News and Commentary
Saturday, February 1st, 2020
Issue of The
Wood Prairie Seed
Jim Fingerweeding Potatoes on Wood Prairie
This cover on our new Wood
Prairie catalog – now hitting mailboxes - shows the
process of Fingerweeding newly emerged
Yukon Gold potatoes last Spring. Midmount cultivators
on our Oliver 1650 Diesel tractor shovel soil up close
to the small Yukon Gold plants. Attached to the rear
of the tractor is our four-row Fingerweeder mounted on
the three-point-hitch which allows a farmer to adjust
finger depth from the tractor seat. At a relatively
brisk speed of 4 mph, the pencil-diameter metal
fingers aggressively rake through the soil uprooting
and killing in-row weeds which seconds before had a
bright future ahead.
We bought this Fingerweeder
over a quarter-century ago from a then-retiring local
potato farmer. The only modification we made was to
weld on a new mount to switch it over from a
trailering implement to one mounted on the more modern
invention of a three-point hitch. The seller had
bought the implement brand new back in 1952 when
Maine’s 237,000 acres of potatoes led the nation in
potato production and earned Northern Maine the name
of “The Potato Empire.”
know what year chemical herbicides were first
introduced? That would be 1953. This means that when
Maine was at its historical peak in potato production,
not a single drop of herbicide had ever been used.
Weeds were controlled with cold steel. So, now when we
hear a chemical company asserting their selling claim
that their chemical wares are essential for
growing food, we think back to our Fingerweeder. Like
all organic farmers, our understanding is informed by
our experience. Farm chemicals are a choice, not a
necessity. For the last 125 years organic farmers have
been making the conscious choice to avoid toxins when
we grow food and seed. Each organic farmer out there
is daily providing living proof that producing good
food and good seed can be done without chemicals and
done very well.
Jim & Megan Gerritsen & Family
Wood Prairie Family Farm
|Maine Tales. Rob
Johnston Retirement Ends 47-Year "Johnny's"
Career. Albion, Maine. Circa 2020.
Robert Johnston, Jr..
Founder of Johnny's Selected Seeds.
1973, 22-year-old Rob Johnston began his seed venture on a
farm in New Hampshire. Two years later he moved his
nascent operation to Ben & Ariel Wilcox’s organic
Peacemeal Farm in Dixmont, Maine. That move began Rob’s
- and Johnny’s Selected Seeds’ - enduring and
uninterrupted deep commitment to Maine.
afterwards, Rob bought a former dairy farm a couple of
towns over in nearby Albion which to this day remains the
heart of Johnny’s and is home to its complex network of
trialing plots. Over the decades Rob became a respected
seed breeder, organic farmer and business entrepreneur.
Johnny’s pioneering dive
into supplying the seed needs of heretofore neglected
small-scale family vegetable farmers was both
revolutionary and profitable. It is no exaggeration to
say that Johnny’s has been instrumental in fueling
the hot local food movement scene.
We purchased our first
seed from Rob and Johnny’s Selected Seeds in 1975. Then
thirty years ago we sold our first load of organic
Maine Certified Seed Potatoes to Johnny’s. For
most of the twenty-five years Jim served on MOFGA’s
Certification Committee, beginning in the mid-1980s, he
worked alongside Rob who was longtime Chair.
In the early 2000s,
after great success had been achieved and as Johnny’s
was ramping up towards even more significant growth –
and vastly increased administrative responsibilities –
Rob decided it was time to sell the company. In a move
which offered insight both into Rob’s integrity and
his commitment to Maine and his loyal co-workers,
he attached to the sale the requirement that Johnny’s must
not be moved away from Maine. This
stipulation in effect created a poison pill. It
dissuaded interested competitors from afar who would
have loved to have acquired Johnny’s and roll its iconic
title into their own distant portfolio. In time the best
option floated to the surface and that was to enter into
an employee buyout. In a very involved and painstaking
procedure, that ownership transition began in 2006 and
was successfully completed in 2012. Johnny’s Selected
Seeds is now a 100% employee-owned company and the
arrangement offers substantial benefits to its
employee-owners. The last figure we heard a few years
back was that Johnny’s sales at that time amounted to
$42 Million annually.
One Tuesday last month
was Rob’s last workday as he officially ended duties,
stepped down from the Johnny’s Board of Directors and
retired from Johnny’s Selected Seeds. That same Tuesday
evening a celebratory tribute for Rob and his
legacy was held at Thomas College in Waterville. Caleb
and Jim attended. So did over one hundred
Johnny’s employees, members of Johnny’s Board (including
Agrarian Elders Norbert Kungl and Jack Algiere), and
Johnny’s famous Tool Inventors/Advisors Agrarian Elders
Eliot Coleman & Barbara Damrosch. Also in attendance
was Peacemeal Farm’s Ben Wilcox who in later years had
become an employee at Johnny’s.
Rob and his wife,
Janika Eckert (also an accomplished seed breeder
in her own right), own a house in France and
have been spending increasing amounts of time there.
They also share intense-bicycling as another passion
they enjoy together.
article in ‘Downeast Magazine’ offers
good additional background on Rob and his decades of
accomplishments with his very original Johnny’s Selected
Caleb, Jim & Megan
Here for Our Wood Prairie Organic Cover Crop Seed.
FREE Organic Yukon Gem Seed Potatoes!
One of the newer potato
varieties we have added to our Wood Prairie collection is
. As its name implies, Yukon
Gem is the offspring of Yukon
, which was crossed using
traditional breeding methods with the rugged Scottish
variety ‘Brodick.’ The wonderful result is a potato that
combines significantly improved disease-resistance with
very high culinary quality.
In blind taste tests, Yukon Gem
has received a high, nearly equivalent score as famed
Yukon Gold. However, taste and texture while excellent,
does differ. As a Waxy Mid-Dry
Yukon Gem is a moister and firmer potato than its Mealy
parent, Yukon Gold. Our Wood Prairie Potato
– put together by
Caleb’s mother, Megan - does a good job sorting out the
similarities and contrasting the differences among all of
our potato varieties including Yukon Gem and Yukon Gold.
you have not yet grown Yukon Gem we think you owe it to
yourself to give them a try and we’re here to help! Earn a
1 lb. Sack of Organic
Yukon Gem Seed Potatoes
(Value $11.95) when your
next Wood Prairie order totals $59 or more. FREE
Organic Yukon Gem Seed Potatoes Offer
11:59 PM on Monday, February 3. Please use Promo Code WPFF462
Your order and FREE
Organic Yukon Gem Seed Potato Offer
- must ship no
later than May 5, 2020. Offer may not be combined with
other offers. Please place your order TODAY!
Here for Our Wood Prairie Organic Maine Certified Seed
Organic Yukon Gem. Disease-resistant offspring of
Growing Potatoes in
Containers. Yes, this allows you to grow potatoes
How You Can Be Successful Growing Potatoes in
Wood Prairie customer Kerry Michaels is a good garden writer
and has written this excellent
primer on growing potatoes in containers.
In recent years “Container Gardening” has become one of the
hottest trends in gardening. Why? Because many people today
with a desire to garden, simply lack access to land for
growing in the traditional way in the soil. The new
container revolution allows you to grow a garden
wherever you have a window or patio that the sun
shines on for 6-8 hours per day. Secure some good local
compost or soil to fill up your containers and you’re on
your way to growing to your heart’s content!
Remember, we are organic family farmers with 40 year’s
experience who ship our Organic Maine Certified Seed
Potatoes to home gardeners and family farmers in all 50
States in quantities from 1# to 10,000#. Our competitors
invariably just re-sell someone else’s potatoes from who
knows where…and typically are only willing to ship orders in
March or April.
But we’re farmers and we’re different at Wood Prairie! We SHIP
FAST, FARM-DIRECT EACH & EVERY WEEK ten months a
year beginning with our potato harvest in
September – from our underground potato storage through
Fall, Winter and Spring - until the 4th of July!
Caleb, Megan & Jim
A homegrown potato that has just been dug
out of the soil is an amazing treat, and
potatoes are easy to grow organically in
containers. Like tomatoes, the taste and
texture of fresh potatoes are very different
than those you buy from the store. By
growing your own, you also have the
opportunity to plant unusual varieties that
are hard to find.
There are several advantages to growing
potatoes in containers rather than in the
ground. Chief among them is that it's easier
to protect the plants from the critters that
love to eat them. Plus, you don't have to
find extra space in the garden or worry too
much about weeds.
Container potatoes are also a really fun
project to do with kids. The plants grow
amazingly fast and produce a great yield for
the space required. Besides, most kids enjoy
eating potatoes anyway, and they'll love the
ones they grow themselves even more.
|Wood Prairie Family
Rear Shot of
Fingerweeding on Wood Prairie Family Farm.
Complimenting this issue’s opening photo is a
second photo of Fingerweeding potatoes. This one is taken
from the rear and shows the aftermath of a single pass of
the tractor-mounted-fingerweeder. The potato plants have
been roughed up some but they are anchored well and can take
the abuse. Not so the small weeds which quickly
desiccate and die. Like most potato rows on commercial
farms in North America our rows are three foot apart and
tractor tires are spaced six feet apart center-to-center.
Some producers have been following the lead of Dutch farmers
and are dropping rows down to 34” or even 32” apart, all in
an effort to squeeze more yield out of an acre thanks to
higher plant populations per acre. However, we like the good
healthy airflow around plants allowed by our three foot
On Top of BigRock Mountain.
Twenty minutes from our front door is BigRock Ski
Area which is located on Mars Hill Mountain. BigRock has a
one thousand foot drop which may not be much by western ski
mountain standards but it happens to be the tallest
downhill ski mountain in Northern Maine and offers
good skiing and snowboarding. Over the decades our family
has made good use of BigRock’s ski opportunities, especially
in years gone by when Gerritsen kids were younger and in the
days when family lift rates used to be a remarkable bargain.
This shot is taken from the mountain top at an elevation of
1600 feet and is looking southwest towards our farm. Number
Nine Mountain is near the horizon fifteen miles away as the
crow flies. We’re located two-thirds of the way towards
Happy Wood Prairie Chickens.
If the steady flow of organic eggs from our chickens this
Winter is any measure, they seem to be appreciating our
so-far pretty mild weather. Typically our family’s egg
supply is nip and tuck during the cold and dark Winter
months. However, this year we are rich with a steady egg
supply. We believe the high production is due to the
combination of the warmer than ‘normal’ Winter weather plus
our good and improved organic feed recipe. The days are now
noticeably gaining in daylight with every week. Longer days
appreciated by both people and chickens.
6 ears fresh corn
(or frozen or canned)
1/2 c chopped onion
1/2 c chopped sweet
1 T cooking oil
1 14-ounce can chicken broth
1 c cubed, peeled Yukon
potato (1 medium)
4 tsp all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 1/2 c milk
If using fresh corn, use a sharp knife to cut the kernels
off the cobs - you should have about 3 cups.
In a large saucepan cook onion and sweet pepper in hot oil
until onion is tender but not brown. Stir in chicken broth
and potato. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer,
covered, for 10 minutes. Stir in corn. Cook, covered,
about 10 minutes more or until potato and corn are tender,
In a small bowl combine flour, salt, and pepper. Stir milk
into flour mixture; add to corn mixture in saucepan. Cook
and stir until slightly thickened and bubbly. If desired,
garnish each serving with parsley.
Makes about 5 1/2 cups
Sensational and Delicious
Photo by Angela Wotton.
|Wood Prairie Mailbox:
Open my Eyes and Unwanted Chemical Drift.
Open my Eyes
I have some late planted Amarosa potatoes...they are in
great shape...no eyes are budding through. Can they be
planted without the eye buds?
Modern potato breeders give
high priority to new varieties with a smooth surface which
means non-apparent eyes. A couple of weeks before planting
I would definitely warm the seed tubers up to 75ºF for a
week to break dormancy. That will allow the sprouts to
start growing from the non-obvious eyes. After the first
week expose tubers to light to green them up and to
prevent sprouts from elongating. Also, drop the temp to
50-55ºF to conserve seed tuber vigor. We recommend not
straying away more than one generation from Certified Seed
Potatoes. One of our most experienced customers related
that he got over a 3x yield increased from Certified Seed
tubers he got from us compared to tubers of a variety he
had been saving as seed and using for many years.
Unwanted Chemical Drift
I hope the court and jury throw the book at them. Another
horrible product. How many more have they made and will
release on us?
new article about the massive Chemical drift carnage
waged by Monsanto's and BASF's 'Dicamba' herbicide
highlights the issue. An important legal principle is in
play here. As a farmer and tax-paying landowner,
drift-injured Peach Farmer Bader has a right to full use
of every inch of his property. This right includes how he
chooses to manage his land, including insisting it be free
from unwanted, illegal and harmful chemical trespass. This
same principle is of critical concern to organic
farmers who universally desire to exercise their full
private property rights in vigorously excluding unwanted
chemical trespass. The courts should protect farmers from
unwanted harmful drift to the same degree they protect
homeowners from arsonists.
|Wood Prairie Farm
Caleb & Jim & Megan Gerritsen
Wood Prairie Family Farm
49 Kinney Road
Bridgewater, Maine 04735
(207) 429 - 9765
Certified Organic, From Farm to Mailbox