The Wood Prairie Seed Piece
            Organic News and Commentary
                 Friday, January 5th 2018
                      Volume 26 Issue 1


 In This Issue of The Wood Prairie Seed Piece:

  Cold Winters.

     Local Parade Float, Aroostook County, Maine. Circa 1940.  
     Mainers are most generally a very humble people.  But when it comes to potatoes, facts is facts!
     As we enjoy the balmy 38°F temperature in our potato storage and we pre-grade our nice 2017 crop of organic seed potatoes, we are grateful for the inside work.  We just completed a nine-day stretch of morning temperatures well below zero.  Then we warmed up for our Blizzard.  Now we’re headed back down for some more below zero nights.  This is the Winter in Maine.  We’re used to it and now the days are already getting imperceptibly longer.  That’s a good plan somebody put together!
 Caleb, Jim & Megan Gerritsen & Family
 Wood Prairie Family Farm
 Bridgewater, Maine
Maine Tales: Extreme Winters. Springhill Louisiana. Circa January 1983.

     Mainers regularly meet their quota of talking about the weather.   Weather here is not an obsession.  However, particularly in Winter and especially to an outdoor people, the weather, as it should, is something that gets our attention.

    This week’s lead up to the East Coast blizzard had everybody’s attention. The media had devised and deployed its irresistible ratings-term “Bomb Cyclone” as if somehow “blizzard” was insufficient in clarity for what was to come.

    So yesterday and last night, the snow fell, the wind blew and it packed the snow into hard drifts, which Caleb reports was tough to plow through this morning with our Ford yard plow truck.  When he got done plowing at midnight last night Caleb guessed we’d had 13” of new snow.   By daylight this morning, maybe another three inches had “fallen” though it’s hard to measure snow falling sideways.

     This same storm that gave Tallahassee, Florida its first snowfall in almost thirty years had me thinking back to my three winters down South planning Loblolly Pine trees in my bachelor days.

     In the early 1980s, I decided the best way to avoid debt and capitalize the farm was to earn money by performing piece-rate planting of small pine seedlings.  Back then, hundreds of mostly young men from the north went south to plant trees each winter.

     After the first winter, treeplanting allowed me to buy my first old Oliver 77 Gas tractor.  That purchase freed me from having to borrow a tractor from generous neighbors.   By the end of the third winter I’d planted a million trees in ten States from Texas to Florida to Delaware and had some savings to show for it.

    We were treeplanters who tramped over clearcuts, slinging a planting bag over our shoulders which held five hundred to a thousand trees, and swinging the maddox-like tool called a “hoedad” to plant-by-hand the foot-tall Pine seedlings.  I worked for a company called Superior Forestry out of Leslie, Arkansas.  Rivalries ensured and we were maligned by our envious competition by the moniker, “Inferior Forestry.”  Tit for tat, I can remember our name for rival company “Qualitree” was “Quantitree.”

     One State we planted extensively in was Lousiana, mostly on International Paper Company land managed by the IP office in Springhill, just south of the Arkansas border.  Thirty-five years later, Louisiana remains most memorable to me for its gumbo gray clay soil, several pounds of which would unrelentingly stick to each boot and hoedad making an already rough back-breaking stoop-labor job that much tougher.

      One winter had us planting many acres in Lousiana.  It was after Christmas, sometime in January 1983.  Pretty soon, stubborn and determined cold descended from the North.  A storm brought one-half-inch of icing which was quickly followed by a covering of another three inches of snow.  Temperatures plummeted into the teens and twenties and were both too cold to plant trees and too cold to melt that snow covered ice.

      As was typical when that storm hit, our crew of hand planters was spread out and camped on the remote clearcut, each in our individual vehicles.  The vehicles doubled as a mobile home for what one planter-friend had tongue-in-cheek dubbed the “migratory chic” lifestyle.   Most of us had hollowed out Ford or Chevy vans.   I had outfitted mine with a small icehouse woodstove from Maine.  For nine consecutive days we were frozen out on that clearcut and unable to work.

    Without a local fleet of snowplows and sand spreaders, travel on Louisiana roads was treacherous.  It would only be a change of weather and a warm sun that would melt the snow-insulated ice and free up the roads for travel and the ground for more planting.

     I was content to stay put.  My daily exercise ritual became to head outside into the clear and windy cold with a handsaw and cut off short chunks of hardwood from the limitless supply of logging debris sticking out from the snow.  With a ready supply of dry firewood the van was kept warm and cozy by the woodstove.  Accustomed to living a week or two at a time out on the clearcuts, we all had plenty of food and water with us.

    My trophy for the winter had been finding and buying - for twenty-five cents! - a hardcover copy of Morrison’s classic and thick Feeds and Feeding in a second-hand-store book section.  Now with our forced downtime I was able to read and study every word of this eminently readable book about every aspect of livestock farming.

    Over the next thirty-five years which have followed, there have been precious few stretches as long and as carefree as those cold, windy days on that clearcut in northern Lousiana.


Click Here for Our Organic Certified Maine Seed Potatoes.

Special Offer: FREE Wood Prairie Organic Five-Grain Cereal.

     In the last couple of years, here on Wood Prairie Family Farm we’ve shifted from our decades-long tradition of eating organic oatmeal most mornings to now enjoying Five-Grain Cereal more often than anything else.  For many years, we’ve been making this special blend of five grains – Oats, Wheat, Rye Spelt and Corn – into a delicious hot cereal.  Our Five-Grain Cereal is a wonderful ingredient in baked goods like muffins and bread.

         Here’s your chance to try some Five-Grain Cereal for yourself!  Receive a FREE 2 lbs. Sack of Wood Prairie Organic Five-Grain Cereal (Value $9.95) when your next order totals $59 or more.  Offer ends 11:59 PM on Monday, January 8, 2018, so please hurry!  Please use Promo Code WPFF418. Your order and FREE 2 lbs. Sack of Wood Prairie Organic Five-Grain Cereal must ship by May 5, 2018. Offer may not be combined with other offers.   Please click today!

Click Here for Our Wood Prairie Certifed Organic Cover Crop Seed

FREE Historical USDA Bulletin on Growing Potatoes.

          What was it like growing potatoes one hundred years ago?  This forty page, USDA Bulletin No. 1188, Cost and Farm Practices in Producing Potatoes on 461 Farms in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, New York, and Maine for the Crop Year, 1919 will answer all your questions.

     Of the 461 farmers visited, 345, or 75 per cent, owned all of the land they were operating;  63 rented some land in addition to the farms they owned; 45 rented the  farms, including the potato land on shares; and 8 rented the farms doe cash.

This official taxpayer-financed booklet makes for fascinating reading!


Click Here for Our Wood Prairie Organic Vegetable Seed.

Notable Quotes: Schweitzer on Purpose.

Recipe: Homemade Potato Chips with French Onion Dip.

French Onion Dip

2 T olive oil

3 medium yellow onions, halved and thinly sliced lengthwise (about 3 cups)

1-1/2 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary

2 T white wine vinegar

1 8-oz. package cream cheese, cut into 4 pieces and softened

3/4 c sour cream or yogurt

1/2 c mayonnaise

1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onions and rosemary and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions begin to brown, about 15 minutes.

Add the vinegar and cook, scraping up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan, until the vinegar has evaporated, 1 minute. Let the onions cool for 10 minutes and then transfer to a food processor. Add the cream cheese, sour cream or yogurt, mayonnaise, and cayenne and pulse until mostly smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Let the dip stand at room temperature for at least 30 minutes before serving so the flavors can develop. If necessary, thin with a little water. The dip can be made up to one week ahead, covered and refrigerated.

Homemade Potato Chips

1-1/2 lb. Butte potatoes, well scrubbed

6 c peanut or canola oil

Sea Salt

Fill a large bowl with ice water. Slice the potatoes crosswise 1/16 inch thick, preferably using a mandoline; transfer the slices to the ice water as you work. Let soak for at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours.

Drain the potatoes and discard the ice. Refill the bowl with cold water, add the potatoes, and stir to release more starch. Drain and spin the potatoes dry in batches in a salad spinner or blot dry on paper towels.

Place the potatoes on lengths of paper or cloth towel without overlapping them. Roll the slices up in the towel (to further dry them) and keep them rolled up until ready to fry; they can hold for up to 2 hours.

Clip a deep-fry thermometer to the side of a heavy-duty 4-quart saucepan. Add 2-1/2 inches of oil and heat over medium heat to 350 to 360°F. Line a large mixing bowl with a length of paper towel long enough to drape over the sides. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with paper towels.

Carefully add about 20 slices of the potatoes to the oil. Fry, stirring gently and occasionally with a skimmer, until light golden brown to deep brown in places, 1-1/2 to 2 minutes.

Remove the potatoes from the oil and transfer the chips to the prepared bowl, and sprinkle with about 1/2 tsp. salt. Grab the ends of the paper towel and shimmy it back and forth to gently toss the chips with the seasoning and absorb excess oil. Transfer the chips to the prepared baking sheet to cool. Repeat in batches.

Allow the chips to sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes before eating; they’ll crisp more as they cool.


Homemade Potato Chips with French Onion Dip.
Photo by Angela Wotton.

Mailbox: Happy New Year and Blight.
Happy new Year.

Thanks for the wonderful newsletter.
Happy New Year

Buffalo, WY

Thanks and Happy New Year to you as well.



Hi, we planted your potatoes for the first time and were delighted with the quality. However we have blight in western New York that ruined all of our tomatoes but we rescued the potatoes just as a few started to show damage. Any advice? Also I have read that organic farms can use copper sulfate. Is that true?



Some races of Late Blight affect tomatoes only, others potatoes only, and yet others both tomatoes and potatoes. The "Disease Triangle" explains what may have been a problem this year may not be a problem next year. In order to experience Late Blight in a given year, each of these three conditions must be met:

     1. Host. Potatoes, yes, potatoes are being grown.
     2. Environment.
Moist conditions and moderate temperatures. Dry or very hot or very cool, LB does not like.
     3. Inoculum. Necessary for initial infection. LB spores may travel up to 50 miles in the wind.

Good practices are always important, such as crop rotation, garden sanitation (complete destruction or composting of last year's blighty foliage and tubers) and selection of resistant varieties (Island Sunshine is ranked near the top in terms of blight resistance).

If growing conditions in a given year appear to favor development of Late Blight, organic farmers, with the prior permission of their organic certifier, may use a "fixed copper" such as OMRI-Listed Champion WG (Copper Hydroxide). Coppers are prophylactic in nature so if you decide its use in a given situation is justified, apply early and before a rain event which should likely create extended wetting.

Continuous wetting of foliage for a period of ten consecutive hours is necessary for a LB infection.

Northern Maine experienced wet weather and Potato Late Blight for three years in a row in 1992-1994. Then 1995 - one of the three driest growing years last century - was not only dry but hot and that combination broke the back of PLB. With inoculum eliminated, for several years following, Maine experienced blight-free potato growing.


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