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Organic News and Commentary
From Maine
Friday, October 30th, 2020
 Volume 29 Issue 11

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   Harvest Now Behind Us.


Working Early Evening On a Wood Prairie Potato Harvest Day in Maine.

With leaves still on the trees, this evening shot of our potato harvest was taken during September. Looking westward, we are working at harvesting Prairie Blush, a delicious golden potato variety we discovered growing on our farm twenty years ago. The crew’s job is to steadily separate potatoes from rocks on their way into the wooden pallet box.

Despite Northern Maine experiencing the driest growing season since local records have been kept beginning back in 1939, we have harvested and safely put into storage a high quality organic Certified Seed Potato crop that was moderate in size.

Since completing harvest we have been working hard to catch up on shipping out orders placed while we were in the fields harvesting. We’ll be shipping out of storage from now until the 4th of July - or until we sell out. Last Spring an astounding 20 Million Americans joined the ranks of home gardeners. Seed companies all across America were challenged to keep up with the spike demand.

The seed industry is anticipating continued strong demand for potato and vegetable seed this Winter. For this reason, we want to encourage you to place your order as early as possible in order to avoid disappointment and limited choices. As always, we are happy to store your organic Certified Seed Potatoes here in our underground on-farm potato storage and then ship them out whenever you instruct us to.

Wherever you are we hope you are well and safe and enjoyed a good growing year!


Caleb, Jim & Megan Gerritsen & Family
Wood Prairie Family Farm
Bridgewater, Maine
Our Best Selling Products!


     Wood Prairie Family Farm Photos.

Roguing Organic Seed Potatoes on Wood Prairie Family Farm.  During the Summer we go through our fields every week in a traditional practice called “Roguing.”  As farms get bigger and bigger Roguing is becoming a lost art.  We carry on this practice to remove and destroy “rogues” - or abnormal potato plants - not suitable for producing seed.  Here, in a shot looking westward, Megan is carefully roguing our plot of Russian Banana. The clouds that day consolidated and gave us a paltry 0.05” of rain, symbolic of the scant rainfall we experienced throughout this year’s growing season.

Irrigating Thirsty Wood Prairie Potatoes.  Agronomists have calculated that it takes 14” of water to grow a crop of potatoes.  This year during the growing-season-months of June, July, August and September we received a grand total of 5.65” rainfall.  It was the driest growing season ever since records began being collected in 1939.  This year surpassed 1995 which - as one of the three driest years last century - has served as our dry-year-yardstick ever since.  Due to our NOAA D3 Drought designation (“Extreme Drought”),  Northern Maine has been declared a Federal Disaster Area by USDA.  This marks the third time in the last ten years Aroostook County has received Federal Disaster designation.  Both 2011 and 2013 were similarly declared USDA disasters thanks to excessive rainfall, approximate 200% of normal, during the growing year.  This year’s irrigation water really helped our crop.

Flame Killing at Night on Wood Prairie Family Farm. Potatoes need to be killed ahead of harvest in order for the skin on the tubers to "set" (lose moisture) and toughen up for the rigors of harvest.  A freeze below 27ºF will kill potato plants. Conventional farmers in the West apply Sulfuric Acid to plants to accomplish kill.  In the East most conventional farmers spray broad-spectrum 'Reglone' herbicide (formally called 'Diquat,' cousin to ‘Paraquat’).  Reglone has now been banned in Europe for use as potato "topkill.”  This was the first year conventional European potato farmers had to get by without it.  As organic farmers we opt to utilize propane flame to topkill. We try to get flaming done ahead of harvest ("digging") but this year we were a few days behind. So, Jim needed to flame at night after the day's digging was done.

2020 Wood Prairie Potato Harvest Operation. This year we swapped over tractors and put the 18-speed Oliver 1750 Diesel on the Juko Potato Harvester.  The Juko’s secondary lag belt dumps potatoes directly into 4’ x 4’ x 4’ hardwood pallet boxes each of which holds a ton of potatoes.  We creep along at a ground speed of just over a half-mile-per-hour. Three to four people work the ‘secondary table’ fine-tuning  the Juko’s  “separation function” which means separating potatoes from our farm’s plentiful rocks.  During plenty of potato harvests we’ve gone from wearing T-shirts at the beginning to snowsuits at the end.  2020 was unique in that the weather was cold to start, then turned hot, then - typical of October – it turned cold and wet to finish up.

Evening View From Wood Prairie Harvester Tractor Seat Looking East. This year as we slid into October and wound down harvest, the pendulum shifted and our record dry turned toward record wet.   In this photo we were down to the very last potato rows left to dig.  However, on this day we ran out of daylight before we ran out of rows.  Those clouds did bring us rain overnight.  With more rain on the way for the following night we waited until noontime and then pushed to dug in the wet ground to get done.  That strategy turned out to be a wise move because over the next ten days Northern Maine received over 5” of rain, turning fields into a muddy mess.

Switching Pallet Boxes on Juko Potato Harvester. Here, Caleb’s sister Amy backs up an Oliver 1650 Diesel outfitted with forklift forks mounted onto the tractor’s three-point-hitch.  The 1650 has added front weights which help counter-balance the 2000-pound heft of the hardwood pallet boxes full of seed potatoes.  Aroostook County remains one of the last regions in the United States which still close schools every Fall for Potato Harvest Break so that local students can help farmers get the Maine potato crop into storage.  As a result of this continued tradition, 17-year-old High School senior Amy – as is the case with her siblings - has never missed a potato harvest.  Caleb and his brother and sisters have all become hard workers and skilled tractor operators proving the benefit of hands-on experience.  Taking a breather from working on the Juko ‘secondary table’ are (left to right) Megan, Rob, Cathy and Kenyon.

Picking Rocks After Wood Prairie Potato Harvest. In spite of a warm up during the middle, this year was a cold harvest.  Over the almost four-week-long harvest we had three mornings which dipped down to 22ºF including a hard freeze early in the going on September 21.  Thankfully we dodged the bullet and harvested our potato crop free of frost damage to tubers.  In this shot, after the last spud was picked, Caleb used our 92-HP Oliver 1850 Diesel tractor (made in Iowa) to pull a two-row Lockwood Lag-Bed Rockpicker (made in Nebraska) to remove piles of rocks left behind by the Juko Potato Harvester (made in Finland).  Located on the edge of the North Maine Woods, our farm has enjoyed the unshakeable reputation of being the stoniest farm in Town. Over the last four decades we have steadily removed countless hundreds upon hundreds of yards of rocks.  And at relatively break neck speed, at least when compared to the work of many glaciers from eons past which evidently deposited rocks so Maine farmers would never suffer from idleness.

Chisel Plowing Potato Wood Prairie Ground. As soon as a section of the potato field has been harvested and rockpicked, we go through that plot with a tractor-drawn International Harvester (IH) 7-Tooth Chisel Plow.  A chisel plow has extremely heavy shanks and twisted chisel plow points. The chisel plow requires 15 HP of tractor power draft per tooth and rips foot-deep cuts into the soil, counteracting compaction and incorporating surface residues.  In this photo, Caleb's sister, Amy, is chisel-plowing with an Oliver tractor.  Jim follows behind Amy with our IH 510 Grain drill pulled by a second Oliver, sowing Winter Rye and clover seed.  If you look closely you can see a section of ground which has already had it's earlier planted Winter Rye already sprout up.  Next July our Winter Rye will be harvested as an organic grain crop.   In the meantime, the Rye will do double-duty and protect the soil from erosion during the Fall, Winter and Spring.  https://www.woodprairie.com/images/littlemoose.png

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