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High Mowing Organic Seeds
High Mowing Organic Seeds High Mowing Organic Seeds

The Seed Bin - April 2011

What's Happening At High Mowing?

The snow is finally melting, and mud season is officially upon us. Makes driving around on the back roads pretty tricky, but it also provides the perfect medium for viewing animal tracks. The other morning we were excited to find the tracks of a mother moose and her baby - they had sauntered right in front of our greenhouse and hoophouse! We were lucky the doors of the hoophouse were closed since it's bursting with delicious salad greens and spinach that overwintered and are growing at an unbelievable rate! We've harvested and eaten so much fresh spinach for the past few months that pretty soon we'll be turning into Popeyes!

We need that extra strength, for the potatoes arrived at our warehouse a few weeks ago, and out they went again to all of you who ordered them. Packing and shipping the organic potatoes is a huge operation, and we thank the hardworking staff that carried off that process so smoothly. Other staff have been out in the greenhouse, starting the other immense (but oh so happily welcomed after a long winter) task of planting seeds for our farm and also the trial gardens. Soon we will be surrounded by thousands upon thousands of little green seedlings - a sight that cheers us all up.

We'd like to welcome our new Sales & Marketing manager, Andrea Boggs Tursini. She's replacing Gwenael Engleskirchen, who is now in charge of our Trials program.

We're all so excited to welcome the warm weather and the chance to be growing again, and wish you all success with your farms and gardens this season! Let us know how it's going; we'd love to hear from you!

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Where can you buy seedlings grown from High Mowing seeds?

At this time of the year we often get calls from customers looking to see where they can buy seedlings grown from our seeds. To help answer those questions, we've put together a state-by-state list of garden centers and farms that have let us know they are using our seeds for their seedlings.

Check out our Grower's List - there's bound to be a grower near you!

If you are a grower who is growing seedlings from our seeds and you'd like to publicize your sale times, please fill out our Grower's Information Form. Thanks!

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Factors Affecting Germination - Heather Jerrett

Seeds are living organisms held in a state of suspended animation or dormancy. There are many factors that can affect the viability of seeds, including moisture, air, temperature, and light. In an ideal situation and environment, every single seed we planted would grow into a seedling, but as we all know, that doesn’t normally happen. We’ve written up a short article to help explain some of the factors that affect seed germination, and to also explain High Mowing Organic Seeds’ standards for seed viability.

Although dormant, seeds are still slowly respiring and using food reserves within. When the right environmental cues wake the seeds up they begin to germinate and emerge from their hard seed coat. There are four major factors that are affect germination:

  • Moisture:  A dormant seed only contains 10-15% of water and is essentially dehydrated. The seed has to absorb water in order to become active. It is imbibed by the seed coat and enzymes within the seed become active and functional, metabolizing stored food reserves. The embryo then begins to swell. The softened seed coat ruptures as the seed grows too big for its encasement and germination has commenced. The seed leaves or cotyledons are now apparent. Photosynthesis does not begin until the true leaves are developed and at this point in development the seedling is still surviving on its own food reserves.
  • Air:  In the dormant condition the seeds respiratory rate is very low and so oxygen is required in very small quantities. But for germination, oxygen is needed in large quantities. The seeds obtain oxygen that is dissolved in water and from the air contained in the soil. If soil conditions are too wet, an anaerobic condition persists, and seeds may not be able to germinate.
  • Temperature:  Germination can take place over a wide range of temperature and is specific to individual crop types, and can be specific to varieties. The optimum for most crops is between 65-75°F, but exceptions do apply. For example lettuce germinates best at 65°F and can be inhibited at temperatures over 68°F while peppers and eggplants prefer warmer temperatures around 80°F and will not germinate well at cooler temperatures.  If your soil is too cold or too hot, your seeds may not sprout. Check your seed packet to find the best temperature needed for your seeds.
  • Light:  Light has varied effects on germinating seeds of different plants. Some seeds need light for germination, while in some seeds germination is hindered by light. Most wild species of flowers and herbs prefer darkness for germination and should be planted deep in the soil while most modern vegetable crops prefer light or are not affected by it, and are planted shallowly to allow small amounts of light to filter through the soil.

Seed Depth When Planting
Seed size usually is a good indication of how deep to plant your seeds, which usually corresponds to how much light they need. The general rule of thumb is to plant your seed at least as deep as the seed is long. Certain seeds need light to germinate and shouldn’t even be covered with any soil! Check the back of the seed pack for specific information on how deep to plant your seeds.

Why didn’t my seeds germinate?

When seeds fail to emerge from their shell there are a few things to consider. Have all the seeds failed? If this is the case, more than likely it is an environmental condition. Seeding too deeply, planting in cold soil, too much or too little water, improper soil preparation, and birds or rodents are the most common causes for environmental conditions that prevent seeds from germinating.

When germination is poor it is most likely a degradation of seed quality, and the seed has begun to die. Seed death begins as soon as the seed is mature and viable. In general seeds hold high germination rates for 2-3 years falling no less than the 80% range. Once seeds hit about 75% germination they start to loose the ability to germinate quickly. 

Outdated seeds will not germinate properly. Most seeds have a shelf life of only one to two years if kept in a cool dry place over winter. When planting seeds, be sure to use the freshest seeds available to you. The best way to store leftover seeds is in an air tight glass jar in the refrigerator with a little bit of powdered milk wrapped in a paper towel to absorb the excess moisture.

How does High Mowing Organic Seeds test for germination?

At High Mowing, as part of our quality control program, we are constantly testing our seed germination rates every 3, 6, or 9 months, depending on the crop type.

Crops such as onions and soybeans tend to lose their germination value quickly, so we test these seeds every three months. Other crops such as squashes and lettuce retain their germination vigor for quite a long time, so we test these crops every six months. Some crops such as tomatoes can remain viable for over ten years! Therefore we test tomato seed every 9 months.

Our seed packaging is continually being updated with current germination information. Federal guidelines for inter-state sale require germination testing every nine months. There are also federal guidelines that mandate how germination standards must be maintained. For example, to legally sell pepper seed, you only need to have a minimum germination of at least 60%, with a germination test done in the past nine months. Obviously a 60% germination rate is not acceptable for many of our customers, so we have created our own in-house guidelines. High Mowing Organic Seeds only sells seed with a minimum germination of 80% for most vegetables (there are exceptions) and a minimum between 60-70% germination for most flower and herbs.

All of our in-house standards exceed the federal minimums.

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Understanding Your Soil

- Paul Betz, High Mowing Organic Seeds Sales Associate and owner of High Ledge Farm, VT

Until recently, the prevailing wisdom was that one couldn’t add too much compost to a field. When we first opened our ground, we put on a lot of compost. I considered it to be a pro-biotic for the soil; awakening and exciting lots of microbial life, and supplying food for that renewed population to eat. While compost is certainly a great soil conditioner, and it has a role on a vegetable farm, it is possible to have too much of a good thing.

When compost is applied at a rate sufficient to cover nitrogen demands for a crop, significant quantities of phosphorus are spread as well. Phosphorus build-up and run-off is a problem in many watersheds, as its presence in surface water can lead to algal growth and then subsequent oxygen depletion in the water. Excess nutrients can build up over time and are a problem whether one is farming organically or conventionally. Since constant spreading at heavy rates isn’t really a good idea, many growers are moving to a more targeted application of nitrogen to feed the crop. The only way to get a good indication of what and when to apply is through soil testing. 

There are lots of qualitative ways to take the pulse of a vegetable farm; the look and “feel” of the plants and their yield is a good way to start, but at some point a more in depth and quantitative look at what’s happening with your soil can be really helpful. That’s where the soil test comes in. Soil tests aren’t expensive or complicated and they provide a good baseline to use to ensure that you’re doing the right thing for your farm. Even if appearances suggest that everything is fine, a soil test can help you with targeting specifically what amendments you need.  Applying too much fertility can also be a waste of money, as the plants can only use so much in any given season. This will help you to be both more profitable and a better steward of your farm.

Your basic soil test will give a few different numbers, including pH, macro nutrient levels (N-P-K), and organic matter. The organic matter is largely a function of your soil type. Sandier soils naturally have lower numbers than more loamy soils. However, this number is something to pay attention to. Growing vegetables can
  be hard on a farm and all that beautiful weed-free ground creates the perfect conditions to oxidize the organic matter in your soil. Growing cover crops or adding compost is a way to restore that carbon. 

The lab that performs the test should also give some recommendations for amendments to meet the basic N-P-K requirements, based on crop type. Your local extension agent can also be a source for interpretation of your results. Another test that is helpful for full-season crops is a Pre-Side Dress Nitrate Test. It takes a snapshot of how much Nitrogen should be available for the rest of the season, allowing the grower to side dress appropriately later in the season.  

I prefer to take my samples in the fall. It allows me the chance to plan for the next season and make my amendment purchases early, rather than waiting on the results in the spring when I want to get into the field as soon as possible. This summer, I plan to take a more advanced measure of the health of my soil, using Cornell’s testing services. Their comprehensive test examines the basic macronutrients and also looks at soil “health” by doing a series of extra tests.  These additional tests look at particle size, aggregate stability, available water capacity, active carbon, and even a root health assessment (that is done by growing beans in the soil sample). Here’s a link to the site:  http://soilhealth.cals.cornell.edu/

As growers, we work hard to provide healthy food from our farms. Knowing what’s going on under the surface allows not only our work to be more productive, but insures that our farm will be better for the next generation of farmers as well.

I hope that the 2011 season b
rings everything you need for you and your farm.


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A Soil Sample Primer - Megen Hall, High Mowing Sales Associate

The first and most important step in nutrient management is getting to know your soil.  Taking a soil sample is a simple and inexpensive procedure that will help you to determine appropriate amendments specific to your garden.  Many gardeners apply lime or sulfur and an all-purpose type fertilizer with a predetermined measurement of nutrients as a catch-all way of amending their soil, but this can cause nutrient imbalances in the soil.  The best way to confirm your soil amendment needs is to determine your existing nutrients and pH by taking a soil sample and having it tested by your county extension service.

Soil tests are usually performed in the fall or spring, but should be done at the same time each year.  This will allow you to observe the general nutrient and pH trends in your garden and can give you insight as to whether you are under- or over-fertilizing.  If you base your soil amendments on the results of the test, then you can more accurately maintain a proper nutrient balance. 

When collecting a soil sample, you want to be sure that the tools and bucket that you use are clean and free of any soap, chemical residues, or any other foreign substances which can skew the test results.  For greatest accuracy, randomly gather soil from eight to ten spots in your garden, avoiding areas that are irregular, such as areas that accumulate standing water, etc.  This will help to ensure that your sample is representative of your whole garden.  It is also helpful to take your cores when the soil is relatively dry, but if this is not possible then you can allow your sample to dry at room temperature. 

Soil probes and augers are ideal tools for taking a soil sample, but if you do not have access to such tools, a spade or a trowel can be used.  The important thing is that you sample the same amount of soil at the same depth (sample from the surface to a depth of 6-8 inches) in each of your sampling locations.  Combine all your soil cores in a bucket and mix well, being sure to break up lumps and remove any debris or stones. 

Most testing services require approximately one pint of soil and will usually provide a mailer or specific container to send your sample in.  It is equally important to accurately fill out the sample information sheet which contains all the information needed for your agent to provide you with your recommended soil amendments. Many agricultural extension agencies have their sample information sheets available online, but you can also contact your agent directly to obtain the proper paperwork and mailer needed to complete your test.  The following link can help you locate the extension service in your region. http://www.csrees.usda.gov/Extension/
You can also contact your local garden supply store, as they will often offer to send in samples as a service to their customers.  Test results are usually available within 2 weeks.

Good luck getting to know your soil!

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Katie's Kitchen - Speedakopita! - Katie Lavin, Wholesale Sales Manager

The days are getting longer, but winter is still holding on up here in Northern Vermont.  Despite the persistent cold and freezing temperatures, the staff at High Mowing has been enjoying the incredible spinach harvest coming out of the winter hoop house.  It is so sweet and tender!

Speedakopita (serves 4 generously)

Here is my favorite recipe to make with fresh spinach.  It has all of the flavors of spanakopita but without the fuss. Since it is so fast and easy, I call it speedakopita.

  • 11/2 cups of raw Jasmine rice
  • ½-1 pound of spinach, cleaned and torn 9
  • 3 or 4 scallions, white and green parts, chopped
  • 3-4 tablespoons of fresh dill, or 1-2 tablespoons dried
  • 5-8 ounces of feta, crumbled
  • 1-2 tablespoons of butter (optional, I guess)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Cook rice according to package directions. While the rice is cooking, chop your scallions and dill and crumble your feta.  Set aside. Put the washed and still slightly damp spinach in a large saucepan (no oil required), cover, and steam for a few minutes over medium heat until it wilts. Combine the hot cooked rice, vegetables, and cheese in a large bowl, add some butter (or not), season with salt and pepper, and serve.

Breakfast Speedakopita (depends if you have leftovers or not)

If you are lucky enough to have some speedakopita leftover, add an egg or two per cup of rice mixture and scramble in a skillet.  Mmmm….

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