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High Mowing Organic Seeds
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The Seed Bin - March 2011

What's Happening At High Mowing?

Happy Spring, everyone! Spring is one the busiest times of the year at High Mowing - the orders are flying in, so the seed packers, order packers, phone and web staff are all going full speed ahead. The seed production side of the business is just starting to pick up. We are carefully formulating plans, ordering supplies and of course, planting seeds in the greenhouse! For the most part our conference/tradeshow travels are behind us for another year (we had such a nice time meeting so many growers from all over the country this year!), but we already miss meeting our old and new customers! So, a few days ago, we hosted a Spring Social at the warehouse. Growers came in from across New England and parts of Canada to participate in a tomato grafting workshop, a tour of winter greens in our new hoop house, and a tour of the warehouse - followed by a great potluck. Next up, we're gearing up for the arrival (and quick turn-around) of our organic potatoes, prepping the fields, and carrying on the good fight!

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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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History of the Safe Seed Pledge

In the mid-90’s the first genetically modified crops were released.  While many seed companies embraced the new technology, there were many others who were opposed to the idea of genetically engineering crops. However, there was no organized movement within those seed companies to present a united front opposing genetically modified (GM) seeds. The average grower had no way of knowing whether a seed company sold GM seeds – and there was an assumption that the seed industry as a whole was in favor of genetically modified seeds. Individual companies spoke up in opposition, but much of their dissent was steamrolled by bigger companies, and the anti-GM statements were lost in the fray.

Tom Stearns, president of the then newly-created High Mowing Organic Seeds, realized that “high quality, clean, organic, non-GMO seed was a precious and valuable resource that needed protection.” Incensed by the idea of genetically modifying plants and concerned about the silence of its opposition, Tom created a plan to present a unified voice for seed companies opposed to genetically modified seeds.

In August 1999, Tom drafted five versions of a “Safe Seed Pledge” and sent them to nine seed companies in different regions of the country. He chose companies that were well-established and respected, understanding that having their support of this project was crucial.

After months of editing, the following statement was drafted to address the concerns and position of those seed companies involved in the anti-GMO movement:

"Agriculture and seeds provide the basis upon which our lives depend. We must protect this foundation as a safe and genetically stable source for future generations. For the benefit of all farmers, gardeners and consumers who want an alternative, we pledge that we do not knowingly buy or sell genetically engineered seeds or plants. The mechanical transfer of genetic material outside of natural reproductive methods and between genera, families or kingdoms poses great biological risks, as well as economic, political and cultural threats. We feel that genetically engineered varieties have been insufficiently tested prior to public release. More research and testing is necessary to further assess the potential risks of genetically engineered seeds. Further, we wish to support agricultural progress that leads to healthier soils, genetically diverse agricultural ecosystems and ultimately healthy people and communities."

The finalized pledge was sent to every seed company in America. Within the first month, 150 companies had signed on. Currently (March 2011), nearly half of the seed companies in the United States have signed this pledge. Customers concerned about buying genetically modified seeds can now search for companies that have signed the Safe Seed Pledge and know that they are buying from a trusted source.

In addition to their commitment to not knowingly buying or selling genetically engineered plants or seeds, companies that have signed the Safe Seed Pledge are also encouraged to seek out ways to promote progress for a healthier environment.

High Mowing Organic Seeds is proud to have played a part in the history of the Safe Seed Pledge, and is living up the promise we made when we signed the Pledge:

  • We do not knowingly buy or sell genetically engineered seeds or plants.
  • We are fighting the use of genetically modified crops (for more information about our lawsuit against the USDA concerning Round-Up Ready Sugar Beets, please visit the Organic Seed Alliance's website),
  • We are supporting agricultural progress of genetically diverse agricultural ecosystems and healthy communities through our involvement with The Center for an Agricultural Economy, as well as through the numerous lectures on healthy food systems that we offer throughout the United States every year.

We hope that the Safe Seed Pledge continues to unite seed companies in a single, powerful voice against genetically engineered crops. We hope that this pledge can be used as a educational tool and be embraced by the larger agricultural community as a respected business standard.

The Safe Seed Pledge list is now being maintained by the The Council for Responsible Genetics. For more information, please visit their website: http://www.councilforresponsiblegenetics.org/help/TakeAction.aspx

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Turning Your Lawn into Your Lunch – How to Break New Ground for a Garden

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

Paul BetzEvery year, more and more people are opening up new ground for gardening, either to create a plot or to expand an existing one. I am a big fan of smaller lawns and bigger gardens, as long as a little space is saved for lawn games like bocce (or croquet). Having planted directly into tilled sod (ground that was previously lawn or pasture) for a season, I have some advice on how to approach this.

For a home-sized garden, a technique called double digging can yield great garden soil. It’s a lot of work, and is not for the faint of heart, but it yields great results. First, dig a trench and remove the sod and top soil. Put it in a wheel barrow or on a tarp, saving it for later. Then use a fork to break up the subsoil. Add some compost. Now dig another trench next to the first one you dug, flipping the soil over, sod down, and placing it in your first trench. Continue until you have had enough. On the last trench, use the soil you set aside from your first trench to finish. The benefits of this technique are both burying the sod and increasing the drainage of the lower levels of soil. Using the forks to break up the inverted layers of topsoil, and then raking, can give you a garden soil that is ready to go.

The tool that is most likely to be used in a home garden, and on lots of farms as well, is the rototiller. Easily rented or borrowed, it’s good at turning fallow land into something approaching a garden. The tines are good at chewing up sod, but they do have a downside. When the bed is being prepped, the tool will work to a certain depth, and then beat on the soil and create a pan, or impervious layer. This pan can get so hard that roots can’t penetrate it. It’s important to keep this in mind, to limit your use of the tiller to when it’s really needed. In a smaller garden, a strong set of garden forks can be effective. Use the forks to rock back and forth in the area you tilled to break up the pan. On the farm scale, a subsoiler or chisel plow can be used to break up the subsoil and promote drainage. I use a rototiller at our farm, but my primary tillage is a chisel plow that I run perpendicularly to the directions of our beds.

The use of the tiller will also chop up the roots of many perennial grasses and weeds and can often lead to more weeds the first year. Before they root back in, take the time to pull them out; it will be much easier to do in the spring. I do advise people to plant bigger spaces between the plants, because the weeds will be more aggressive, and it will be harder to hoe. There are also lots of insects that really like the environment of a sod based soil, and they can cause damage to root crops. Skip the carrots and beets, and stick to greens and fruiting vegetables the first year.

So… If you are going to the trouble of opening up one garden section, consider opening a second plot as well. Use your preferred technique, but then plant a soil building cover crop and manage the second plot for next year’s garden. I like peas and oats with a little vetch thrown in. Lots of organic matter and nitrogen fixation as well. Hard to say no to that.

I hope that 2011 brings a great season for you and your gardening.

All my best,

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Incorporating Organic Cover Crops into Your Garden- Megen Hall

Cover cropping and green manuring are good gardening practices for a number of reasons: they improve soil structure and fertility, increase organic matter, loosen compacted soils, reduce weeds, control erosion, and attract pollinating insects.  Although the two terms are often used interchangeably, generally speaking, green manures are tilled into the soil while they are still green and growing, while cover crops are planted for ground cover, erosion prevention and nutrient retention (holding nutrients in the soil that may otherwise be leached away). 

While gardeners are often aware of their many benefits, we can find it difficult to integrate cover crops and green manure into our garden spaces without decreasing the food production that is the main goal!  So let’s take a look at a couple of ways in which you can incorporate these practices into your garden while improving the overall quality of the soil and thereby increasing yields.

I f you have plenty of growing space, or new ground that you can break into, then you have the option of dividing your garden into two plots - ½ for your food production and ½ for a succession of green manures, alternating each year (more on this later).  On the other hand, if you have no room for expansion, you can utilize the nitrogen fixing capabilities of your pea and bean crops by planting these in the same spot in your garden back to back.  For example, begin in the spring by planting your peas.  Once you have harvested your all your peas, pull up the plants and sow beans in the same spot.  After harvesting the beans, incorporate the plants into the soil and allow them to break down. Rotate these legumes to a new location in your garden each season in order to fix nitrogen in a different place each year.

Besides figuring out which kinds of cover crops work best within your garden’s space allotment, you’ll also need to determine which cover crops fit best with your tillage system.  For a home gardener using only hand tools, annual cover crops that winter-kill, such as annual ryegrass, oats and peas, are easier to work with than perennials, like winter rye and hairy vetch, which require a lot more labor to manage.   The latter can easily claim territory in your garden and become a persistent perennial problem, and I only recommend them if you have access to mechanical means of tilling in your crop, such as a rototiller or garden tractor (and even then they can be difficult to manage).

If your garden or farm is non-mechanized, and you use only hand-tools:
  • sowing organic cover cropsPrep your beds with a digging fork to prepare for seeding; try turning only the top 2-3” of soil so as not to disturb the dormant weed seedbed. 
  • Select your cover crop/green manure (see below)
  • If you are using a legume as one of your cover crops, applying inoculant to the seed immediately before planting will aid in fixing nitrogen from the air and bringing it into your soil.  Lightly moisten seed and mix with appropriate ratio of inoculant for the amount of seed (usually indicated on the package).  Nitrogen is fixed via a symbiotic relationship between nodules on the roots of leguminous crops and Rhizobium bacteria present in the inoculant and is often naturally occurring in your soil.
  • Toss seed over prepared ground as evenly as possible and gently rake into the soil.  Follow the recommended seeding rate for the crop you are using.  Be sure to get ample coverage for weed suppression since it is easy for weeds to grow and go to seed inside your cover crop stand without you knowing it.  If you broadcast your cover crop heavily, it will out-compete the weeds, and deprive them of the moisture, light and nutrients that they need to complete their life cycle.
  • Hopefully, after following these steps you will get a nice, lush, dense cover crop stand.  See specific crops below for instructions on the final step of incorporating the cover crop into your soil.

Two cover crop options for non-mechanized gardens/farms:

  • Buckwheat is a quick-growing, warm season crop well-suited to loosening clay soils and suppressing weeds. Its small white flowers are very attractive to pollinators, but be sure to kill/till before it goes to seed or it will self-sow and become a weed problem.  Buckwheat is frost sensitive, so make sure you sow after your area’s frost-free date.  2 ½ to 3 months later – once it has begun to flower but before any goes to seed – you can pull it up the stalks by hand – especially if your soil is somewhat moist (after a light rain it should come out of the ground easily) – and add the buckwheat to your compost pile.  Or, mow the buckwheat (to chop it up into smaller pieces, which will allow it to break down faster) and incorporate with a digging fork into your soil.  In this case, you will need to allow time for it to break down into the soil before planting into that bed.  If you have a desire a regrowth of buckwheat, simply mow before it flowers and you will get a second succession.
  • Oats/peas For those in northern climates, Oats and Peas will winter-kill at 15◦ F, which makes for easy incorporation in the spring.  Simply sow the seed six to ten weeks before first frost date (you want to allow enough time to get a good stand); the peas will fix nitrogen while the oats generate organic matter.  When the temperatures drop, the oats and peas will die down, falling to create a plant mat on top of your soil.  This mat, and the roots below, will serve to protect your soil from erosion.  They will also begin to break down.  In the spring, this mat will be partially decomposed and you can use your digging fork to turn the rest back into the soil.

For a mechanized garden, with a rototiller:
  • Use any of the methods above.  In addition, you can make use of a mower and rototiller to more quickly incorporate the plant matter back into your soil.
  • Oats/peas can be sown in the spring.  Mow before the peas begin to flower and incorporate with your rototiller, or leave the plant matter on the surface of your soil as  mulch and transplant directly through it (hand-tool gardeners: this method works will for you too!) 
  • Winter (or cereal) rye/vetch are seeded in the fall.  The crop grows well in cool weather and will establish itself in the fall, lie dormant for the winter, and start to grow again in the early spring.  You can mow several times throughout the season for several regrowths or just mow once in the spring (after rye has surpassed 12”) and incorporate into the soil.  Allow time for the plant matter to break down before planting your food crop.  Allelopathic effects and nutrient tie ups can impede growth of the crop that follows if you don’t allow time for the cover crop to break down a bit.  Rye can be tenacious and really needs to be incorporated into the soil in order to die-back, so it can potentially present a challenge when incorporating it without a tractor.
  • Ryegrass is a quick growing annual grass that is great for suppressing weeds, controlling erosion, and adding organic matter.  It can also be sown in your walk rows and mowed with a lawn mower. 

With a little extra effort and physical labor, you can largely reduce the costs associated with  importing expensive fertilizers by growing your own organic matter.  And any way in which you incorporate these beneficial practices, however great or small, will improve the overall health and vigor of your garden. 

For more information about all of the cover crops mentioned above, including seeding rates, quantities of dry matter produced, recommended zones and more, check out the book “Managing Cover Crops Profitably”.

Also, to order organic cover crop seeds, please visit our Organic Cover Crops section of our website.

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Katie's Kitchen - Delicious Dressings! - Katie Lavin, Wholesale Sales Manager

There are a lot of choices out there regarding bottled dressings and marinades. But, with a few basic ingredients that you probably already have in your pantry, you can make them fresh and delicious.  Dressings and marinades should highlight and compliment your food, not overpower it (although I have been known to devour an iceberg salad smothered in creamy blue cheese dressing when that is the only salad option).  Between the root crops and cabbages we are all still consuming, and with all of the lovely spring greens appearing in your garden and farmer’s market, it’s a great time to experiment. 

Winter Vinaigrette

  • (1/3 cup) Rice or plum vinegar
  •  (2/3 cup) Olive oil
  • Tamari, to taste
  • One or two minced garlic cloves
  • Toasted sesame oil, just a few drops, to taste
  • A few tablespoons of orange juice (optional)

Whisk together. Pour on salad. Consume. (I toss grated or sliced red cabbage, shredded carrots, currants or raisins (soaked in boiling water for a few minutes to get them nice and juicy), shredded apple, and pea shoots together and then add this dressing)

Spring Vinaigrette

This is so nice tossed with fresh greens on a salad.  It would also be delicious as a marinade for grilled meats.

  • 1/3 cup vinegar or lemon juice (I like balsamic vinegar)
  • 2/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 or 2 cloves minced garlic and/or 1 or 2 finely chopped scallions
  • 2-3 Tablespoons fresh herbs (thyme, basil, oregano, parsley, or a mix of whatever you have) or 1 Tablespoon dried herbs
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard, or to taste (optional)

Whisk together. Pour on greens or marinate your meat and grill. Consume. 

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