Organic News and Commentary
From Maine
              Friday, March 08th, 2019
                 Volume 28 Issue 04


 In This Issue of The Wood Prairie Seed Piece:

  Big Snow.

     Northern Maine’s Snowy Winter.
This photo, taken this week and looking westward, shows some of the buildings on Wood Prairie Family Farm buried under many feet of snow.   So far, we’ve had thirteen feet of snow fall since our first storm in October and the snow has continued to pile up.
        With steady cold to date we’ve had little melting.  However, now that the sun is getting higher, we expect to see days above freezing later this month and that will help to settle the snow.  These must be very tough conditions for moose and deer.
       Meanwhile, Spring is slowly working its way north and we have been keeping up with shipping out orders.  We have a good crew this winter to help us.  Seed potatoes are keeping perfectly and we still have most varieties in stock.  So, if you haven’t yet had a chance to order, now’s a great time!

Caleb, Jim & Megan Gerritsen & Family
Wood Prairie Family Farm
Bridgewater, Maine
Rock Collections.  Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.  Circa 1998.

Wood Prairie Potato Harvest 2018 Rock Collection. Deviation from our gray shale orthodoxy.

Rocks are so fundamental to the experience of growing potatoes in Maine that we really couldn’t fault anyone for calling us a bit obsessive on the subject.  Rocks are certainly a subject we know quite well.   Years ago, one fellow explained to us that over the eons, twenty glaciers have made their way through Northern Maine, each one bringing rocks foreign and divergent from our shale bed rock.  We, and those who have come before us, have enjoyed long careers of moving rocks out of the way so we can grow potatoes.

A dozen years ago we cleared off the re-growth of trees from one four-acre field which had been abandoned many decades ago. Counting the tree rings on the stumps left behind from felling the biggest trees revealed  those trees had gotten their start a mere twenty years after the field had been first cleared by the pioneers a century ago.  For a short while it baffled us why after so much effort at clearing they had surrendered the field back to the woods.

Before long, we had cleared all the trees and then all the stumps.  Working the rich soil with farm equipment revealed quickly what had been the not-so-mysterious reason for abandonment.   The amount of rocks in this field left behind by glaciers was enough to make one faint.   It clearly was enough to have caused the pioneers to lose heart and give up on this field.

With an almost religious zeal we tackled our rocks.  We used tractors, mechanical rock hogs and rockpickers, and a dumptruck to haul the rocks out of that field.  By the time we finished rockpicking we had taken over 700 yards of rocks from off those four acres. 

One neighbor who would drive our ten-yard dump truck alongside our side-boom rockpicker proudly proclaimed he had now worked on the two rockiest farms in town.   When pressed for the winner, he said our farm beat out that of an old-timer’s farm near US Route 1 and north of Bridgewater Corner .  It’s always nice to be in first place, regardless of the contest.

Not far from Bridgewater Corner, but on the ‘other side of the line’ was the Emery Farm in the potato farming hamlet of Centreville in New Brunswick, Canada.  Terry Emery was our friend for decades and was the organic farmer most near to Wood Prairie Family Farm. Thinking back, it was about this time in the winter five or six years ago that Terry passed on.

Terry’s parents, Ernie and Gladys were good farmers and had grown seed potatoes - and back in the 1940s - ‘turnip’ seed (Rutabega).   Terry was quite a character.  We always admired his reputation as a farmer who “knew how to turn a dollar” (make money at whatever he did). 

One day an earnest government official was conducting a survey and inquired what crops Terry grew.  In a serious deadpan tone Terry replied and firmly, repeatedly maintained that he raised manure.  Terry could be stubborn.  The official was incredulous, and complained his forms didn’t include a check off box for “Manure.”   Truth be told, besides manure, Terry raised beef cattle and sheep and also apples, and of course, potatoes.  He, too, had a lifetime’s experience with rocks.

One time, Terry was asked to serve as a volunteer stakeholder on a Provincial rural labor council which met every month or two, hoping against hope to figure out some way to create more jobs for rural New Brunswick.   Then, after a few years, the big news came around that Jobs Canada was going to have a big national labor council jamboree in Saskatoon.  Council members from all across Canada would meet to discuss weighty rural jobs issues.

Farmers don’t travel much, and Terry wasn’t about to pass up this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the Canadian Prairies on the government’s dime.  So, he packed his bags and one fine, hot July day found himself plopped down in the flat Province of Saskatchewan.

The customary inside meetings were supplemented by a field trip to a local farm located not far from Saskatoon.    The bus was met by an older farmer, who like his neighbors made his living growing Spring Wheat.   An old red barn stood beside the farmer’s house.  Back in the days when farms were diversified, that barn had held cows and pigs and hay, but it was now empty.

After pleasantries were exchanged, the farmer abruptly turned and made a beeline to the barn with the busload of laboring Canadians in tow.  Once all were inside the barn, the farmer could no longer contain himself.  Beaming with pride and with a broad sweep of his arms, he revealed to all his precious rock collection.  This work of a lifetime was his proudest achievement.  In the Prairies rocks are few and far between.  One hundred rocks were carefully laid out on pallets.  Each one had been lovingly washed by hand and then organized according to shape, size and color. 

Terry smiled back and offered his ultimate farmer compliment, “Them’s awful nice,” and said no more.  Kind as always, Terry knew what happens in New Brunswick, stays in New Brunswick.

Special Offer: FREE Organic Hull-less Oats Cover Crop Seed!

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      Wise gardeners always have a sack or two of cover crop seed on-hand to sow by hand as soon as a corner of the garden has been harvested for the year.

     Earn a FREE 2.5 Lb. Sack of Organic Hull-less Oat Cover Crop Seed (Value $9.95) when your next Wood Prairie order totals $39 or more.  FREE Organic Hull-less Oat Cover Crop Seed Offer ends 11:59 PM on Monday March 11.  Please use Promo Code WPFF445. Your order and FREE Sack of Organic Hull-less Oat Cover Crop Seed must ship no later than May 5, 2019. Offer may not be combined with other offers.  Please click or call TODAY!

Organic Hull-less Oats Cover Crop. Fast-growing and versatile cover crop for every garden.

Wood Prairie Family Farm Photos.

Aroostook County, Maine, As Viewed From Top of Big Rock.     Big Rock is the local Aroostook County ski hill, located on Mars Hill Mountain (Elev.1550’), a twenty minute drive from our front door.   Most of our family enjoys skiing or snowboarding at Big Rock with its short lines, modest lift prices and nearly thousand foot drop.  The wooden bench at right allows folks to sit and enjoy the view.  Near the horizon, 18 miles away to the southwest is Number Nine Mountain (Elev.1638’).  Wood Prairie Family Farm is located in the woods, a little bit south (left) of a direct line two-thirds of the way towards Nine Mountain.

Shoveling Snow Off Storage Trailers.  Amy and Megan (right) get a workout after school this week and shovel head high snow off one of our storage trailers.  The trailer they’re working on houses irrigation equipment.  The trailer next door holds 800 wooden green sprouting trays which we’ll use again next month.

Sunset This Week on Wood Prairie Family Farm.   Megan snapped this photo, looking west, from atop Trailer #1 where she and Amy were working removing snow.  Between the trees Jim is in the yard walking back to the Packing Shed.

Bulldozer Pushing Back Snow Banks.  Caleb operates our Cat 1964 D6C bulldozer to push back snow banks.  Northern Maine’s heavy snowfall this winter has challenged the ability of pickup truck snowplows to keep yards and driveways open.

Icicles on South Side of Our House.    A lot of accumulated snow will be sliding off our metal roofs when temperatures rise finally above freezing sometime this month.  In the meantime we are seeing beautiful displays of icicles growing along the south side of some heated buildings.

Fisher Wood Stove and Stacked Firewood.  A good supply of dry firewood makes getting through a Maine winter pretty easy.  This stack of firewood is enough to heat our home for almost a week, less on the coldest days of January.  We go through 4-5 cords of wood a year, and always try to have a year’s worth of firewood ahead.  

Benjamin Franklin on Virtue and LIberty.

Recipe: Black Bread.

2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
1 1/3 c warm water (105 - 115F)
1 tsp natural cane sugar or brown sugar
2 T cocoa powder
2 T finely ground espresso beans
1/4 c molasses
3 tsp caraway seeds, plus more for topping
3 T unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 tsp sea salt
2 c coarsely grated potatoes (2 medium)
1 1/3 c rye flour
3 1/4 c bread flour or all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
olive oil for baking sheet
2 T buttermilk or milk

In a large mixing bowl whisk the yeast with warm water and sugar and set aside until foamy.

In a small saucepan over med-low heat, combine the cocoa, coffee, molasses, caraway, butter, and salt. Stir constantly until just melted. You want the mixture to be lukewarm when adding to the other ingredients.

Combine the grated potatoes and molasses mixture with the yeast mixture in the large mixing bowl. Add the flours, and stir until you've got a soft tacky adhesive dough. Turn the dough out on a lightly floured surface and knead for about  5 minutes, adding flour as needed, until the dough is elastic and springy. You can also do this step using the dough hook on your mixer.

Shape the dough into a ball, rub with a bit of olive oil and place seam-side down into an oiled bowl. Cover and allow to rise a warm place for 1 -2 hours. Gently press down, with a closed fist, across the surface of the dough. Turn dough out onto counter and shape into a round loaf. Place on a very lightly oiled baking sheet , then cover loosely with a cloth. Allow to rise a second time in a warm place until nearly doubled in size, about an hour.

Uncover, brush with buttermilk, sprinkle with a dusting of flour, 1 tsp caraway seeds, and use a serrated knife to slash an 'X' deeply across the dough (do your best not to deflate the loaf). Bake for 20 minutes at 425F. Lower heat to 350F and bake for another 20 - 25 minutes. Remove from oven and place bread directly on rack to cool. Megan.

Makes one extra-large loaf.

Delicious Black Bread.
Photo by Angela Wotton.

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