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Organic News and Commentary
From Maine
           Saturday, February 1st, 2020
                  Volume 29 Issue 3

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 In This Issue of The Wood Prairie Seed Piece:

   Days Getting Longer.


    Jim Fingerweeding Potatoes on Wood Prairie Family Farm.

     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.”

         Do you 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. 

Caleb, Jim & Megan Gerritsen & Family
Wood Prairie Family Farm
Bridgewater, Maine
Maine Tales. Rob Johnston Retirement Ends 47-Year "Johnny's" Career. Albion, Maine. Circa 2020.

Robert Johnston, Jr.. Founder of Johnny's Selected Seeds.

     In 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. Not long 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.

      This article in ‘Downeast Magazine’ offers good additional background on Rob and his decades of accomplishments with his very original Johnny’s Selected Seeds.

Caleb, Jim & Megan

Click Here for Our Wood Prairie Organic Cover Crop Seed.

Special Offer: FREE Organic Yukon Gem Seed Potatoes!

      One of the newer potato varieties we have added to our Wood Prairie collection is Organic Yukon Gem. As its name implies, Yukon Gem is the offspring of Yukon Gold, 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 potato, Yukon Gem is a moister and firmer potato than its Mealy Dry parent, Yukon Gold. Our Wood Prairie Potato Texture Chart – 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.

     If 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 FREE 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 ends 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!

Click Here for Our Wood Prairie Organic Maine Certified Seed Potatoes.

Organic Yukon Gem.
Disease-resistant offspring of famous Yukon Gold.

Growing Potatoes in Containers. Yes, this allows you to grow potatoes ANYWHERE!
How You Can Be Successful Growing Potatoes in Containers Anywhere!

     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 Farm Photos.

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 spacing.

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 Nine.

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.

Mark Twain on Arguing.

Wood Prairie Recipe:
     Delicious Corn Chowder.

6 ears fresh corn (or frozen or canned)
1/2 c chopped onion (1 medium)
1/2 c chopped sweet pepper
1 T cooking oil
1 14-ounce can chicken broth
1 c cubed, peeled Yukon Gold 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, stirring occasionally.

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 Corn Chowder.
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?

Perry FL

     This 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.


Caleb & Jim & Megan Gerritsen
Wood Prairie Family Farm
49 Kinney Road
Bridgewater, Maine 04735
(207) 429 - 9765 Certified Organic, From Farm to Mailbox