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Friday, January 28th, 2022
Volume 31 Issue 2

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In This Issue of The Wood Prairie Seed Piece:

   Cold Winter.

New Wood Prairie Catalog On its Way!

Soon to be in your mailbox! One of the remedies to Winter cold is to enjoy thinking about the Spring season ahead. Here in Maine we’re having an old-fashioned cold Winter, with the trade off that our snowfall has been only on the moderate side.

The cover photo above is one of Megan walking through our weed-free field of Organic Seed Potatoes, performing our regular summertime ritual of “rouging”, the systematic removal of rogues, that is, individual plants unsuitable for producing high quality Certified Seed.

Right on time before the end of January – though because it was a big crop three weeks later than recent years – we have finished pre-grading last Summer’s crop of Organic Certified Seed Potatoes. It’s a beautiful looking crop!

Please be advised, we’re already beginning to sell out of some of our most popular organic potato varieties. Nationwide, the demand for good seed remains very strong. We urge you to place your orders now while selection is at its best. As always, we’ll be happy to hold your seed potato order in our underground potato storage until your Spring arrives and you are getting ready to plant.

Stay warm and stay safe!

Caleb, Jim & Megan Gerritsen & Family
Wood Prairie Family Farm
Bridgewater, Maine

Maine Tales: Yes, Januarys Can Be Cold. Bridgewater, Maine. Circa 1977.

January 2022 ran pretty cold and was reminiscent of decades past when winters were more frigid. Over the past week we’ve had a couple of mornings approaching thirty-below-zero. The cold has been bottoming out right around 7am. One recent morning, according to our farm Weather Station, it tumbled down to -28ºF (Minus 28 Degrees Fahrenheit) at 7 o’clock. It’s been many years since, but we’ve seen -37ºF here on the farm on three different occasions.

When it comes to cold, we benefit from our farm being located up on high ground, 250-foot higher in elevation than metropolitan Bridgewater which lies down in the valley straddling Whitney Brook. It’s easy for those living along a brook or river to be twenty degrees colder than those of us in the hills.

Back 45 years ago it was consistently colder in Winter. Jim was a piece-rate Cooper at Bridgewater Barrel building Cedar potato barrels. The 'Cooper House' building was situated on Whitney Brook's south bank. Every morning when he'd go into work at 430 am, the concrete 'Hoop Tank' (used for soaking hand-split & shaved Brown Ash barrel hoops) in the barely-insulated WWII-relic-Cooper-House would be iced over.

Old-timer Glen Lunn had dual-citizenship and choose to reside in Canada because that availed him to enjoy free Canadian healthcare even thou he worked over ‘on this side’ as a piece-rate 'Nailer' at Bridgewater Barrel. Glen lived just across ‘the line’ in Tracy Mills, New Brunswick, along the Prestile Stream (which Whitney Brook flows into). His commute was only a tad longer than those who lived in Bridgewater.

Glen was also an early riser and when he'd arrive at 445 am, he and Jim would swap low temperature readings. On a great many mid-winter mornings Jim would report -20ºF to -25ºF. On those same mornings, Glen's streamside readings would have plummeted to -45ºF.

The first job in the morning was to build a fire in the huge, ancient, anything-but-airtight pot belly stove. Each cooper had their own bottom-draft barrel-stove plumbed into the same stovepipe as the pot belly. All stoves sat perched on a central concrete pad. In the process of making potato barrels, while you 'make' one barrel, you are 'cooking' your next barrel ahead with dry heat so that the White Cedar staves 'set' (bend) permanently taking stress away from the binding Ash hoops (pronounced “huups,” as in ‘Hula Huups’).

The other Coopers and Nailers would roll in between 645 and 7 am. Back in the ‘Potato Empire’s heyday, when the demand for cedar Potato Barrels was at its peak there would be three nailers, four coppers and four barrel stoves going strong. Cranked out weekly were
1000 eleven-peck potato barrels. The din of many close pounding adzes and hammers was both industrious and deafening.

Within a few hours, the pot belly stove had done its job of un-numbing the fingers needed for grabbing nails and its fire was allowed to peter out. The barrel stoves were so effective at cooking the staves that if a stove was over fed with wood - or timing was off - the staves would catch fire inside that tinder dry wood Cooper House. When this happened, in boisterous, synchronized clamor, one cooper would open the front door and the cooper whose barrel had caught fire would nimbly swoop up the burning barrel and run and toss it through the doorway into the snow outside. This animated fire drill got the adrenaline running and was a regular feature which would take place unexpectedly every few weeks.

By midmorning - in the dead of Winter - with four barrel stoves blazing away the Cooper House would have become an inferno. The hurried piece-rate Coopers would be sweating as though it was haying season. Some coopers would have stripped down shirtless to their remaining boots, pants and tractor hat.

As the Finns have figured out, saunas cut down Winter cold into manageable portions.

Caleb, Megan & Jim


Wood Prairie Family Farm Photos.

For Third Year-in-a-Row Wood Prairie Family Farm Wins Top FEEFO Award. Thanks to your kind support - and your mountains of positive and generous Reviews! – our farm has again been awarded Feefo’s highest honor, its 2022 Platinum Trusted Service Award. Feefo is one of the world’s largest and most-highly-respected independent Review platforms. Full of integrity and competency, Feefo carefully monitors and validates Reviews submitted by real-in-the-flesh customers who have actually made verified purchases. The forthright Feefo platform operates in stark contrast to the web’s epidemic of fraudulent Reviews uncoupled from purchase transactions and often churned out by bogus Review-mill-syndicates. When we started our organic seed “mail order” business over 30 years ago, we simply committed to treating our customers in the same way we would want to be treated. We’re happy to report that after decades of doing good business, honesty is, yes still, the best policy. We’re eternally grateful to you, our wonderful customers for supporting our family farm every step of the way. Thank you so much!

Caleb Wiring Our New Wood Prairie Office.   This week with the goal of jettisoning the temporary web of office extension cords, Caleb found the time to begin running electrical wires into our new office. He’d already installed the super-efficient LED recessed lights in the ceiling. Our major building project this last year has been a major expanding of our office and packing shed. The new 65-foot by 65-foot expansion is a sixteen-foot-tall ICF (Insulated Concrete Forms) building consisting of a concrete-and-rebar-filled-core surrounded by thick 2 ½” insulating foam. Here, Caleb is using a sharp one-inch bit on a Milwaukee cordless drill to carve a shallow channel through which Romex electrical wire will be run. Similarly, holes for positioning flush electrical outlet boxes and light switches are created by boring out the inner foam to the proper dimensions. This brilliant system means zero air leaks and freedom from difficult drilling into and the weakening of the massive concrete wall.

Blowing Insulation into Office Ceiling.   This morning, our neighbor Kyle Penner and his building crew backed up their insulating trailer unit into our new building and went to work. In this photo, dust-masked Kyle is dumping a bale of compressed cellulose insulation into the powerful 220-volt-powered combo chopper-and-blower. A flexible four-inch hose is used to convey the insulation up to between the floor trusses atop the office ceiling. Up top, two co-workers man-handle the bulky hose, one finessing the insulation into place, and the other keeping the hose handy. It’s a dusty job but relatively quick and easy to apply the twelve-inches of seamless top-shelf blanketing insulation. The propane heater in view keeps thawed a weak link in the hose system during wintertime applications. Within a few hours the entire 16-foot by 48-foot office ceiling job had been completed. And then, dusty Kyle and his crew were on their way to do yet another job.

And the Cold Rushes Into Maine. Took this shot one midmorning not long ago, while under sunny skies the outside air temp had warmed to just -8oF. We were bringing into our underground potato house an empty dirt hopper we use for clean up after grading potatoes. Inside our underground potato storage it's a balmy 38ºF. The smoky clouds develop instantly from relatively 'warm' moist potato air hitting the cold outside air. No thunder or lightning, though! Many years ago, an Aroostook potato farmer friend told us he had been taught a trick by his potato-farming-father. On the coldest day in January, build up a big fire in the wood stove in the potato house and once it's going strong open up all the potato house doors to change the air. Out goes the high CO² air accumulated from potato respiration since harvest. In comes the clean dry high Oxygen air. Potatoes in this way store better and Seed Potatoes have more vigor in the Spring due to less stress.

Methods of Getting By in Maine’s Winter.
Old-timer Cooper the cat has earned his keep over the years as one of the highly functioning barn cats on Wood Prairie Family Farm. He's beginning to slow down with age these days. Cooper has figured out the lair next to the woodstove is a pretty good place to conduct his napping responsibilities. We still heat with wood as we have for over 45 years. We've always heated with simple and well-designed 'Fisher' woodstoves. We started with a 'Fisher Baby Bear' and graduated to the scaled-up 'Mama Bear' after adding on and having more rooms to heat. When our isolated township first got grid power 28 years ago, we quickly discovered the value of a fan - any fan - to help distribute the heat efficiently generated by a woodstove. If sociologists wanted to study fanaticism they could round up a bevy of woodstove owners, take out their note pad and then bait them with the innocent-enough-sounding question, "I've heard wood heat is the best heat. Is there any truth to that?"


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