Wood Prairie Farm Seed Piece Newsletter
April 2006

 Special: FREE Easter Egg Potatoes and Signs of Spring
SPECIAL OFFER - An Easter egg hunt no further than your plate. Get a FREE 2lb bag of our colorful Organic Easter Egg Potatoes (a $10.95 value) for orders placed by 1pm Wednesday, April 12 that are $45 or more. For an additional fee we can guarantee delivery by Easter. Call for details. Order must ship by April 19. Please refer to Code XXXXX.

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On the first day of April we had our spring showers but we've had snow showers since. We've had less snow than normal and now have very muddy dooryards and fields. The herds of deer nibbling on last year’s oat and corn fields have dissipated and given way to moose sightings. All are connected to the seasonality of northern Maine.

In this month’s newsletter we have an interview with Dr. Zenaida Ganga, the University of Maine potato breeder stationed at Aroostook Farm in Presque Isle, the Potato Experiment Station. Read what she has to say about what she hopes to accomplish with her potato breeding work. We also have lots of agricultural news in the ‘Potato Bin’ to keep you informed including the news of a Maine town voting to become GMO-free, a first for our state.

April is the last month for the Wood Prairie Farm Organic Potato Sampler of the Month while we take a summer farming break to plant and nurture a new crop of potatoes for our co-producers. New-crop potatoes will start shipping in September. The Yukon Gold in this month’s Sampler makes about the best potato salad at this time of year, after having been stored for the past months. This month’s recipe will give you a new twist on this “Saturday night baked bean and potato salad” staple. – Jim and Megan


  Peanuts and the Gang
Swedish Peanut Fingerling is an heirloom potato from Sweden where you can ask for it by its Swedish name, Mandel. This tear-drop shaped fingerling is a dry, golden-fleshed variety that is great baked or roasted. Try it this month in our final pre-Summer Organic Potato Sampler of the Month. With the accompanying Yukon Gold and Red Cloud, you'll have delicious potatoes to get you through this typically rainy month.

        Swedish Peanut Fingerling

  Q&A - Temperatures for Greensprouting Potatoes
Q: How early can I plant my seed potatoes? - AT, Bellows Falls, VT

A: The old timers up here in northern Maine used to say that the right time to plant potatoes was when the very last of the snow in the woods disappeared—normally mid-May. Another rule of thumb is to wait for two or three weeks after peas go in to plant potatoes.

On Wood Prairie Farm we use a soil thermometer and wait to start planting until the 7-8 AM temperature at 4 inch soil depth has reached about 50 degrees F. This coincidentally is typically mid-May. Since we greensprout all of our seed we feel we are better off letting the seed potatoes mature in the safety of greensprouting trays in the shed rather than sitting out in cold wet soil. In fact, wound healing in a potato will not occur at temperatures below 45 degrees F. So the cut surface of a seedpiece laying in cold ground will sit there very susceptible to rotting by fungal invasion.

The very earliest that you can plant potatoes is 2-3 weeks before the last freeze (28 degrees F) date. Potatoes are tough and will survive a 32 degree frost but they will suffer foliar damage when the temperature hits 28 or 29 degrees. Since it takes 2-3 weeks (longer in cold soil) for seed potatoes to sprout and pop up through the ground this is the very earliest you can plant them without protection. You should still pay attention to soil temps and I would never recommend planting before soil temp hits 45 degrees. - Jim


  The Potato Bin
In February a lawsuit by farmers, ranchers, and consumer groups has been filed in federal court that challenges the government's approval of the commercial release of Monsanto's GMO Roundup Ready alfalfa. The suit contends that the United States Deparment of Agriculture's (USDA) approval was "arbitrary and capricious" and did not take into account the public health, environmental and economic consequences of the release of GMO alfalfa. There are 21 million acres of alfalfa grown in the US, with over 80 percent of that grown without the use of pesticides. USDA approved the release of GM alfalfa, the first commercial release of a perennial crop, on June 27, 2005. Source: The Western Organization of Resource Councils, www.worc.org

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According to the US 2002 census, more than one-quarter of US farmers and ranchers are women. Between 1997 and 2002, the number of women farming increased by 13.4 percent, bringing the present day percentage to 27.2. As a result, there are many more programs geared to women farmers through universities and cooperative extensions, many of these focusing on the women's interest in conservation. Source: www.attra.ncat.org

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For the first time in Maine, a town has agreed to include a ban on genetically modified seeds in its land use ordinances. At their annual town meeting, residents of Montville, a rural town in Central Maine, amended a resolution to declare their town a genetically modified free zone to also include a commitment to banning GMO plants in its ordinances. Nearly all of the more than 100 people attending the meeting raised their hands to vote in favor of the amended question, creating a landmark decision for Maine. Currently, genetically modified seeds are planted on about 6,100 acres - mostly GMO corn and soybeans in southern and central Maine - of Maine's 1.25 million acres of agricultural land. Source: Bangor Daily News, 3/27/06

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The neo-conservative think tank "Project for a New American Century" has imagined the value of a new Genetically Modified Bomb. The concept was described last September by political writer Thomas Hartman:
"Imagine a bomb that only kills Caucasians with red hair. Or short people. Or Arabs. Or Chinese. Now imagine that this new bomb could be set off anywhere in the world, and that within a matter of days, weeks, or months it would kill every person on the planet who fits the bomb's profile, although the rest of us would be left standing. And the bomb could go off silently, without anybody realizing it had been released - or even where it was released - until its victims started dying in mass numbers." www.scoop.com

        The Potato Bin

  Recipe: German Potato Salad
Based on the cook's preference, you can either sautee the onions or leave them raw for this dish.

6-8 medium Yukon Gold potatoes
12 thick slices of bacon
1 large yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced
6 T white wine vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 c chopped fresh parsely leaves

Put potatoes in a large pot, cover with cold water and add a generous pinch of salt. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, reduce heat to medium, and gently boil until potatoes are tender when pierced with the tip of a knife, 15-20 minutes.
Meanwhile, cook bacon in a large skillet over medium heat until crisp, 10-15 minutes. Drain on paper towels, setting skillet with rendered fat aside. Crumble bacon into large pieces.
Drain potatoes, peel while still hot, and cut into 1” cubes. Put potatoes into a large warm serving bowl and add bacon and onions. Return skillet with bacon fat to medium-high heat and heat until hot. Carefully add vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. Pour hot dressing over potato mixture and toss well. Adjust seasonings. Garnish with parsley. Serve warm.
Serves 6-8
Source: James Beard’s American Cookery


     Conversations With...Zenaida Ganga
Dr. Zenaida Ganga has her Ph.D. in Plant Breeding from Cornell University in Ithaca, NY. Her areas of research include root crops and their varietal improvement, host plant resistance, germplasm conservation and indigenous knowledge and sustainable agriculture. Dr. Ganga currently works as a potato breeder at the Aroostook Farm in Presque Isle, Maine.

Wood Prairie Farm: Nowadays ag research dollars are fragile and scarce. In the past, you’ve applied for funding for organic potato breeding. What can you tell us about the current state of organic potato breeding locally and nationally?

Dr. Zenaida Ganga: Breeding new varieties of potatoes for organic farming is not a major priority in our breeding program because of limited funds. However, since my first year here in Maine, I started doing crosses to combine traits for specialty potatoes which hopefully will be good for both conventional and organic production systems. Right now I am focusing on pest and disease resistances which are very important traits in organic farming. Among the major public breeding programs in the US there is very limited activity being done on breeding new varieties for organic systems, but most, if not all are into breeding specialty or gourmet potatoes. Breeding for colored potatoes are among the major objectives of the New York, Texas, Washington, California and North Dakota programs. Activities are limited to variety trials - for example in New York and Wisconsin. I'm unaware of any specific breeding program that focuses its objective on developing varieties mainly for organic farming.

WPF: In what direction is Maine’s potato breeding program headed?

ZG: The breeding program of Maine would give more priority to resistance to pests and diseases. I hope to develop new varieties with multiple and durable resistance. For the last three years, the emphasis had been on the development of processing-type potatoes, particularly for french fries.

WPF: Monsanto tried, unsuccessfully, to push genetically-modified (GMO) potatoes into mainstream production a few years ago. What is the general mood toward further breeding on GMO potatoes?

ZG: Effort towards breeding for GMO potatoes is continuing but has slowed down because of still many unresolved issues and concerns particularly on safety for human consumption and environmental impact of GMO's. Moreover, public acceptance is still questionable and uncertain.

WPF: What are the biggest challenges for a potato breeder?

ZG: Personally, I think it is the promotion and adoption of a new variety- i.e. how to “sell” the new variety to the growers. I believe that the breeder still has the responsibility to promote his/her variety. It is unfortunate that many new varieties are recommended every year but very few find their way to the farmers’ field.

Another challenge for a potato breeder is how to raise funds for his/her own breeding program. The use of available new molecular tools/techniques and germplasm resources are limited because of funds.

WPF: What excites you most about your breeding work at the Aroostook Farm?

ZG: I have started developing crosses for multiple and durable resistance to major pests and diseases including late blight, common scab, leafhopper and the Colorado potato beetle; and that’s what I’m so excited about. I believe that there is very limited activity going on breeding new varieties for insect resistance and there is an increasing concern on the development of insect resistance to pesticides not to mention the energy problem that we have now which translates to higher cost of pesticides.

PARTING WORDS: MAINE SPEAK - Goin' down to Bangor

Bangor (pronounced "Bang-gore" not "Ban-gur") is Maine's central hub on the Penobscot River. Bangor is more a traditional activity and event concept than a location.

Example 1. Comment on behavior out of the ordinary
"If you keep that up they'll be sending you to Bangor."
Referencing the location of the former Bangor insane asylum.

Example 2. "You goin' down to Bangor?"
Referencing either
A) Eastern Maine High school basketball tournament week in February, or
B) Post-potato harvest annual shopping excursion

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(c) Jim and Megan Gerritsen, Wood Prairie Farm, 49 Kinney Road, Bridgewater, Maine 04735

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