Wood Prairie Farm                                            In This Issue of The Seed Piece: 
 Seed Piece Newsletter                             Maine Tales: Confronting the Stiff-Collared Rooster.
      Organic News and Commentary
                                              FREE Plans for Building Greensprouting Trays
           Friday February 24, 2012                                                         Recipe: Easy Oat Bread
                                                                                                                            Special Offer: FREE Organic Sweet Red Bliss Beets.
                                                                                                                            Mailbox: Good Crop, Help, Solving and More Rocks
   Maine Potato Harvest.

Aroostook County. Harvest near Caribou, Maine, Circa 1906. To highlight the abundance, barrels and baskets were mounded to overflowing and potato tops were pulled away from tubers in the foreground.

Maine Tales.                                 Confronting the Stiff-Collared Rooster.                       Augusta, Maine.        Circa 1990.

     Interest in the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association v. Monsanto lawsuit has been picking up of late.  Since Jim is president of OSGATA there have been more and more interviews by the media.  One recent reporter compared the threat of biotech contamination to that of nuclear power and that exchange got us to thinking back.
     The year was 1990.  In between farming and tending and harvesting our potato crop we were building a major new underground addition to our potato storage.  Megan was pregnant with our oldest boy Peter who would be born close to Christmas. One Fall day as we were constructing and tuned in to the news on Maine public radio, a bracing story was aired.  Seems an absentee landowner and resident of, ironically, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, would solve the State of Maine’s need for a low level nuclear waste dump by selflessly offering to sell his 240 acre woodlot on Maple Mountain on the western edge of our own six-by-six mile Unorganized Territory Township D Range 2.

Fall Developments
     Troubled we were as we dug and put away potatoes that harvest.  We pressed onward through the Fall and worked steadily on our potato storage knowing that Maine winters wait for no man and exposed concrete walls housing tender potatoes will most certainly freeze when it’s way below zero outside. Eventually it was announced that a public hearing on the suitability of this wild site for a nuclear waste depository would be held by the bureaucracy at the state capitol in Augusta, Maine, some two hundred and fifty miles to the south and a world away.  
     It was a beautiful late October day, one better left to building potato houses than jawboning with stiff-collared roosters but you do what you need to do. So at the crack of dawn we drove away and headed down country.  And we were not alone.  We traveled with our two neighbors.  And this fact is significant.  Because those were the pre-population explosion years for TDR2.  While now our 36-square-mile township boasts an impressive population of eight (six of whom are Gerritsens here on Wood Prairie Farm), back then there were only four residents in our town.  And all four residents were crammed inside one old pickup truck barreling south on I-95.  And here’s why this was important.  As conscientious citizens we kept informed and we knew that the Maine Low Level Nuclear Radiation Disposal Commission had established a long drawn out protocol allowing for local decision-making which would culminate in an ultimate citizen plebiscite as to whether a nuclear dump would or would not be constructed within a given township. As residents unburdened by monthly electric bills – because of the fact there was no power grid electricity in our isolated TDR2 – the four of us shared a common dislike of the nuclear industry in general, and the nuclear industry’s concept of storing their nuclear waste in particular.

Welcome to Augusta

     We found our way into the crowded hearing room and snaked over to our seats past the numerous television cameras sent over from the TV stations in Bangor and Portland. Back then, the siting of a nuclear waste dump – low level or otherwise – was big front page news in the State of Maine.  For some reason Maine residents had plenty of concerns about nuclear waste material, which would remain dangerous for thousands of years, ending up as neighbors.
     We patiently waited our turn.  First, they were finishing up hearing a report on ‘difficulties’ at the current soon-to-be-closed eastern USA low level nuclear waste facility in South Carolina.  Seems that state-of-the-art facility had just experienced their second ‘hundred-year rain event’ in four years and the slides projected onto the screen showed complete mayhem and chaos – 55-gallon drums full of nuclear waste toppled from their outdoor perches and which lay strewn about as though it was a war zone.  The solemn fellow providing blow-by-blow commentary soberly explained that the ‘problem’ was because engineers had not designed the waste dump’s culverts with sufficient diameter to accommodate real heavy rains.  We silently wondered that if they couldn’t engineer for ‘hundred year rain events’ how in the world would they deal with ‘five-hundred’ and ‘thousand-year’ rain events.  The commissioners imperceptibly nodded in agreement signifying their acceptance of the claim that with a little bit bigger culverts all would have dandy.
      What’s more, as the meeting topic shifted over and the audience was expertly assured, unlike South Carolina, Maine’s low level nuclear waste dump would be cleverly belt and suspendered.  Anticipating the eventual failure of the concrete walls - weakened as they would be by hundreds of years worth of nuclear radiation - a tomb facility in Maine would be constructed inside an ‘impervious’ man-made bowl of clay packed soil. We marveled at the commissioners ability to remain solemn and straight-faced.  We wondered if the expert engineers had ever experienced, or calculated in for, a Maine January morning of -40ºF, or hurricane rains or the occasional earthquake.

Our Turn to Speak

     When our turn came up, our comments were direct and to the point.
You have before you the entire population of TDR2.  We don’t like nuclear power. We don’t like your plan for a nuclear waste dump in our town. What’s more, we don’t have grid electricity in our township. You have a big problem. We always vote and we will never ever in a hundred years approve of this dump in our town.  So you might just as well save Maine electric ratepayers time and study money by shelving this foolish idea right now because it will never fly.
     Our sleepy Maine media was now enjoying a field day.
     We further elaborated that no one should be stuck with a nuclear waste dump in their town and that the only way to eliminate the need for such a waste dump was to cut off the waste flow by shutting down Maine Yankee, Maine’s only nuclear plant. We repeated this No Maine Yankee mantra over and over in both our hearing room comments and afterwards outside as we were interviewed by the TV news crews. Later on, we learned from a friend who was sitting inside the hearing directly behind the woman representative from Maine Yankee that each time we called for shutting down Maine Yankee,  Ms. Maine Yankee involuntarily and very visibly shuddered at the prospect which we advocated.

After The Fall

     Reluctant to honor our impertinent and ill-timed request and thereby create precedent, the Commission rattled on and made plenty of dust that day going about its serious work.  Months later they came to disqualify the TDR2 site with the stated reason being the crumbly rocky soil on Maple Mountain doesn’t contain enough clay to make their magic bowl.  Some years later Maine Yankee fizzled out and was shut down.  They are still storing low level nuclear waste there but it won’t be permanent because the experts discovered Maine Yankee lies on an earthquake fault and permanent storage wouldn’t be safe.
     Back home, with Megan’s active involvement, we reached our milestone and poured the last concrete for our potato storage with heaters ablaze in mid-December.  Five days later, after a morning of grading onions, Megan went into labor that afternoon and Peter was born before midnight. According to our modified plan we buttoned up the building for winter and successfully kept the potatoes from freezing. 
     We finished building the potato house that next summer in time for that next potato harvest.  Despite 1991 being a drought year and with a new baby, it was a relative breeze by comparison.
Jim & Megan Gerritsen
Wood Prairie Farm
Bridgewater, Maine

FREE Plans for Building Greensprouting Trays.

     On Wood Prairie Farm we are believers in the benefits of greensprouting. Every, year we greensprout virtually our entire potato crop - that's about 25,000 pounds of seed potatoes.
     Greensprouting gives us earlier emergence, faster early season growth, and a harvest that is 10-14 days sooner than normal.
     Some background info. Green sprouting is an optional pre-plant seed conditioning procedure. About one month before expected planting date warm your seed potatoes up to 70-75ºF in the dark for 7-14 days to break dormancy and encourage secondary sprouts. As soon as you see 'pips' coming out from the eyes drop the temperature down to 50-55ºF, spread out the potatoes on the floor or in bread trays or specialized greensprouting trays, and turn the lights on. The light will green up the tubers and prevent elongation of the sprouts. The lowered temperature will reduce respiration rate and maintain maximum vigor in the seed piece. Planting seed potatoes with maximum quality and vigor will translate into the highest potential yields at the end of the season.
     Even if you can't greensprout, simply warming up seed potatoes to room temperature for 48-72 hours before planting will pay big dividends for you.
     Here's a link to our 1995 Seed Piece article on Greensprouting including FREE 'Farmers Workbench' plans for building your own wooden greensprouting trays. We have about 700 of these trays that we've built. We also use them for drying onion, garlic and seed crops in the Fall. Jim.

Click Here for Organic Wood Prairie Seed Potatoes

Recipe: Easy Oat Bread

1 1/4 c warm water (105-115F)

2 tsp active dry yeast (one packet)

1 T honey

1 c unbleached all-purpose flour

1 c whole wheat flour

1 c rolled oats
1 1/2 tsp fine grain sea salt

2 T butter, melted, for brushing

In a small bowl, sprinkle the yeast onto the warm water and stir until the yeast dissolves. Stir in the honey and set aside for a few minutes, until the yeast blooms and swells a bit, 5-10 minutes.

In the meantime, mix the flours, oats, and salt in a large bowl. Add the wet mixture to the dry and stir very well.
Brush a 8-cup loaf pan generously with some of the melted butter. Turn the dough into the tin, cover with a clean, slightly damp cloth, and set in a warm place for 30 minutes, to rise.

Preheat the oven to 350F. When ready, bake the bread for 35-40 minutes, until golden and pulling away from the sides of the pan. You can finish things up by leaving the bread under the broiler for just a heartbeat - to give the top a bit deeper color. Remove from oven, and turn the bread out of the pan quickly. Let it cool on a rack so it doesn't steam in the pan. Brush on remaining melted butter on top of loaf. Serve warm, slathered with butter and your favorite jam.

There is no kneading involved with this bread and it only rises for 30 minutes. Super quick and easy.  It is moist with a crispy crust and very yummy. It's a keeper. - Megan

Makes 1 loaf
Source: 101cookbooks.com

Easy Oat Bread
Photo by Angela Wotton

Sweet Red Bliss Beets.
Special Offer: FREE Organic Sweet Red Bliss Beets

     We're happy to have beets as an important part of our winter diet.  Well-grown organic beets taste great, they keep well and they are very versatile and can be prepared in many different ways.   
     Here’s your chance to earn a FREE 2 lbs bag of organic Sweet Red Bliss Beets ($11.95 value) with your next purchase of $45 or more.  Offer ends Monday  February 27, 2012.
     Please use Promo code WPF 1115.  Order and FREE Beets must ship together and must ship by 3/7/12. 
     FREE Beet Offer may not be combined with other offers. Please call or click today!

Our Mailbox: Good Seed & Good Crop

Dear WPF.

Butte crop was equal & better than ever! 5lbs gave me 90lbs.
Newport VT

WPF Replies.

    You folks in Vermont seem to know what you're doing.


Our Mailbox: Help For Hollow Heart.

Dear WPF.

     Count me among the folks who fervently believe the Occupy movement is the right thing and thrilled to see it expand to include farmers.

     A potato growing question for you, though. I'm in the Champlain Valley of Vermont, where 4 of the last 5 summers have had nasty periods of really wet weather. That means I've had hollow heart in one or another (and that horribly wet "late blight" summer a few years ago, all!) of my potato varieties every year but one.
     How the heck do you counteract the occasional very wet period at just the wrong time? Since I'm halfway up a ridge, my soil is only somewhat clay-y (getting better every year with amendments, but still), not the impossible heavy clay of the valley bottom, so it's not like the spuds are sitting in water for a week after one good rainstorm.
     Hollow heart makes a crop unsellable, so you guys must have some trick or other to prevent it, don't you?

Yours in struggle,

Shoreham VT

WPF Replies.

    Thanks for your support.

     As to the weather we are having the same challenges here in Maine that you describe. Like all farmers we are struggling with the effects of climate change and weather extremes. Here are some ideas that I think will help to minimize your hollow heart.

1. Pay especially close attention to the levels of Calcium and Boron in your soil. We double-check soil reports with foliar leaf sampling of our organic potatoes taken 35 days after plant emergence. Foliar testing tells one what is going on inside the plant and allows us to tweak our foliar spray program as necessary.

2. Try closing up the in-row spacing at planting time. We plant most of our varieties at 3000# seed/acre at 6.7" spacing because we are after small and medium sized tubers which are most valuable for seed and that is our goal. One side benefit of our management is that we've got a lot of tubers competing with one another elbow to elbow. This slows their growth down (think of an unthinned bed of carrots) a tad which counters the increasing tendency for hollow heart in tubers making rank growth especially in conditions of excessive moisture.

3. Continue with your plan of thinning out the clay content and lightening up your soil with additions of spongy organic matter like some good Vermont cow manure. This will increase the porosity of the soil allowing gravity to pull excess moisture away from your tubers.

4. Varieties differ in susceptibility to Hollow Heart. Our observation is that some of the more resistant varieties (resistance is relative and not absolute) are the later season (slower growing) ones. Among the most resistant Carola, All Blue, Rose Gold and fingerlings Russian Banana, Swedish Peanut and Rose Finn Apple.

5. Planting warm seed potatoes in 'warm' (50ºF) Spring soil is always a good idea. Greensprouting or 'chitting' is more involved but we believe it is worth the effort. We greensprout most of what we plant and that practice gets our potatoes off to a fast start followed by steady growth.

So good management will go a long ways towards minimizing Hollow Heart. But the weather plays a big role in this abiotic (non-disease) condition and it's time we start educating our customers about the realities of what farmers are facing with the recurring weather extremes.

Ultimately good healthy organic tubers that may possess unavoidable cosmetic features are still a better deal for all than potatoes and the environment loaded up with toxins.


Our Mailbox: One Effective Way To Solve the GMO Contamination Dilemma.

Dear WPF.

Why can't we get a petition together to stop GMO seeds from being planted in Maine soils?
Eastport ME

WPF Replies.

    Yes, good idea and we would sign your petition. At the same time, don't underestimate the desire of the biotech corporations to maintain the status quo, continue to amass their riches and continue to contaminate. They will not give up without a fight, but allowing things to remain as they are is not viable either.

Jim & Megan.

Our Mailbox: Rocks of Many Generations.

Dear WPF.

About those rocks on your farm in Maine. It was more than one glacier. There must have been 18 glaciations. Those rocks, as are rocks in my garden in Michigan's upper peninsula, are the remnants of a mountain, or a mountain range. Back then, probably a million years or so, you wouldn't have been able to grow potatoes.

Negaunee MI

WPF Replies.

    Your information is believable. Hard to imagine all our rocks came from just a single glacier. An era without potatoes is a frightening concept. What did folks do for fun?


Wood Prairie Farm Quick Links

Jim & Megan Gerritsen
Wood Prairie Farm
49 Kinney Road
Bridgewater, Maine 04735
(800)829-9765 Certified Organic, Direct from the Farm