Organic News and Commentary
From Maine
              Friday, February 15th, 2019
                 Volume 28 Issue 03


 In This Issue of The Wood Prairie Seed Piece:

  Winter’s Depths.

     "Lost in a Snowstorm – We are Friends." Circa 1888.
Oil-on-canvas painting by American artist Charles Marion Russell (1864-1926).   Excerpted from the description by the Amon Carter Museum of American Art:  “In this painting, two mounted white men with a pack horse warily receive sign talk from a group of mounted Blackfeet.  Although the Indians and white men remain guarded, the power of nature has forced them to depend on each other.”
     Farmers and ranchers  live with constant year-round reminders that Nature is in charge.  However, extremes of Winter weather serve to teach us all that very same lesson.
     In this issue of the Wood Prairie Seed Piece, from the depths of an extra long and cold Winter, we sample some tales of bitter weather.  Northern Maine has already received a full winter’s worth of snowfall – ten feet – and we have two months of Winter to go.
     We’re thankful to have a good supply of firewood, safe and under cover.  As the days get longer, we’re steadily building up to peak shipment of seed potatoes, sending cartons to farmers and gardeners in places where Spring is already busting out.

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

Dakota Blizzard of 1888. The Grizzly job of collecting corpses in the blizzard's aftermath.
Maine Tales.   The Two Big Blizzards of 1888.

     Jim and his brother grew up fully enlightened from frequently repeated oral tradition about the “Blizzard of ’88.”  Jim’s mother had grown up on a South Dakota cattle ranch during the hard years of the Great Depression.   The Calhoon family cattle ranch, still being run by Jim’s cousins’ families today, had been homesteaded in the Dakota Territory in the 1870’s under the provisions of President Lincoln’s monumental Homestead Act of 1862.  Uncharacteriscally for the era, the Calhoon clan homesteaders were two women: Jim’s great-grandmother and her sister.  The family history we were taught is that they and their livestock survived the Blizzard of ’88.

     The two sisters laid claim to two adjacent 160-acre parcels, near what would in time become Midland, South Dakota.   Midland (Population 100) to this day earns some regional recognition for its restorative natural hot water artesian wells, a feature capitalized on by the local, hopeful, small Stroppel Lava Water Hotel.

On the edge of one of the quarter-sections the sisters build a house.  Next to the house – on the second quarter-section - they built a barn.  These buildings helped them ‘prove their claims.’   After five years’ work, the U.S. government recognized they had fulfilled the development requirements of the Homestead Act and they were granted ‘deeds of title’ to the homesteaded land.

Having a pioneer’s house for themselves and a rustic barn for their livestock proved providential when the Blizzard of ’88 hit the Dakota Territory with all it’s might on January 12.  The day started out unusually mild for a January day in the Plains, in the 40s.  However, by late morning a bitter Arctic front had crashed its way in from the north.  It began to snow very heavily.  Within hours the wind had come up and temperatures quickly dropped 70 degrees to way, way below zero.   

With zero visibility, all travel was treacherous and life-threatening for days.  Wise teachers kept their students  huddled in schoolhouses.   This explains the blizzard’s most common name, the Schoolhouse Blizzard, though sometimes still locally called the “Great Plains Blizzard of 1888.”  The human death toll was estimated at 235.  Tens of thousands of cattle also perished.

As kids, we were taught it was simply the ‘Blizzard of ’88.’  That’s South Dakota perspective.  Miraculously, our people had survived the Blizzard of ’88.

Exactly two month’s later in 1888, another blizzard hit, this time in the Northeast –including New York City - on March 11.  With massive snowfall of up to 55” accompanied by high winds, the region was crippled into total submission.  More than 400 people died in the massive storm.  This blizzard became known as the “Great Blizzard of 1888.”    No doubt in 1888 there were a lot more reporters in NYC than in all of the Plains, which might help explain how the Northeast wrestled that “Great” moniker.

As is typical, inland Northern Maine dodged the “Great Blizzard of 1888” because our biggest storms tend to come from the West, not up the coast.   However, we do get big snowstorms.  As this exciting first-person article in the local newspaper recounts, an early snowstorm in 1951 put life on the line for folks up here in the Potato Empire.

Caleb, Jim & Megan    

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Organic Yukon Gem. New and good-tasting disease resistant golden potato.

Maine Game Warden to the Rescue. Three baby bear cubs now safe.
Three Black Bear Cubs Rescued on a Cold Maine Winter’s Day.

      Fast action on the last day of January by a Maine Game Warden kept alive three baby Bear cubs exposed to bitter cold temperatures.  The cubs had been abandoned by their startled mother, spooked by a nearby logging operation.

After being rescued and warmed back up, in a team effort the cubs were successfully grafted onto receptive denned-up-mothers who had been located by their tracking collars. The full details of this amazing cub rescue tale were clearly written up in this heart-warming article in the Bangor Daily News.

Three tiny bear cubs are resting peacefully in new dens after their original winter home was disturbed by a logging operation on Thursday, and their startled mother fled...
'I certainly wasn’t expecting that type of den,' Farrington said. 'They told me [it was] a hole in the ground, and I was thinking of a typical bear den, with two cubs in it.'
Instead, there were three cubs that weighed about three pounds apiece, according to Randy Cross, a biologist for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Cross leads the state’s bear den crew, and he and his crew also headed toward Woodville to pitch in. The bears were likely just a few weeks old, he said.
Farrington found three cubs in the ground nest, and two of them weren’t moving. Without their mother present to provide warmth, they were in danger of succumbing to the elements, Cross said.

Read this article and we guarantee you will learn something new today!

 Caleb, Jim & Megan

Click Here for Our Certified Organic Wood Prairie Cover Crop Seed.

Wood Prairie Family Farm Photos.

Mastercraft Rough Terrain 4WD Diesel Forklift Buried in Snow.  Central and Southern Maine have received a fairly typical amount of snowfall this Winter, but it’s often been alternated with rainfall which has kept their snow accumulation down.   Here in Northern Maine, our snowfall started up early in October and the storms have kept a steady pace.  Wednesday’s storm brought us another 14.”  So now we’ve have had more than 10 feet of snowfall.  We heard on the radio today that Mammoth Mountain in the Sierra Nevada has had the most snowfall anywhere in the USA with over 25 feet falling so far this Winter.

Wood Prairie Packing Shed With Cantelieved Snow Overhang.  Almost all of our roofs are metal and with the exception of one stubborn valley, they usually shed their snowloads on their own.  Sometimes it takes awhile as is obvious with this shot of ‘Bella’ watching an icy roof overhang.  Recently, Caleb witnessed another big load of snow slide with great force off our ‘Big Shed.’ Many tons of snow careened off the roof, shooting out 30 feet from the building’s edge.

‘Halle’ and Ski Tracks Covered by Blowing Snow in South Field.   Often, after eating dinner, Megan will head out with her cross-country skis and make the loop through our woodlot.  Halle, our Great Pyrenees livestock guard dog is the one dog most capable of keeping up with Megan.  It’s a good workout for both, and way too much for our ill-equipped Corgi, ‘Jackie’ or slacker ‘Bella.',

Light at the End of the Tunnel.   Megan’s ski trail goes through our ‘Cedar Swamp’ and crosses the brook.  The grove of Northern White Cedar tress gracefully touch tops and creates a cathedral-like setting.

Looking Eastward from the Cedar Swamp Towards Wood Prairie Buildings.   Looking across the South Field.  Caleb’s quonset hut repair shop is at left.  Behind the stacks of emptied wooden pallet boxes is our home, the underground potato storage, hidden office and packing shed ell.

Chickadee at Snow-Covered Bird Feeder.   The view out our kitchen window is now completely obstructed by many feet of accumulated snow on the north side of our house where we never plow.  Undeterred by today’s snow and wind, a resourceful Black-capped Chickadee has figured out a way to carefully access the Black-Oil-Sunflower seeds in Megan’s bird feeder.  With her can-do attitude that little Chickadee deserves her title as Maine’s State Bird.

Charlotte Vallaeys on Organic Soil Health.

Recipe: Homemade Potato Chips and 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 Hot Potato Chips

1-1/2 lb. Caribou Russet potatoes, well scrubbed

6 c peanut oil

Fine 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 and French Onion Dip.
Photo by Angela Wotton
Mailbox: Picking Potatoes and Storing Spuds.

Picking Potatoes

     Mom said she used to pick potatoes on her ands and knees.


When we dig by hand, we pick on our knees, also. However the stories we've heard over the years explain that the very fastest pickers had very strong backs and those individuals stooped over all day long picking their potatoes. Here in Bridgewater legendary husband-and-wife team Charlie and Iris Parks one day picked 200 barrels between them, which is 33,000 pounds of potatoes.


Storing Spuds.

     Good Morning Jim.

     Requesting assistance with storing my beautiful Wood Prairie potatoes.
     I currently have the potatoes in my garage and so far temp has not dipped below 40 degrees.
     Colder weather is just around the corner and I am concerned they will freeze in the garage.
     The coldest spot in my basement is 60-62 degrees - should I store them in the basement or the refrigerator at 40 degrees?

     Thanks much...having scallop potatoes for breakfast.....soooo yummy.


     To keep your potatoes in storage the longest, I'd keep them where they are until the lows dip to 35F. Then I'd move them to the part of the refrigerator closest to 38F, which is the ideal storage temperature for potatoes.



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