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

The Seed Bin - July 2009

Greetings from Tom
Events and Special Interests
Offline Sales Seeds List
Notes from The Fields
Life of an HMS Intern
Farmer Paul's Row - Staying Compliant
Research Report - Current Breeding Projects
Katie's Kitchen - Squash Cakes & Salt Potatoes

Plan ahead for Fall!
Take advantage of these great summer deals on some of our best fall varieties!
10% off select hybrid varieties including Kestrel beet, Leonardo radicchio, Impala cabbage,
Napoli carrot, Korridor kohlrabi, and Renegade spinach. $35 minimum order.

Pack on the Pounds!
10% off our most popular varieties of specialty greens and lettuce!
Including Astro Arugula, Ruby Red Chard, Mizuna, Red Russian Kale, Waldmann’s,
Green Towers, Oscarde, Red Tide and many more. 1 LB minimum per variety. 

Offers good through August 15th.

Greetings From Tom

Tom StearnsIt has always been clear to me that High Mowing Organic Seeds is about more than just seeds, but recently, I was reminded of this again.  

I started the company out of a response to the negative trends I saw in agriculture and food systems in general: lack of locally grown food, loss of genetic diversity in our food plants, consolidation of the global seed industry, GMOs, the declining farm population and more.  On this last point, the recent resurgence of young people farming and starting farms is very inspiring and gives me hope for the future.  In June, High Mowing Organic Seeds was thrilled to partner with The Greenhorns, a non-profit based in New York’s Hudson Valley whose mission is to support, promote, and recruit young farmers, to host a Young Farmer Mixer in Hardwick.  The event, which began at The Center for an Agricultural Economy, spilled out onto the main street of our small town and ended next door at Claire’s Restaurant, turned out over 120 young farmers.  The young (and young at heart) new and aspiring farmers who attended represented a medley of diverse backgrounds, production methods and farming approaches.  Discussions ranged from pest control to tractors, from vegetable varieties to sales models.  The conversations and merrymaking continued until 2 AM, culminating with a bonfire at the High Mowing Organic Seeds trial fields. Yes, we’re committed to improving the face of agricultural and our current food system, but we’re just as committed to having fun while we’re at it!

In recent years at High Mowing Organic Seeds, I have found great reward and great strength in working with many like-minded groups, companies and organizations.  We are in this together and need to stick together to succeed in such a big task as re-building this country's food system.  So, seek each other out and continue your great work – together!

Tom Stearns, President & Founder

Events and Special Interests

Summer Growers’ Walks at HMS Trial Gardens

This summer, High Mowing is hosting five Growers' Walks at our Trial Gardens in Wolcott, Vermont.  Each session will be focused on specific crop groups, but there will also be time to tour our 3-acre trial and vegetable breeding garden with over 700 seasonal varieties, and to share your input and questions.

This is an opportunity to connect with other professional growers and with High Mowing staff to share tips about growing specific crops, handling pests and disease for those crops, and looking at what new varieties may soon be available organically.  We will be soliciting feedback about varieties YOU would like to see us carry!

All Growers’ Walks are from 5 – 7 PM at our Trial Gardens in Wolcott, VT. Please see our Growers' Walk page for directions. 

August 5th (Wed): Zucchini, Cucumbers and Heat Tolerant Greens

September 2nd (Wed): Melons, Winter Squash and Pumpkins

September 29th (Tues): Fall Brassicas and Cold Hardy Greens


September Field Days! - Save the Date!

High Mowing Organic Seeds’ fun-filled Annual September Field Days on Sunday, September 13th !! This year in collaboration with The Center for an Agricultural Economy!

Field Days - Sept. 13th, 2009

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Save on seeds! Join our Offline Sales List!
Do you know that High Mowing Organic Seeds has an offline sales list?  Because of the rigorous germination standards High Mowing Organic Seeds requires for all the seed we sell, from time to time a seed lot will fall below our standards for germination.  We have created this new list for the purpose of selling seed with quality below our standards that still deserves a better life than the dumpster or as art projects for kids.  This list is updated and sent out monthly. We are selling this seed at significant discounts, sometimes up to 80% off. Our offline sales list shares with you the most recent germination test results and how much seed is available and allows you to fax, email or mail your order in. (Note that these orders are handled separately from regular catalog orders.) This is a great way to get seed at a low price! To receive this monthly list send an email with “subscribe” in the subject line to offlinesales@highmowingseeds.com.  Thanks for your interest and we look forward to working with you!

Notes From The Fields - Heather Jerrett, Research & Development Trials Manager

Seed Production

We nearly have everything in the ground for this season. H-19 Little Leaf pickling cucumber was one of the last to be planted (aside from the biennials which we will start this summer) and not a day to soon - we finally got a downpour of some much needed rain, and it hasn't really stopped raining since!  All of our Brassica crops, radish, chives and bunching onions are in full bloom and the farm looks spectacular with plots of flowers speckled about. By this time of year, the production crew is also very happy to be finished babying the transplants in the greenhouse. We have a good portion of our tillable land in cover crops this year to improve soil fertility. We also reduced our volume of bulk seed productions (seed we grow to sell) while increasing the numbers of stock seed productions (seed we grow to send to other small-scale seed producers to grow for us to sell). Focusing on stock seed gives us a chance to look at every parent before we send him/her off to multiply. We rogue out irregular, weak or diseased plants and keep only the best, perfect, and most fit plants to produce seed for this purpose.

With an increase in the number of stock seed productions, which in turn means an increased number of crops, we are at a loss for isolation fields to prevent unwanted cross-pollination between varieties of the same species. We have three isolation fields, and are always looking for more nearby, since the majority are the same species (for example, certain pumpkins, summer squash and winter squash are all in the species, Cucurbita pepo). You may remember the articles about our mesh isolation chambers last year. This year, we purchased more and now have the ability to plant crops of these same species close to each other. Each isolation chamber is made entirely of mesh that does not let insects pass through. We are experimenting with using blue-bottle flies as pollinators in our pollination cages because they can survive a 3-4 week pollination window as opposed to bees which only live 2 weeks. Finally, a well-received job for the pesky fly!

Our trial gardens look great! We have all of our big plantings in and are working on succession plantings and late season crops.  This year, we are planting a number of our trial varieties in succession to get a better feel for what seasonal slots they perform best in, some varieties performing better in spring than in summer, for example.  We are constantly learning about the subtleties of different vegetable varieties – those we offer, traditional long forgotten varieties, competitor varieties, and new and upcoming varieties – and we will continue to relay such information in our newsletter articles, on our website, and in our catalog.

Lettuce in the cold frameThis spring, we put our lettuce starts outdoors under our pole barn for 3-5 days for a “wet chill period” to initiate germination. Lettuce germinates best at soil temperatures of 65-68°F, but will germinate as low as 40°F. The shade of the barn kept the tray protected from sun, rain and extreme winds. Temperatures ranged from night-time temps as low as 35-40°F to day-time temps of 65-70°F. After the 3-5 day period, we brought trays into the greenhouse where it was a 65-70°F minimum temperature at all times. The results were amazing: all seeds popped uniformly and were very vigorous, sometimes even before we brought them back into the greenhouse. This was spurred on by poor lettuce germination results in 2008 sowings, and when we put lagging trays into the cold frame we noticed immediate germination of varieties like Winter Density and Plato II, that we now know really need to be around 65-68°F for top-notch uniform and vigorous germination. We also did this with spinach (for early spring transplants) for 7-10 days in order to be able to get things started before the fields were prepped. The “wet chill period” resulted in a significant increase in uniformity of seedling development in most varieties. Some varieties clearly preferred warmer temperatures for germination. Even though their emergence lagged behind the others, when they were induced with a period of warmer greenhouse temperatures they were notably more uniform and vigorous than in previous greenhouse plantings that did not go through the “wet chill period”.

Our trialing this year is focusing on spinach, melons, peppers, eggplants and tomatoes.  We had a lot of success with tomatoes last year but are still fine-tuning our techniques. Melons are a very difficult crop for us to grow here in Vermont due to cool nights and, as was in the case of last year with low pollination rates, so much rain. We had a 24% marketable yield on over 200 plants and 20 varieties. I am happy to say that our HMS hybrid melons (Arava F1, Sivan F1) performed very well in last summer’s rainy conditions, all ripening a healthy yield with sweet fruits. You really appreciate powdery mildew resistance in our neck of the woods!  Without fail, powdery mildew arrives the last week of August and wipes out beautiful foliage just as the fruits are in final stages of growth and ripening, literally stealing oodles of plant sugars that should be ingested by happy melon-eaters, not mildews. This year we have a few tricks up our sleeves to hasten the ripening process and hopefully trick the melons into maturing a bit earlier, beating PM to the chase. We will let you know how it goes!

And, oh the peppers – we love them, but not in late September when they will never sweeten up the way a pepper should. Every year we cover our peppers Planting Pepperswith hooped row cover in order to keep the Tarnished Plant Bug away from tender blossoms.  It is my hunch that in doing so it is preventing insects from pollinating flowers (peppers are about 20% insect pollinated) resulting in a reduction of early fruit set.  In addition, high June temperatures may be forcing plants to abort flowers at temperatures around 90-95% under the row cover. With all this in mind, we have taken some serious measures and will let you know how it is going in our next newsletter piece. 

All in all, we are having a lot of fun and gaining much insight into different crop groups and specific varieties!


The Life of an HMS Intern - Madeline Smerin

Hello seed lovers,

Maddie SmerinMy name is Madeleine and I’m lucky enough to be a HMS 2009 intern. If you’ve ever wanted to know more about the glamorous life of an HMS intern, today I’m going to tell you. But first, I will introduce myself a little bit.

I’m 22, hail from Northern Virginia, and graduated just last year from University of Virginia for Environmental Science. My farming story goes a little something like this: From a young age and throughout my life, I think I always had the makings of a farmer. I’ve always cared about the environment, loved great food, hard physical work, and been a pretty independent spirit, to name a few of my “farmy” traits. But I’d never considered a life in the fields until one day I read an article for class that mentioned young farm interns. It had never crossed my mind that young people could go into farming, but I was pretty sure at that moment that this was my calling and I should go give it a try.

Having never planted a seed in my life, or been out West, I got online and found myself an apprenticeship at a small CSA farm on the California coast. There, I learned the basics of the greenhouse, field, and markets, and also realized I am an East Coaster for life (i.e. I hate moving drip tape). From California I went to Florida for some winter farming, and in May I started my internship here at High Mowing. I’m not sure what my future plans are, but for now I know I’m hooked on learning everything I can about planting and healthy food systems.

My internship at HMS is part Trials & Research and part Sales & Marketing, so I get to do a huge variety of things throughout the week. For instance, I am focusing my internship on pest and disease management, especially for field tomatoes. This means every week I walk the fields to scout for pathology issues, update Heather with my findings, and make sure they are resolved. I’m compiling my findings into an official HMS Pathology Guide to benefit future generations of HMS interns. I also conduct weekly photo shoots of the farm, crew, and crop varieties that can appear in the catalog, website, and of course, newsletters! Recently we got to learn how to graft greenhouse tomatoes, and this week I get to begin helping pollinate our Sunkist F1 tomatoes for seed production. One of my proudest intern accomplishments was getting to stand on a ladder and dump buckets of squash seeds all over Tom for a photographer’s shoot a couple of weeks ago so that it would look like it was raining seeds on him. There’s never a boring day!

Of course, not everything I do is an independent project. Most of my time so far has been spent weeding, seeding, and transplanting with my beloved fellow Trials crew members Jennifer, Tony, and Caleb. After my busy days that might include any of the previously mentioned tasks or more, I like to go work in my staff garden plot that HMS provides, one of my favorite perks of the job. And did I mention I get to bring Lucky, my little brown and white dog to work? Yes, being an intern at HMS is pretty much living the dream, and I can’t wait to write again as all our hard work pays off and the Trial fields really begin to bloom! Please stay tuned for more updates in the life of an HMS intern!



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Farmer Paul's Row - Staying Compliant - Paul Betz, High Ledge Farm, Woodbury, VT & High Mowing Organic Seeds Sales Associate

Farmer Paul BetzI have been farming for ten years now. While we are certified organic, we do spray some allowable pesticides and fungicides. I have always kept a log for my certification that includes the product, concentration amount and location of the application. Imagine my surprise when one day an inspector showed up on my farm and started asking questions about where I store my pesticides and where I post this information. What about my WPS (Worker Protection Standard) certification?

My what?

It turned out that I had been out of compliance for years. In August of 1992, the EPA revised the WPS to address the safety needs of employees working on farms. The focus is on exposure to pesticides, and having access to information around their use and effects. These standards apply whether you are organic, natural grown or conventional. Any use of a product with an Ag Use Requirement label requires WPS training.

For me, compliance wasn’t difficult. Annie Macmillan, VT Agency of Agriculture Agrichemical Toxicologist, facilitated the training. She came to a nearby farm, and I watched a DVD with a group of growers. At the end of the session, we were certified as handlers to mix and apply the chemicals we use on the farm. I was also checked out to train my employees in what precautions needed to be taken when working in (weeding, harvesting, watering) an area that had been sprayed. Pretty much what you would expect, but it’s always good for me to hear the basics again every once in a while.

Now I have a Central Location where I post information, including the date and Restricted Entry Interval (REI) for each pesticide that applied. I have the directions to the nearest hospital posted as well, in case of emergency. Each worker on the farm watches the DVD with me, and I make sure that everything is understood.

Here in Vermont, access to training was really easy; it even came to us. Each state has its own program, so it will be up to you to find a way to get your training. Here’s the contact info for all the State Pesticide Regulatory Agencies.  They are usually the branch that handles the training. When you call, ask to speak to the WPS coordinator.

This certification was an easy one for me to do, and it’s a good one too. I would also rather be on the right side of this one the next time an inspector shows up at my farm.

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Research Report - Jodi Lew-Smith, Ph.D - Director of Research & Production

Current Breeding Projects and Upcoming HMS Varieties

At High Mowing Organic Seeds, we are committed to offering the best vegetable varieties available organically.  We seek out varieties through organic seed wholesalers, by “rediscovering” older, tried-and-true varieties by collaboration with public breeding programs, and through our own breeding projects.  Below is a sneak-preview of some of our current breeding projects -- excellent and unique varieties which will be coming down the pike!

Bi-Color Butternuts: We love the bi-color butternuts you saw among the harvest bounty on the cover of our 2009 catalog! They were developed by the creative plant breeders at Cornell University, and we first saw them at the annual Vegetable Breeding Institute Field Days in Ithaca, New York. The breeding lines are not quite finished yet, so we’re spending a couple years making further selections to stabilize the genetics and select a few different sizes to offer. The first release will likely be the mini bi-color, which is likely to be called Little John – keep an eye out for it.

Early Butternut: We’ve been working with a large population of butternuts for the past four or five years with the intention of developing an early butternut with superior quality flesh – comparable to the best acorn or delicata lines. We had a setback in 2008 with late fruit set and then a rogue brush hog that destroyed much of the plot. We weren’t able to make new selections, but fortunately we were able to do some fruit shape evaluation to identify the lines we most wanted to pursue. And luckily we had enough remaining seed of those lines to replant for this year. I’m very hopeful that 2009 will be a year of strong progress on this project.

Sugar-Rich Cherry Tomatoes: There’s nothing like a fully sweet cherry tomato! And as much as I’ve trialed them, I’ve yet to find an open-pollinated variety that compares to the top-tier hybrids like Sungold and Supersweet 100 in terms of being consistently sweet. But I’m determined to breed an OP that will be that consistently sweet, and I’ve got some very promising breeding lines showing not only sweetness but also really excellent complex, well-rounded cherry tomato flavor. They’re still a few years away, but coming along nicely.

Sweet Corn: We’re initiating a brand-new program to develop some new organic sweet corn varieties. To start we’re experimenting with test crosses of inbred lines developed by Bill Tracy at the Univ. of Wisconsin. Corn is a whole new universe of breeding, though, and we’re very excited for the new challenge it offers. But I imagine it will take a number of years before we’re up to speed with this one.

High-Yielding, Easy-Picking Zucchini: This is a nearly mature project that has given rise to the first release from our own breeding program; upcoming in our 2010 catalog:  Midnight Lightning – a fully black, high-yielding and easy-to-pick zucchini. It has perfectly straight and uniform fruit on upright, single-stemmed plants with very few spines.  Also upcoming from this program is a super high-yielding, medium green zucchini, due to be released in the 2011 catalog: keep your eyes out for Cha-Ching!

Katie's Kitchen  - Kaite Lavin

Plants in my garden seemed to be growing really slowly this spring until I went away for five days in mid-June.  When I returned from my short vacation, some of my plants seemed to have doubled in size (the weeds, too)! I hope your gardens, farms, and adopted farms are faring well.  Here are some delicious, vegetable-centric recipes that come together quickly with the bounty from your garden, CSA share, farmers’ market, or farm.

Savory Summer Squash Cakes (makes 6-8)

This recipe is adapted from Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon and is easily doubled.  I have never met anyone who doesn’t gobble these up.

2 cups shredded summer squash (green or yellow)
2 scallions or ½ of a small onion
1 clove garlic, minced (optional)
3/4 cup bread crumbs
¼ cup Parmesan cheese
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
2 eggs
Butter and olive oil for frying

Mix everything in a bowl.  Form into patties and fry in butter and oil on the stove on each side until golden.  Serve with Basil Sauce.

Basil Sauce (makes 1 cup)

I pour copious amounts of this cool, creamy sauce over my hot summer squash cakes.  This recipe is easily doubled and keeps in the refrigerator for a few days.

¼ cup mayonnaise
¾ cup plain yogurt
1-2 cloves minced garlic
½ cup chopped basil (purple basil is really lovely in this sauce)
10 cherry tomatoes, halved, or one large tomato, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix together. Done!

Salt Potatoes (serves 3-9)

I grew up in central New York, home of the salt potato.  Huh? I’ve never had a salt potato, you say, as many do outside of this region.  Syracuse, NY, was known at one time as Salt City due to the prevalence of salt springs around Onondaga Lake, which were utilized to produce salt commercially in the 1800s.  There were also many potato farms in the region, including my grandfather and great-grandfather.  But, no matter where you hail from or where you live now, boiling new potatoes in super salty water is a great way to highlight their deliciousness. Don’t hesitate in using the appropriate amount of salt in this recipe—something magical (or scientific, depending on you point of view) happens in the pot to make these potatoes so yummy.

1-2 cups of salt (depending on how many potatoes you are cooking)
1-3 quarts of water to boil spuds in
1-3 pounds of small new potatoes (One pound serves 3 people)
1 stick of melted butter

Add salt to boiling water.  Add potatoes and cook until tender (15 or so minutes).  Drain and put in a large bowl.  Serve next to a small bowl of melted butter for eaters to spoon butter on.  If you are fancy, you could add some minced basil, dill or other herbs.


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