Tag Archives: Magicland Farms

Where Do We Get Our Seeds?

I’ve been asked a number of times where we get our seeds.  We actually purchase our seeds from a number of seed companies.  Two of these companies, Rupp Seeds and Seiger Seeds, are seed houses that only want to deal with commercial growers since they have very high minimum order requirements.  Another seed house we buy a lot from, Harris Seeds, has two catalogs, Professional and Home Garden. Other places we purchase from are Johnny’s Selected Seeds and Stokes Seeds and they have a single catalog but sell seeds such as beans in small packets as well as 50 pound bags.  You might be surprised to learn we also buy from the popular home garden seed company Burpee since they have some varieties that we think very highly of.  Keep in mind if you purchase from Burpee they have many deals if you keep a watchful eye.  For instance, if you are a sharp shopper you can get free shipping and a good a good healthy discount as well.  Unlike many companies, you can use several promo codes to save extra money at Burpee.  In addition, to saving more money, Burpee is also on the Ebates list.  Right now Ebates will send you 7% on what you spend at Burpee.

Last year we started selling seed, in small packets, at relatively low prices.  We can do this since the seed companies often provide huge discounts when you order large quantities. For instance, we can sell 2 ounces of some bean and corn seeds, which is enough for many home gardens, for a buck and still make a fair profit.  Stop by our market, which we should have open by mid-April, to see what we have available.  We also will have red seed potatoes for sale.


Microclimates and Inland Lakes

I live on a 360 acre lake and there is another lake just to my west.  There are many nice things about living on a lake including the effect the lake has on the surrounding microclimate.  During the heat of the summer, there is a cooling effect and on cold, calm and clear winter nights, with the lake completely covered with ice there is also a cooling effect.  However, the autumn nights by the lake are measurable warmer than the land just a quarter mile away.  So warm in fact that frosts are uncommon before October 20, while away from the lake frost seems to hit on average around the first of October.  This allows a long season for tomato and other tender crop harvest AND it is nearly perfect for late grapes to reach their maximum sugar content.  The lake also provides warmer spring nights, but this effect isn’t as pronounced as the fall warming simply because the water is warmer in October than in April.  Despite this, the few apple trees we have at the lake made it through last years disastrous apple season.

Right now we are raising vegetable plants which we are going to transplant to our farm located to the east of Briar Hill Golf Course across Gordon Avenue.  We have around 67 acres and our roadside farm market is located in the southwest part of the farm.  Since we are raising the plants at our home on the lake, we don’t have to worry as much about our plants freezing — at least not after all the ice is gone from the lake.  Right now there is still ice on the lake and the warming effect is near zero.  Very soon, however, the ice will be gone and we then we won’t have to watch the thermometer as much!  Of course we still will keep them in our two small unheated greenhouses at least until the end of April, but we won’t have to bring the plants in to our basement nearly every night like we are doing right now.

A Bit About GMO (Genetically Modified Organism)

I recently received an email from a sister-in-law who asked about my views of GMO.  This sister-in-law, who has spent many years helping out people in Africa raising food, has a doctor’s degree in agricultural economics from MSU. Her email started me thinking about my own views of GMO and I would like to share them with people who are kind enough to read my blog.

First, I want to sum up my thinking and my position on the matter.  In the Plantae Kingdom (plants) but not necessarily in the Animalia Kingdom (animals) it is appropriate to transfer genes from from one organism to another AS LONG AS THEY ARE IN THE SAME FAMILY!  For example, when it comes to Roundup Ready corn, which is resistant to the glyphosate herbicide, GMO is OK.  Here, in fact, genes were taken from the same species, which is corn, Zea Mays (Genus: Zea, Species: Mays) and transfered to the same species.  I also believe it is OK to transfer between different species and genus, as long as the are in the same family.  As an example here of the meaning of species, genus and family let’s look at the tomato and potato.  First, they both belong to the same family, which is nightshade (Solanaceae), However, the tomato belongs to the Lycopersicon genus while the potato to the Solanum genus.  However, I do believe there are reports of the two crossing naturally, although that is rare.  I do know you can graft a tomato plant on to a potato plant.  Because of this, I don’t feel there is a problem taking, say the late blight resistant gene from a potato and splicing it into a tomato variety.

Now lets still discuss the potato and what I see is bad GMO.

Potatoes have a big insect problem–the Colorado Potato Beetle.  They can devastate a crop if something isn’t done.  About 20 years ago Monsanto developed the New Leaf potato which was a GMO since they took a gene from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, also known as Bt, and stuck it into a Russet Burbank potato.(By the way, bacteria are not only in a completely different family, they are in a completely different kingdom, the Eubacteria Kingdom!)  This gene produced a protein that worked in some insect’s gut, like the Colorado Potato Beetles, to kill it.  It did work and I even tried it out.  The problem I discovered was that my tummy didn’t feel good after eating the potatoes–they seemed to just sit there.  I wasn’t alone.  Michael Pollan who wrote a best selling book “The Botany of Desire” reported similar digestive problems.  Well, after a few years, when McDonald stopped buying Bt potatoes, the New Leaf was no longer being bred.  Obviously Michael and I weren’t the only ones who reported this.

While they gave up on Bt in potatoes, it is still going big in corn–including sweet corn.  I must tell you right off — we don’t use any GMO in any of the fruit or vegetables we grow and sell.  However, much of the sweet corn in the market, especially from down south where corn earworm is a huge problem, is Bt corn.  Also, Bt field corn is relatively common but since European countries won’t buy it, it hasn’t completely taken over the market.  One interesting note among dairy and cattle farmers.  It has been reported from some of them that if a Bt field of corn is planted next to a normal field of corn and animals are let loose in them, they won’t touch the Bt corn until all the regular corn is gone!

I know all of this makes the issue of GMO corn more complicated than ever, but if you think about it, it does make sense.








If you drive past our orchard across from Briar Hill Golf Course you will be able to notice that we have been pruning the last month or so.  This is a good time to prune apples and pears but is too early to prune peaches since temperatures below 10F are still possible and for some reason newly pruned peaches are more tender to cold than unpruned ones.  A better time to prune peaches is from late April through mid May.


Pruned Zestar Apple


This year we are pruning our apples more heavily than normal because we are expecting a snowball bloom since there were no apples last year.  By pruning so heavily we are cutting out a lot of flower buds so the tree will have a less chance of being overloaded which means smaller and poorer quality apples.  (This doesn’t mean just because an apple is small it isn’t good quality–genetics has a lot to do with that too!)

Orchard Versus Garden Pruning

Not everyone who prunes has the exact same purpose.  In general, there are two basic, but separate, objectives. If you are an apple grower your primary objective is to get the maximum amount of good quality fruit that can be cared for and harvested with the least labor. Another trite phrase here would be “more bang for the buck.”  If you are a homeowner or a paid landscaper the quantity and quality of the fruit is usually secondary and the primary reason for pruning is to make the tree look nice and make it easy to care for.

One notable difference between orchard and garden pruning is the desired height of the lowest branches.  The apple grower wants a tree with low branches starting at two or three feet, for ease of harvesting along with better insect and fungus protection.  On the other hand, a homeowner wants to be able to walk up to the trunk of the tree for more lawn space as well as making it convenient for cutting grass.  This implies the garden tree should have branches starting at 5–7 feet from the ground.

In addition to the height of the low branch there is also a difference in basic philosophy concerning the maximum height of the tree.  Today, apple growers try to keep the tree’s maximum height restricted to 12 feet while those who have landscape value in mind don’t restrict the trees height as much.  Other than height, there is little difference in pruning philosophy simply because a well pruned apple tree in an orchard looks better than an unpruned or poorly pruned tree.

Tips on pruning.

It is a no brainer that  all dead branches should be removed.  Also most, if not all, watersprouts should be removed as well as root sprouts.  Cross branches should be removed as well as weak spindly branches.  A popular system for pruning most apple trees is the modified central leader system.  As its name indicates, this system is a modified type of the central leader system.  The central leader system is easy to explain since all you need do is look at a Christmas tree and see one main trunk with the largest branches at the bottom and and the shortest at the top. This is the upside down ice cream cone look.  If you are growing super dwarf trees this is the best way to prune them since super dwarfs never get much higher than 10-12 feet.  However if you have semi-dwarf or full sized apple trees the modified leader is better.  Basically, this done by removing the central leader at a height of between 12 and 20 feet, depending if your aim is to make money growing apples or for the landscape effect.

One other thing to keep in mind.  The large bud at the end of a branch, called the terminal bud, produces a hormone (auxin) which keeps buds from forming on the rest of the branch.  The result is that the branch just gets longer and longer and side branches don’t develop much.  This is bad for both fruit production and landscape use.  To stop auxin from developing simply cut the branch back which removes the terminal bud.  Of course to grow a central leader you don’t want to cut the terminal bud at the end of the central leader.  However, with a modified leader this is done at a height somewhere between 12 and 20 feet.