Wednesday, March 30, 2016

How to Grow Seed Potatoes

Ever feel like the potatoes in stock at the grocery store just don’t cut it? Then perhaps it’s time to try your hand at planting your own! If you live in a northern climate, you can start getting ready for your crop now – and we offer a guide right here on how to go about it.


Let’s quickly review some of the basics, then we’ll go through the process itself. A seed potato is either a whole potato or a piece of a potato that is planted in the ground to grow a potato plant. There are various opinions on whether it’s best to plant whole potatoes (which decreases the chances of disease and rot) or pieces of potatoes (which will allow you to grow more potato plants). The choice is yours. However, you may want to do some research on the growing conditions in your area so you know whether potatoes there are prone to rotting, which is more likely if the soil is soggy. 

And now for the process itself! First off, you want to decide what kind of potatoes you’d like to grow. Grocery stores only offer a handful of options – and you wouldn’t want to use those anyway, as they’re treated with chemicals to prevent sprouting and usually aren’t tested for seed potato diseases. Here at Paris Farmers Union, we offer a number of seed potato varieties:

Goldrush – a medium-large russet potato with long spuds; excellent flavor and tastes good baked, boiled, or fried; stores well
Chieftan – red rounds potato with a high-yield potential; thin, coppery skin; firm, moist flesh; stores well
Cobbler – round, white, mealy potato; early maturing; delicious taste; medium size
Green Mountain – round white, late-season potato; high-yield potential; light tan-skinned, delicious taste; stores well
Katahdin – round white potato; smooth, buff skin; drought resistant; high yield potential; adaptable to various growing conditions; stores well
Kennebec – round white potato; medium- to late-maturing; high yield potential; stores well; grown for both fresh market and chipping
Adirondack Blue – blue-flesh potato with a purple tint; works well for boiling, baking, and mashing
Yukon Gold – yellow flesh potato with think, smooth eye-free skin; works well for both dry heat and wet heat cooking methods; waxy, moist flesh and sweet flavor
Superior – round white-skinned, white-fleshed, midseason potato; often used for chipping right from the field; high yield potential; commonly used to make potato chips
Russet – long, large potato with rough skin; high in starch; commonly used for baking
Red Pontiac – thin, red-skinned potato; shallow eyes and crisp white flesh; perfect for mashing; grows well in heavy soils
Norwis – round, white potato with smooth, light-buff skin; often used for potato chips
Norland – red-skinned, white flesh potato; often used for salads or boiling; not good for baking; short-season; adaptable to cooler climates

Our seed potatoes for sale are sourced from the reputable Maine Farmers Exchange and are available at all of our 10 retail stores, either by the pound or in 50-pound bags for the more ambitious potato farmers out there. 

Now that you’ve decided on the type of potato you’re going to grow, it’s time to consider your local growing conditions. Where you live will dictate when the time is right for you to plant your seed potatoes. You want to be sure to wait until the risk of a deep frost is over (light frosts shouldn’t be harmful). You also want to time it so that your potatoes have a window of 90 days for growing, so make sure the first frost isn’t creeping in toward the end of that period. 

Also consider the soil. The ideal soil temperature is above 50 degrees F – although if the soil is too hot, the potatoes will start to cook before they’re fully grown. Soil moisture is another factor: If the soil is too moist, your potatoes may rot. 

A popular technique that is used to decrease that 90-day growing period is “chitting” your potatoes. Chitting potatoes is the process of growing sprouts on your seed potatoes before planting them in the ground. Sprouting should be started about a month before you plan to plant the potatoes and involves placing the potatoes in a sunny spot or perhaps under a fluorescent lamp. When planting these chitted potatoes, keep the sprouts facing up – and don’t let them break. Chitting potatoes is useful if you’re afraid it will get too cold or too hot for the potatoes. 

As for the actual planting, your seed potatoes should be planted about five or six inches deep in the soil. If you’re planning to use pieces of potatoes, each square should be about one-and-a-half to two inches in size, or roughly one ounce, cut a couple days ahead of planting and kept in a cool, humid place for the interim. Separate each seed potato by two feet or so to ensure each has plenty of room to grow. Each potato – or piece of potato – planted should have one to two buds or spots from which sprouts will grow. As the potatoes are placed in the ground, point at least one of those buds upward so they’ll start growing in the right direction. 

A quick side note: It’s possible to save your seed potatoes from one year to the next, but this is risky, as potatoes can pick up soil-borne diseases that may affect future harvests.
Depending on the soil and growing conditions, you can usually estimate that for however many pounds of seed potatoes you plant, your harvest will be about 10 times that amount. So get ready for some home-grown goodness that adds delicious flavor to your plate. 

Feel free to share your experiences/questions/comments in a comment below. And good luck!
Tuesday, March 15, 2016

10 Essential Spring Lawn Care Tips

Spring is in the air, but your lawn still has a bad case of the winter blues. What do you need to do to repair the inevitable damage done by cold temperatures and restore your outdoor landscape? Don’t let spring lawn preparation needs catch you off guard. These 10 spring lawn care tips will help ensure that your march into the growing season starts out on the right foot.



1. Make a Plan 
When the days begin to warm, it's tempting to just roll up your sleeves and get started on your yard work. However, it's smart to take a few moments and make a plan first. After all, certain steps work best if taken in a specific order. As your dormant grass begins to awaken, assess your yard, note any problem areas, and decide what you need to do and when you're going to do it.

2. Get Your Equipment Ready 
Don't wait until your grass is too tall to discover that your mower isn't ready. Check that everything is operational before it's time to mow. Dull blades tear the grass, making it more vulnerable to disease, so don't forget to sharpen the mower's blades. Spring is also a good time to check that irrigation systems are in working order and to make sure that gardening tools like rakes, shovels, trimmers, and wheelbarrows are all in good shape.

3. Clean Up Your Outdoor Space
When winter retreats, it often leaves debris like fallen leaves and branches behind. Pick them up and either dispose of them or compost them. Are dead patches of grass a problem? Remove them with a metal rake so that the spot will be ready for repair. Don't forget flowerbeds and borders. Clear away any dead foliage and rake up the mulch in areas where new plantings will be going in. If necessary, use a square-head shovel to edge the beds, creating a crisp line between them and nearby areas of grass.

4. Rake Your Entire Yard
Raking isn't just for removing autumn leaves. It's also an effective way to control the thatch buildup that can compromise the health of your yard. Before you mow or apply any sort of treatment to your yard in the spring, rake it. This will untangle matted areas and remove dead grass, making it easier for your grass to get the nutrients it needs to flourish. It also gives you another opportunity to spot troubled areas that might need special care.

5. Do a Soil Assessment
Good soil is essential to a healthy lawn, and having the proper pH will head off many common problems. Soil tests are inexpensive and widely available, so use one to check your soil and see if you need to add amendments. Don't be surprised if your soil comes back as acidic. That's a common result of winter weather, and it can easily be corrected by adding lime.

6. Address Bald Spots 
Whether they're caused by heavy foot traffic, animals, or something else, bare patches are a blemish on your yard. Overseeding with grass seed will fix these bald spots by establishing new grass. Populating these bare spots with grass will also prevent opportunistic weeds from gaining a foothold in your yard by crowding them out.

7. Feed Your Grass With Fertilizer 
Water is a strain on grass, but fertilizer replenishes the plant's resources, giving it the strength it needs to form the lush, green carpet people love. You can use organic fertilizers like compost or select a chemical fertilizer. It's important to note that if you needed to apply lime to correct the acidity levels of your soil, you should wait at least three weeks before fertilizing.

8. Stop Crabgrass and Weeds Before They Sprout
Spring is the perfect time to stop crabgrass and weeds before they sprout. Seize control of the situation by applying a pre-emergent herbicide or corn gluten to your yard. Make sure to avoid any spots where you overseeded. Herbicides can kill your new grass.

9. Prune Trees and Shrubs 
Cold temperatures and winter winds often do a number on trees and shrubs. Use a handsaw or hand pruners to trim away dead or damaged branches, pruning back to live stems. Being proactive keeps your plant healthier and more attractive, and taking branches down under controlled conditions means that you won't have to worry about them causing harm by falling on something.

10. Maintain Your Hardscaping 
When the subject of lawn care comes up, most people focus on their living landscaping, but hardscaping features like sidewalks and patios are also something to consider. An integral part of your outdoor spaces, these features can use a little care too. Reset heaved pavers, rake gravel and stone back into place, and refill joints between flagstones or pavers with sand or stone dust. If leaf stains or moss is an issue, use a pressure washer to cleanse the surfaces.

With the right spring lawn care routine, your yard will be refreshed and ready to flourish. Before you know it, you'll be savoring the warmth of the sun on your skin and the scent of freshly cut grass as you enjoy your outdoor living spaces.
Wednesday, March 9, 2016

A Brief History of Maple Sugaring

When it comes to the history of maple sugaring in America, historians are unable to produce a definitive timeline. However, according to the University of Vermont, written accounts referring to its production date back to 1557. Scholars have speculated that maple sugaring goes back even more, since several Indian tribes share legends about the sweet product. Today, we explore a brief history of maple syrup and sugaring in the United States and Canada.


Early Indian Legends 


According to Time.com, one early legend tells a story of a tribe chief flinging a tomahawk into a tree. When he did, sap drizzled out, and his wife decided to boil venison in the substance. The Indians have shared another myth explaining that their ancestors came across sap flowing from a broken maple tree branch. Members of the Massachusetts Maple Producers Association believe that the Indians probably discovered maple syrup by trying “sapsicles.” These tree-generated treats are frozen maple-sap icicles that materialize on the tip of a broken tree stem.


Primitive Production Methods 


Many of the country’s first explorers wrote in journals. Their documentation tendencies have given today’s researchers a peek into the everyday lives of the northeastern Native Americans. According to these early writings, the Indians developed a maple sugar production process that dates back to at least 1609. Instead of living in one place, the Indians moved with the seasons. When winter gave way to spring, they would move into the forest to make their camps among the sugar maple trees. While there, the Indians would collect and process sap by forming V-shaped lacerations in the tree trunks. They would then gather the sap in containers. Since these early Indians did not have metal pots for boiling, they would produce maple sugar by removing the water from the sap through evaporation caused by hot stones.

People stored solidified maple sugar because they could use it throughout the year. New England’s Native Americans gave maple sugar as presents. They also used it for trading. The Indians even mixed it with berries, grains, and bear fat to create a dessert. In the summer, maple sugar was dissolved in water for a sweet beverage.

When the European settlers arrived, the Indians taught them their maple sugaring production methods. As early as 1790, people began looking for other ways to reach the sap because they discovered that cutting the trees was bad for them. A healthier way to get to the sap was to drill a small hole into the tree and insert a spile. This handy gadget released the sap more easily. People made the first spiles from sumac twigs because of the wood’s soft center. This section could be removed to form the device.

The colonists used wooden buckets to collect the sap from the trees. Once the sap was gathered, they poured it into large iron kettles and boiled the substance over an open fire. This process caused the syrup to thicken, and once it was thick enough to crystallize, they drizzled it into wooden molds to create blocks. Like the Indians, the settlers stored these blocks for later use.

Turning Sap Into a Commodity 


The next 100 years brought many changes to maple sugaring. For instance, producers replaced wooden buckets with metal ones, while metal tanks were used to store the substance. When it came to boiling, maple sugar producers started using large flat pans because they were more efficient. Manufacturers also constructed sugarhouses for boiling sap.

When the cost of imported cane sugar dropped, people started buying it instead of maple sugar. In 1788, the Quakers pushed back on this trend by advertising maple sugar as a moral alternative to granular sugar since slave labor was used in the development of cane sugar. By 1790, the maple sugar industry saw growth, with key advocates entering the picture. Thomas Jefferson, Judge James Fenimore Cooper, and Dr. Benjamin Rush all pushed the nation toward maple sugar.

The 1800s 


When it came to maple sugar production in the 1800s, inventions and patents were the rage. For instance, producers started using augers in 1810, while D. M. Cook requested a patent for an evaporating pan in 1858. Eli Mosher requested a patent for metal sap spouts a year later, and G.H. Grimm put in for a patent for his sugar evaporator in 1884.


Becoming an Industry 


In 1904, the Cary Maple Sugar Company was established, and it became North America’s largest producer of wholesale sugar. The industry mingled with technology in 1946, as this was the year that saw the first commercial power-tapping machine. Advancements continued to flood the maple sugaring industry. In 1959, Nelson Griggs patented a sap-gathering pipeline system. During the late 1970s, maple sugar producers started using reverse osmosis technology to reduce sap’s sugar content before sending the substance through the boiling process.

Researchers began investigating the health of maple trees during the last part of the century. In 1988, the North American Maple Project started looking into maple decline. Later, in 1999, maple sugar producers introduced the health spout. This invention used a smaller hole to collect sap.

Maple Sugaring Today 


Cornell confirms that technology and research have provided insight into maple sugaring. For instance, soil type, weather conditions, and tree genetics affect the quality of maple syrup, so those who collect it as a hobby should assess the area before they gather the product. It’s also important to protect the health of a maple tree by tapping it judiciously. A tree that measures 10 inches to 17 inches in diameter should only have one tap, while a tree that is more than 25 inches around can handle as many as three.

The history of maple sugaring is long and celebrated. Genuine maple syrup can only be found in the northeastern United States and Canada. Maple trees grow throughout the world, but America's northeast states and Canada are the only areas that have the proper climate for maple syrup. In fact, it’s mainly produced in Vermont, New York, and Maine. However, advancements have allowed the industry to expand to give the world access to the tasty substance.

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We hope you have enjoyed this maple sugaring history! Interested in doing your own maple sugaring? Check out our supply of some of the best and cheapest maple sugaring products around!