed
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
We hope that wherever you garden you are having a safe
and happy Spring!
Jim & Megan Gerritsen & Family
Wood Prairie Family Farm
Maine Tales: The
Fine Art of Maine Rock Picking. Bridgewater,
Maine. Circa 1920.
Amy, Driving the Farmall Tractor Pulling Our Rock
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
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
|Wood Prairie Family
Megan Harrowing Ahead of Wood Prairie Potato Planter.
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.
Prairie Roadside Organic Potato-Planter
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
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
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
Best Find Phacelia
Evening Sun Sunflowers
Colorful Blend Nasturtiums
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
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
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.
Caleb & Jim & Megan Gerritsen
Wood Prairie Family Farm
49 Kinney Road
Bridgewater, Maine 04735
(207) 429 - 9765
Certified Organic, From Farm to Mailbox