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Friday, August 12th, 2022
Volume 31 Issue 9

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In This Issue of The Wood Prairie Seed Piece:

This edition of the Seed Piece may be found in our Wood Prairie Seed Piece Archives.
   Cooler Days Now.


Giant Boulder Unearthed Last Week from Wood Prairie Field.

It’s a good guess that this gigantic VW-Beetle-sized boulder has been sitting at the edge of one of our potato fields on the home farm since the last glaciers melted. It’s so big Caleb didn’t think our 26-ton Case Excavator would have budged it. He popped it out in about 10 minutes with our old-timer gravel-pit Michigan Payloader which has a 4.5 yard bucket. Caleb judged the weight of the rock to be around 8-9 tons since lifting it with the bucket caused the Payloader’s rear tires to go airborne. After he pushed the boulder out of the field, it took a 12-yard dumptruck load of loam topsoil to fill in the hole left behind.

This is the biggest rock we’ve ever moved! It’s been 11 years since we unearthed another huge rock, but that one was not even half as big. That other ‘big’ rock was located about 700-feet away, due north. Read about our efforts to dislodge that ‘big’ rock in Richard Horan’s great book, Harvest. Richard and his daughter Kat helped us harvest our Potato crop that Fall. He witnessed that rock removal effort and like any good author would, he then wrote about it!

We recently sent out a Customer Survey which many of you received. To those who returned the Survey, THANK YOU VERY MUCH! The overall response was OUTSTANDING and dominated by very thorough and thoughtful answers. Thanks!

As promised, yesterday we held the drawing for a $100 Wood Prairie Gift Certificate. And the randomly selected winner from all of you who responded to the Survey is…Michael from Cheshire, Connecticut! Congratulations, Michael, and thanks to EVERYONE who participated and helped us out!

Thanks, stay cool and stay safe!

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

 

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Special Offer! Red Russian Garlic.



Orders for Organic ‘Red Russian’ Garlic Seed are NOW being accepted!

Shipments begin mid-Sept 2022! Please order soon before we sell out!

Special Offer! Buy 5-Pounds and SAVE 10%

The fresh taste of this Rocambole type, stiffneck garlic will broaden your view of this wonderful vegetable which has been basking in a resurgence of culinary interest. Plant Organic Red Russian Garlic in the Fall for harvest next Summer. Our Organic Red Russian Garlic is a good keeper, very easy to peel, and has nice large cloves. Order today!


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Maine Tales. What Are You Doing on the Fourth? Bridgewater, Maine, Circa 1977.

Aroostook Potato House Worker Rolling a Potato Barrel, Circa 1940.
  Photo taken by Jack Delano, a photographer working for the Farm Security Administration who was hired to document how rural America worked during the Great Depression era.  Mr. Delano stayed in Aroostook County for the 1940 Potato Harvest.


People in Maine are legendary for their work ethic. Nowhere is this reputation more well-earned than in the potato fields of Northern Maine’s Aroostook County. Aided and abetted by a short growing season, each and every day matters for Maine farmers intent on successfully growing a crop between the last snow bank to melt in Spring and the first snow flurries of Fall.

Potato Country

In Potato country, the heavy work load continues right through Maine’s snowy and cold Winter, inside the sprawling insulated, windowless Potato storages known locally as ‘Potato Houses.’ Each Potato farmer and crew have millions of pounds of spuds to clean, sort, bag and ship. And this Winter’s work must be completed before the next Spring rolls around, when the snow exits and the cycle starts anew beginning with the annual rite of planting.

Now, the first European-American settler to land in this locale was Nathanial Bradstreet in 1827. Along with his sons John and Joseph, he left the safety and civilization of the Central Maine Town of Palermo to search for a streamside mill site to start and whittle down the forested wilderness which in time would become the Town of Bridgewater. Once the trees were removed the forest was soon converted over to farm fields in which to grow mighty potatoes. Jump down about four generations and you come to Bridgewater Seed Potato farmer Dan Bradstreet (1912-2006), grandfather to our friend, contemporary Seed Potato farmer, Ryan Bradstreet.

Work in the Potato House

Jim worked for Dan in his Potato House the Winter of 1976-1977. There had been a devastating drought in Europe the Summer of ’76. The demand for the export of Maine Certified Seed Potatoes to the Old World was strong. In addition to hanging 50-pound paper sacks for domestic trade, they’d fill and lug 50-kg burlap bags (110-pounds) into rail cars bound for Winterport, where sacks were reloaded onto boats headed to Europe.

The young men hung (filled), weighed and sewed the bags shut. Dan and a couple of older helpers graded out Potato culls on the inspection table portion of the grading line. Dan’s son, Wayne, kept the hopper full with a mechanized Potato shoveler and made sure the line was flowing well. Whenever Potato varieties had to be switched – and at the end of the day – it was time to clean up the floor of spilled and crushed potatoes and dirt. They’d also roll 11-peck Cedar Potato barrels full of ‘Seconds’ (smaller B-sized potatoes) separated out by a mechanical sizer to an awaiting bin. Some of the men were so talented at rolling barrels full of 165-pounds of potatoes that they did it effortlessly with one hand while walking beside the barrel. They could also skillfully and efficiently roll a full barrel up a single 12-foot 3”x 8” plank to a height of three or four feet, to allow the barrel to be emptied into an awaiting bin.

The noisy grading machinery would shut down during clean up and while moving about scores of barrels. It was a group activity and that created the opportunity for teasing one another. Of course, the working did not stop. This good-natured joking or rapartee is what Kentucky farmer and author Wendell Berry has called “labor saving devices.”

A Day Off for the 4th of July

Every so often Dan would take these dinless Winter opportunities to call out something like, “Jim, what are you doing on the 4th?” The “4th” was a universally-understood reference to the 4th of July, the one day – besides Sundays – a Maine farmer will take off during the year’s growing season. Daydreaming about the 4th no doubt served to shorten long Maine Winters. When outside the windowless Potato House it might have been a January morning of thrity-five degrees below zero, or blowing a blizzard, thinking about a sunny and warm ‘4th’ became a pleasant escape while doing Potato House work.

Dan’s escapades on the ‘4th’ were so well known among townsfolk that the topic rarely elicited comment. Beginning when he was a young man, rising at 4am he would toss a lunch into his pack basket and grab his fishing pole. He would traipse by foot many miles deep into the Unorganized Territory where our farm is located. Along familiar paths he’d traveled all of his life, Dan revisited the secret pools he had not laid eyes on for twelve months. These hidden pools sheltered the tasty Brook Trout that were the subject of this alternate passion. He’d loop around the woods the long way and completed his long circle back, arriving at home just before dark.

The next morning Dan was back in the Potato farming business. If it had been a good Spring, he would have just finished hoeing potatoes right before the Holiday. Now he’d be all ready to shift over to making hay, cutting Oats and getting ready for ‘Digging.’

Caleb, Megan & Jim

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Wood Prairie Family Farm Photos.



Caleb Cutting Hay on Wood Prairie Family Farm.
All that rain Northern Maine received during planting – 8” worth – has made the hay grow tall! In between rains we’ve had hot weather this Summer. As not often happens, we timed it right when Caleb cut this field of hay back in July. We got it baled a few days later and put the hay away without a single drop of rain falling upon it. This field was planted to Organic Seed Potatoes two years ago and will be back in Potatoes in 2024. In between Potato crops, we put our fields into sod to build the soil and break up Potato insect pest and disease cycles. Over the course of our 4-Year Crop Rotation, we take a single cutting of hay which we feed to our own cows. So, we'll hay this field again four years from now.



Organic California Poppy Growing in Wood Prairie Potato Field.
   Right behind Buckwheat, California Poppy was the second earliest flower to bloom in our Beneficial Insect Flower Bed trials this year. The Flower Beds are situated in and around our fields of Organic Maine Certified Seed Potatoes. The Beds are comprised of specific Flower varieties with the ability to attract and nourish predatory insects which will in turn feast on insect pests which damage Potatoes. Research from Europe indicates that Beneficial Insect Flowers should be situated every 150-feet or so amidst potatoes. That spacing is easy to accomplish in a garden. It is a surmountable challenge in a commercial Potato field.



Wood Prairie Crew Roguing Potatoes. Megan drives the red Farmall tractor which is pulling the high-clearance Roguing Cart. Cassidy at left walks the potato rows. Kenyon and Jim are out-of-sight working the other side of the Beneficial Insect flower bed.
The prominent Beneficial Insect Flowers blooming in this in-field Flower bed refuge are orange California Poppies, prolific Insect-attracting workhorse Phacelia with lavender blossoms, and the white flowers of Tapmaster Tillage Radish. That single deep purple blossom towards the lower left was the first of many Cosmos. To Megan's left, a lightly blossoming patch of Rose Gold Potatoes and single row of Elba in full blossom. To her right are five more rows of Elba, then beyond them are many rows of Eliot Coleman's favorite potato, French Charlotte.



Puppy 'Rudy' Watching the Action. A recent thunderstorm tempest snapped off a Poplar tree at the edge of a field which will be in potatoes next year. While we worked cutting up the tree for firewood, Caleb & Lizzi’s new puppy, a now 47-pound, 16-week-old Cane Corso supervised our work from the cab of our White 105 Diesel tractor. Rudy (‘Rutabega’) is best friends with 14-month old Rottweiler ‘Ralph.’ They have free run of the farm and during this hot Summer Ralph has been teaching Rudy all his tricks. They have both enjoyed cooling off by swimming in our ponds. Coincidentally, where the tractor is parked was right over location of that enormous flat topped boulder shown at the beginning of this Seed Piece. We decided it was a good time to finally dig out the rock we’d been farming around for years. No one guessed it would turn out to be anywhere near as huge as it is.


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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