8 Food Miles

006Local organic fingerling potatoes are readied for delivery to Costa’s Food Store in Coudersport, Pennsylvania. Food miles refer to the distance food travels from farm to consumer. For this food delivery, we have 8 Food Miles to travel.

Varieties of potatoes grown in Potter County, Pennsylvania are different from those you mostly find in the grocery stores. The flavor of our fingerling potatoes is nutty with earthy undertones that develop when cooked with a unique flavor better than the varieties that are normally found in the grocery store. Most of the commercially produced potatoes are grown on large farms in the mid-west and in Idaho. For those Idaho potatoes, the food miles are 2200 or more. Compared to that distance, our potatoes are grown a stone’s throw away from your table.

Food Miles

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Gearing Up For Spring And Beyond

002Spring is a time of renewal and winter is a good time to prepare for spring. About this time of year, anyone who gardens or has a greenhouse or small farm gets their seed catalogues in the mail.  These are great as they present a wide array of vegetables for the planning and selecting what to grow. So, what could possibly be better than getting your favorite seed catalogues? Hint: This week, we were thrilled to see the delivery of a bale of seed starter soil mix and seed trays as it signifies a new beginning.

By purchasing only seeds from a seed catalog, we select varieties that probably weren’t bred for the set of conditions that work best for us. As growers, an additional goal is to develop varieties and diversities that are specifically adapted to our unique conditions of agriculture here in Potter County, Pennsylvania . We look forward to spring with great anticipation with the prospect of growing out our own botanical seed. By doing this over time, we hope to develop unique garlic and potatoes adapted to our environment and set of growing conditions. And also, hopefully we can select the traits of taste and texture that are desirable to us and our customers.

Learning is the process of gathering knowledge and then applying it. In doing this why not start by learning from the best? With that in mind, we are following the lead of a internationally recognized potato and tomato breeder Tom Wagner.  Luckily for us, he shares his knowledge and encourages others to do this kind of thing.

Below is Tom Wagner’s Method for growing True Potato Seed (TPS):

True Potato Seed (TPS) germinates from five days to as long as several weeks with the majority emerging in 7 to 12 days. TPS is sporadic in the way it germinates and some seed will last in the soil for a year. New seed will germinate slower than seed two or fifty years old. So the younger the seed the harder it is to break dormancy.

The soil temperature is a factor: 72 F is the best temp, with 66F to 78F acceptable. Even temps day and night is required…a hot day in the greenhouse followed by a night in the 40’s would be too much of an extreme

Tom Wagner sows a lot of TPS and starts with a 72 cell insert put into one of those 11 by 21 inch trays. He uses a sterile peat lite seed starter type media. Sunshine #4 Natural & Organic is recommended where high air capacity and fast drainage are needed: during winter months, with water or salt sensitive crops, or where frequent leaching is required.

  • Sunshine Natural & Organic Aggregate Plus 3.8 cubic feet bale
  • Weight: 82.0 lbs.
  • Package Dimensions: 26.0L x 16.0W x 14.0H

Sowing the seeds Level the media off to the top of the insert. Compress an indentation with your fingers pressing down the media down a fraction of an inch 1/8 inch/ 3mm. Then sow one to 10 seeds per cube depending on your objectives and rarity of the seed. Cover the seed with just a smattering of soil…1/8 inch/3mm or less then press it down again with your fingers. This firming down of the soil media allows one to water without flooding the media and floating off the media and seed. Water the flat in with 120 F/ 49C water to hasten the swelling of the seed coat. The competition helps germinate slow germinators and the first to germinate helps the stragglers stretch to keep up. It is highly significant if you can give the seedlings intense light just as soon as they emerge in order to keep them stocky. Give direct sunlight or have florescent grow lights within inches/50mm of the soil. 12 to 24 hours a day of light is critical. 8 hours or less of light makes the seedlings spindly. Do not cover the flat with plastic or a lid as damping off, fungus etc is a common killer of potato seedlings. The soil should be moist but not wet and needs to dry out a bit between waterings. If you have a grow mat for germinating TPS that is perfect for winter time, late Spring when the days are warm wouldn’t need the grow mats. As the plants grow they can tolerate the cooler nights but not below 55 to 65F/12 to 18C ideally. Try not to exceed 80F/27C degree days in the greenhouse. As seedlings grow their 2nd true leaves and are about 2 inches/50mm tall carefully transplant back into 72 cell trays one seedling per cell. The seedlings will not have many roots and breaking the root (s) happens often. Transplant those whose roots are totally broken often re-root. It is important to transplant into small containers because you don’t want wet soil and a root ball must start within the confines of the one inch/25mm square cell. Be sure to bury the cotyledon and maybe one of the true leaves leaving just a bit of plant above the soil to finish growing taller. The first transplanting occurs about three weeks after seeding. Mix a stronger soil media by starting with the above Sunshine media and mix in worm castings, dolomite lime, compost, composted manure, bone meal, alfalfa meal, kelp meal, blood meal, greensand, rock phosphate, wood ashes, cottonseed meal, etc. Not too much but just enough to give the soil media some oomph. Another two to four weeks later the seedlings should be about three inches/75mm high and if the flats are taken outside on some mild days to get acclimated to the sun for a few hours a day. This prevents transplant shock when you take them to the field or garden. Transplant to the garden in a shallow furrow and cover up another leaf or three so that very little of the plant is showing above the soil line. Water in and wait a week or two before bringing a bit more soil up around the stem. Space seedlings about 10 to 12 inches/ 250mm to 300mm apart within the row and my rows are at least three feet/900mm apart. At 4 ft/1200mm you can walk between the rows and use a tiller close to either side of the row to work the soil. As a few more weeks go by, more soil is hilled up around the seedlings so that about four inches/100mm of soil is above the original root ball. The potato needs to have these frequent hillings to allow it to root in and within the dormant buds in the apex of the leaf stems. Either more above ground stems will emerge out of the soil or if no extra stems, the plant will shoot stolons out from those buried leaf attachments to form tubers. By bringing more soil up around the seedlings one is eliminating weeds from taking over. If you till between the rows just before canopy closure weed pressure is reduced to a minimum.

When to sow 5 to 8 weeks prior to your last frost date this information can be acquired from weather bureaus and perhaps online. For instance Canada would be mid May or later. It is OK to start your sowing later or on weekly intervals all winter and Spring but the idea of putting the seedlings out after all danger of frost is past is to mimic tuber plantings. Tubers are usually planted in the ground 4 to 5 weeks before the last frost date. If one starts the seedlings too early like in February the potato seedlings grow mature and reach a senescent state when the potato leaves start to turn yellowing and stop growing thus tuberisation has occurred. Once the seedlings start their first little tuber there is but a short window to get them into the field. If the tubers grow for a while the seedling will die down and will not recover from the transplanting to the field. Only the late maturing ones will survive and grow into a full size vine. The ones that die down are the early maturing clones. The best time to transplant is when just a few of the seedling begin a tuber and you’ll know this when you transplant. Harvesting tuber hills can happen over a range of a month or more. Dig those that die down early and harvest the late vines before frost comes.

Transplants TPS growout effort is poorly understood by new readers. A TPS seedling is near worthless if transplanted with the cotyledon above the soil line….no tubers!

Seed pods Potato berries need to be on the potato vine for about 6 to 8 weeks after flowering. The berries don’t have a special colour when ripe even when soft they may still be greenish although a bit yellowish.  Leave them alone as long as possible on the vine but if they fall off naturally gather them and allow them to ‘ripen’ a few more weeks indoors.

Organic soil prep Within the row at the time I place the tubers or TPS transplants, use a combination of minerals along with some kind of NPK feeding. This will mean kelp meal, alfalfa meal, cottonseed meal, dolomite lime, bone meal, rock phosphate, blood meal, humic shale, microbials, compost, pelleted chicken, etc.

Overall objectives:

  1. Produce first year seedling tubers

  2. Produce potato plants the following year

  3. Produce flowers

  4. Produce viable pollen

  5. Produce berries

  6. Repeat

Tom Wagner aka Tater Mater demonstrating TPS transplanting. Thank you for being a great teacher!

Click Here to see video

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Local Crop Diversity

Berries on the Plant

Berries on the Plant

Did you know that the big agricultural corporations have been buying up seed companies and plant breeding institutes? These vertical take-overs will give them an almost monopolistic control of the cultivars available to farmers and gardeners. There are ways to oppose these commercial trends and successfully breed crops for an alternate horizontal resistance at a very local level. For example, look in the Seed Savers Exchange (SSE) information for donated seeds for Russian Banana, Papa Cacho and Purple Sun. These Seed Savers Exchange seeds originated in Potter County, Pennsylvania and to the best of our knowledge might have been made available for the first time. As Kenosha Potato Project curator, Curzio Caravati informs us:

… On the subject of berry setting, you have seen on SSE how many varieties of botanical seed I have collected over the years. Your Russian Banana are the first berries I have ever seen on a fingerling … I have grown La Ratte, French Fingerling, Nosebag, Peanut, and a bunch more with European names like Corne de Mouton, Piekon Muikku [Finnish] … often I have not seen flowers open in a full bloom … so I was really surprised by your Russian Banana success! I need to add: very surprised by your success with Russian Banana because I believe most varieties which are similar in shape and texture to Russian Banana may have spread through Europe from the Northern countries [longer days]. That in my mind justified my failure to produce berries here in Kenosha [lower latitude] … but you proved me wrong as in PA you have shorter days than here.

Seed Packaging

Donated Seeds

So, why is sustainable seed production important when growing root vegetables like potatoes and garlic? The sustainable farmer needs to develop new lines of TPS tubers and cloves every 5 years or so to reduce the virus load that builds during multi-generational cloning. And, in time one will select for local resistance to disease and pests; and spread the need of new mini tuber development even longer. We finish up with the following thought:

Find people who share your values, and you’ll conquer the world together [at least our little corner of it]. John Ratzenberger

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Out In The Potato Patch

Rows of Russian Bananas

Rows of Russian Bananas

This year, we planted nice wide rows and inter-planted a buckwheat, crimson clover and daikon radish mixture of cover-cropping in between potato rows. That way, when the potatoes were harvested in late-September, the cover crop residue remains over the winter to provide some soil protection and reduce nutrient leaching. Also, the clover produces nitrogen in the field for next year’s crop rotation. The potatoes were grown from tubers planted in late May and early June. The cover crop seeds were sown on July 2nd. Did you know that potato flowers are pollinated by bumble bees? Bumble bees nest in the ground and therefore lots of uncultivated areas allow for their colonies to thrive. Our local native plants (forests, hedgerows, meadows and fields) provide good natural habitat for the bumble bees and our cover crop planting add to that which is already available for them.

Berries on the Plant

Berries on the Plant

What treasure can be found by growing out botanical seed?  We aim to find out. This year there were many True Potato Seeds (TPS). They grew from the Purple Sun, Russian Banana and Papa Cacho. We picked them when the plants had vine and leaf die-back (indicating that the TPS berries were ready for harvest). We have been growing potatoes for 4 years. We have seen TPS berries on them in the prior years. However, we hadn’t collected the berries.  This is the first year that we collected berries, and we kept some of them and sent the remaining ones to the Kenosha Potato Project for further distribution to the group’s members. Within a short distance, we found 8 TPS berries on Papa Cacho plants. One plant had a cluster of 4 large berries as shown here.

Russian Banana TPS

Russian Banana TPS

Here are the Russian Banana TPS berries. There were too many to count. These TPS berries came from the Russian Banana Plants (~ 80# of seed tubers planted on May 26, 2014). There are about a quart of berries. They were harvested off the potato plants when the vines were almost entirely died-back at 101 Days maturity. Many of the berries had started to fall off naturally by then, and they had noticeable lightened in color, and they had a pattern of white dots or dapples.

How does one separate the seeds from the berry pulp? Answer: By hand mostly. Method used: Cut the berry in half with a sharp knife and pinch the seeds out of the berry halves into a glass or bowl of water. Then rinse and strain the seeds out of the water to separate out the bits of pulp seemed to work best. The seeds tend to sink to the bottom and this allows most of the water and pulp to be poured out of the glass without losing any of the tiny seeds. We gave it a try and successfully extracted enough seeds for our experiments next spring. After over-night drying, the seeds were packaged and labeled for storage. This is our first year that we collected berries and extracted seeds. We sent most of our berries to The Kenosha Potato Project to distribute to the group but kept a few here to grow our own plants. But from just a few berries, many seeds were extracted by us.  So, if someone locally wanted some to grow them, we would gladly give them some seeds. We plan to grow the seeds in the early spring, similar to growing tomato plants from seeds. Micro tuber production to start new strains of potato is the mission.

The Mother Earth News by Landrace Gardening: True Potato Seeds by Joseph Lofthouse explains the importance of TPS. Here are the main points given in that article:

Pollinated potato seeds are called “True Potato Seed” (TPS) to differentiate them from “seed potatoes” which are genetically identical clones of a potato tuber.  Growing only tubers introduces the danger of total crop failure due to too much genetic uniformity.  By also growing some potatoes from true potato seeds, we can introduce some genetic diversity into the potato patch and adapt the potato crop to the local conditions.

To learn more about the Kenosha Potato Project, and you can join the Project Facebook page to network with hundreds of Potato Gardeners.

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Where Food Comes From

What does a food company’s main building tell you about the food products, where the food comes from and how much support there is for local community?

Here’s our building. We’ll let you decide.

summer bean harvest 039

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Fall Field Work

As the autumn season rolls along, there are a number of important farm duties to accomplish before the cold season is upon us. For us the main tasks at hand are the potato harvest and garlic planting.  Each of these warm, sunny fall days are filled with these seasonal chores.

Shown here is the furrowing for garlic rows using our 1947 Allis-Chalmers model B with the precision belly-mounted cultivator configured with three chisel plow points. To celebrate this wonderful time of the year, we thought to write a poem Fall Field Work to share (see below).

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Fall Field Work

With summer wildflowers a thing of the past,

These warm autumn meadows won’t long last.

Knowing fall-time follies turn to foil,

And soon we can’t fork in winter’s soil,

We hurry fields with a furry of toil.

 

By wooleylot

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Very Local Food: Russian Bananas

Russian Banana Fingerling Potatoes from Wooleylot Farm are available at Costa’s Food Center in Coudersport, Pennsylvania in convenient 2 pounds bags.

Russian Banana Fingerlings

Russian Banana Fingerlings

Today we delivered some of our Russian Bananas to the Costa’s Produce Department. These savory banana-shaped yellow potatoes are delicious baked, boiled or in salads. Legend has them as first grown by early Russian settlers. We offer a select basket of other savory vegetables. Catering to those of you that have an appetite for locally grown vegetables because it is the best food.

We hope that it finds its way to your kitchen. Buy local as much as you can. You’ll be glad that you did. Start enjoying it today!

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