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High Mowing Organic Seeds
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The Seed Bin - May 2009

Notes from Tom
Notes from the Field
Variety Highlights - Lettuce
Getting Started - Lettuce
Notes from Farmer Paul - Aftermath of a Fire
Research Report - Small Seed Germination Trials
News and Events
Localvore Recipes - Fast Food


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Notes From Tom

Tom StearnsAh spring, my favorite season. In my family, we enjoy making notes of all of the spring events like the beginning of sugaring season, the wood frogs’ first croak and the black flies’ return. We've done it for about ten years and for about thirty different things and all are earlier this year than ever before. Most are coming in their regular order (wood frogs three days before peepers), but others are more inconsistent. Perhaps we will be seeing more changes and inconsistencies with increasing climate change, but at least in the short term, nature can still teach a lot of lessons by being very resilient.

I try to do the same in my life and business, and whenever crisis strikes, I find it even more important to remember to be resilient. High Mowing is so lucky to be in a community that helps one another out in both big and small ways, and can rally beyond belief during hard times. It reminds me that there will likely be many more changes that will stretch us all, since much of the work we are doing is ‘new’.  For millennia we had a local food system because that was just how it was and it worked. Then we created our current food system which we now know to be broken. And so, as we re-build it consciously, we will stumble and fall as well as succeed.  We need all ideas and all scales in this effort. So, I hope that this spring you can roll with whatever comes your way and not let it deter you from your important work.  Thank you for driving the change in America's agricultural landscape.
 
Sincerely,

Tom

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Notes From The Field - Heather Jerrett

Things are happening, and happening fast! We are in full swing - just at the tail end of getting all of our compost spread, and beds are being formed as we speak. This spring is much drier than past years at this date, and have been able to be out on the fields for some time now. And to top it off, turkey hunting season is right in time to scare off the birds from our fields in time for spring planting. What a season already!

Seed Production
In our seed production fields we got our first crop planted outside May 4: Rosalind broccoli. Broccoli has been a pet project of Tom and Jodi's for some time. After two years of practice they finally have it down and Rosalind is a great variety that produces good seed here in Wolcott, VT, in a short season. The trick is to get it started very early indoors and then vernalize good size plants to trick them into thinking they have gone through a winter and are ready to start seed production. Broccoli is not a biennial or perennial but it takes a full season to produce seed so it needs to start early in the season and needs a trigger like a cold snap to initiate bud development. This cold snap also can be referred to as buttoning when it happens to our crops out in the field and we end up with pre-mature broccoli crowns. Another testament to looking at things from a different point of view, I guess!

The cold frame is filled with our seed crops of specialty greens such as Shungiku, Yukina Savoy, and Hong Vit, and new varieties we hope to include in our 2010 catalog such as Ruby Streaks, Komatsuna and Tokyo Bekana.


Trials
Caleb in the greenhouseWe are off to a good start for the season and are getting spring Brassica and lettuce seedlings planted in the greenhouse. Bob just finished spreading compost and we will be direct seeding spinach this week in preparation for our Spring Spinach Workshop on June 10 for professional growers. We are looking at new and upcoming savoy and smooth leaf varieties for baby-leaf and full size production as well as a number of long ago favorite OP varieties.

Highlights of the variety trials this year will be head lettuce, baby-leaf lettuce, specialty greens, zucchini, melons, yellow watermelons, red slicing tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes, pumpkins and cold hardy greens. We will have a fair selection of many crops but we usually have a few crops we look at a little harder each year.

Our 2009 Intern, MandyWe are focusing on a number of greens and lettuce types this year that are both heat tolerant and cold tolerant. If you have any specific suggestions please feel free to give me an email at questions@highmowingseeds.com and I will be sure to include them.

Both our production crew and trials crew are very happy to be back outdoors. We have a pretty small crew here, and are happy to be welcoming back such all-stars as Katie Traube, Megen Toaldo, James Pinkham and Jennifer Jones along with some newcomers Chester Elliot, Caleb Fisher and our 2009 trials intern Madeleine Smerin. Happy growing everyone!


Variety Highlights - Lettuce

Sylvesta: One of Paul Betz’s favorites, this is a large “Nancy” type butterhead with a close to perfect look every time. Works in all seasons and one of the few varieties on the market that has resistance to aphids (Nasonovia ribisnigri), which is important to limit the spread of Lettuce Mosaic Virus as well as other lettuce diseases spread by insects. More and more modern types are becoming available, but Sylvesta was the first certified organic variety that came our way. Also has good Downy Mildew resistance.

Roxy: This was a "must have" after seeing it in our trials in 2008. Roxy is a full-size butterhead like Sylvesta, with glossy, red tinged leaves on the outside and big bright green heart on the inside. A high end variety that performs well every time. Roxy has been a standard organic variety in Europe for some time and is now available in the states. Holds up very well in the field and has good resistance to tip burn.

Pirat: Extremely tender heirloom, with a sweet and complex flavor. A standout at High Mowing for some time, but also is a favorite for Bend Oregon chefs. Sheldon Marcuvitz of Your Kitchen Garden Farm says chefs love Pirat for the unbeatable texture and flavor that you just can't find in lettuce anymore. In addition, Pirat had high marks against common lettuce diseases such as tipburn, bottom rot and lettuce drop in our trials for consecutive years.

Magenta: What can I say - everyone loves Magenta! Summer crisp with a big crunch! Batavian-type with whirls of red tinged leaves and a crispy green heart if you let head up. Excellent shelf life in the cooler and at market. Ideal for spring and summer plantings. Good field resistance to tip burn, bottom rot and lettuce drop in our 2008 trials during 6 weeks of constant rain! Downy mildew and aphid resistant.


Plato II – Greatly overlooked variety! Darkest green romaine with savoyed leaves and flat top. Pack in the weight. Originally bred by Seminis and dropped. New York farmer Sandy Arnold passed along the remnants of her packet to lettuce guru Frank Morton to get this great variety back in circulation. Frank then passed it onto High Mowing a number of years ago. It still wins top rank in variety trials for flavor, uniformity, and field resistance to disease.

Emerald Oak –  One of the first picks for the White House garden. Its crisp, buttery-heart and sweet flavor make Emerald Oak a real jewel! Rounded oakleaf shaped leaves are thick and tighten to form dense heads. Appears to be a cross between Blushed Butter Oak and Deer Tongue, taking the best from both. An original release from breeder Frank Morton and an all-around favorite in our trials. Frank says, “Tom Stearns’ mother sent her special thanks to us for breeding the tasty little thing.”  

 

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Getting Started - Lettuce - Paul Betz

Farmer Paul BetzI am a man of many favorites. Ask any of my customers at market. Four favorite beans, eight to ten favorite potatoes, six or more favorite lettuces. How can you decide on one when there is so much to choose from? But I really, really love lettuce. I always have. Even when I was a little kid, my Grandmother Mommy Jo used to say “that boy loves his lettuce!”

Plant early and often to have a steady supply for the season. We plant every week, and it’s a great crop for us. We transplant from a 72 cell flat, and it takes about four weeks from seeding to be ready. I plant three rows in a 48” bed with 16” between the plants in the row. This gives them lots of room for air, which is important in disease prevention. I usually hoe the bed a few times, and then the plants close in pretty well, eliminating the need for weeding. Because of the quick growth of the lettuce, I often put them in a weedier spot, and then I used them as inspiration to keep up with the hoeing. Then I can till in the bed and be ready for the next crop before any weeds have set seed.

Organic Red Tide Lettuce in the fieldRed Tide, a red leaf with really good resistance to bottom rot, is one of my favorite for the spring. I also love Sylvesta, a green butterhead for spring through the early summer. I grow the Nevada and Magenta throughout the whole season. They are great in the spring, but also hold up really well in the heat of the summer. I am excited about the Green Towers romaine; it’s a new one to me, but I am looking for a romaine for my markets. There is a variety called Brunia that is getting harder to find, but it is my favorite oak leaf for a full size head. It does poorly after the spring, but it really shines for the early part of the season.

Organic Sylveste LettuceThe two pests that really go after my lettuce are aphids and Tarnished Plant Bug (TPB). For the aphids, I plant some alyssum in the garden to act as an attractor for the hover fly. Their offspring are predatory maggots that can clean up aphids pretty quickly. A crop of dill or cilantro that goes to seed will also attract them. I usually cover with the lightest row cover I can find as a way of excluding the TPB. My gardens are surrounded with hay fields, and when they get mowed, the TPB move in. I usually get a day or two notice before the mowing happens.

The two diseases that I struggle with are bottom rot and tip burn. My way of fighting them is with the tiller. In a perfect world, I am harvesting from my next planting before I am done with the older one. I have discovered that the perfect world is an elusive place, so more in the ground is better. There are times when I am only able to use 50% of a planting, because of disease, bolting, or a saturated market. Anything that gets tilled in I tend to think of as a transplanted cover crop, and I always have plants ready to go in its place.

Do you have any tips about growing Lettuce?

We love to hear from our customers!
Email us your tips and we will incorporate you comments into our Grower Tips on our website.

Suggested Tips to include in your email:
  • Farm Name, City and State
  • Favorite varieties
  • Seed starting and planting tips
  • Pest and disease tips
  • Retail marketing tips
  • Cooking or serving tips or favorite recipes
  • Storage tips

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Notes from Farmer Paul - Aftermath of a Fire - Paul Betz

Editor's note: Many of you know "Farmer Paul" from his numerous informative articles in The Seed Bin. On April 9th Paul's house and farm burned down in a large fire caused by a propane leak. He and his family weren't home when it happened, and are safe. They are in the process of slowly rebuilding their lives, with incredible support from their community. Paul decided to share his story with everyone in an effort to help educate other farmers and gardeners on how to help prevent and prepare for an unexpected catastrophe. For more updates on Paul and his family, please visit The High Ledge Farm Relief Effort website. 

My wife Kate and I farm about two and a half acres of vegetables during the summer. We both have off farm winter jobs; mine is working at High Mowing Seeds. For the most part, it’s a pretty good fit. My marketing plan has always been based around being finished at the end of October, and then I come back to the office in November. The Spring has always been the place where there is a little conflict. The seed season is still going strong into April, but the farm needs me as well. Anyone who is farming knows there is always a lot to do, and I have a pretty strong plan when I leave the shop in the middle of April. This year, the plan has changed.

On April 9, there was a catastrophic propane leak and an explosion that destroyed my house, four greenhouses, a barn, Paul's house being demolishedmachine shed, a storage shed, a truck, market van, a tractor, spreader, seeds, tools and my 1972 Chevelle SS. Fortunately, Kate and our two children were at the school where she works. I was at a meeting near the High Mowing warehouse. A neighbor kicked in the front door and pulled our dog out, but we ended up losing our cat Oosa, a champion mouser and a member of our family.

I got a phone call around noon from another neighbor, who let me know that Kate, the kids and Twister, our dog, were safe. I had a forty minute drive to get back to the farm. While I spent the time on the way home coming up with a plan, I was not really prepared for what I found. It was a miracle no one was killed, and if anyone had been there, they probably would have been. A 500 gallon propane tank fueled the initial explosion; a 100 gallon tank went next. It all happened pretty quickly, and there was heat sufficient to melt brass, around 1700°F. Six towns responded, and the last truck left around 6 pm.

Paul's greenhouseWe have been staying with friends and have lots of support. There is a lot of work ahead, rebuilding the farm and the house. There was some contamination from plastics and fuels, and a good amount of soil will have to be removed from the site where the greenhouses were located. Then clean fill will be brought back, and eventually the greenhouses will go back up again. Our plan is to build an apartment in a building that was spared, and rebuild the greenhouses and the house this summer, as well as farm as usual. Quite a plan.

So what’s the point of all this?

I try to write articles that will help people be more successful in their gardens and on their farm. I am learning a lot from this one. Shock can be a great thing if you can manage it correctly. I have been spending a lot of days at the farm, getting used to the new look of the place. The total scope of our new situation is just starting to sink in. The first few weeks I did a lot of walking around in circles, unable to do any real work, even though there were some things I could do. With the help of friends, we have begun the rebuilding of our lives. Having other people around helps keep my focus on a job.

Paul trying to re-claim his stoveI thought I would include some helpful advice that in retrospect would have been very good to have done. First, review and update your insurance policy every year. Be sure your coverage includes replacement value, and not actual cash value. There were greenhouses not on my policy. Some of the buildings were under insured.

Second, take a video camera, and walk through your house or farm. Tape everything, even the contents of every drawer and cabinet. Narrate the tape with any specifics you have; where and when you got something, how much you paid for it. Take the tape and put it in a safe deposit box in town. Someone told me to do this once, and I did not, but am sure wishing I had. Remembering everything we owned is proving to be quite an exercise, and it will become a big part of our settlement.

And last, if you need to file a claim like this one, get a lawyer. Your insurance policy is a contract. Have you ever really read it all? Chances are it was written by many lawyers. A few hours with an attorney helped us sort out a lot of confusion, and will prove a tremendous asset when it comes to filing our claim. In our policy, there are different areas of coverage, and where you claim a loss affects the coverage and ultimately the settlement.

So, where is the upside?

I have always felt that I lead a rich life; good friends, good work, good food. I didn’t know how good we had it until almost all of it disappeared in a morning. I do not mean that in a “look at all the things that are gone” way; more of a “look at all the gifts we still have” way. We are all still walking and talking.  We have been surrounded by friends and have been supported through this event, and that has made everything a lot easier. People we barely know are coming by to offer help and assistance. I have complete confidence that we will get to the other side of this rebuilding. I do have weak moments, and there are definitely times when I wonder when I will wake up and to things being the way they were before.  But the reality is that they are not going to go back by themselves.

In our area, Spring has come pretty quickly this year. The fields are drying out, and lots of folks are on the ground, doing spring chores and getting some seeds in the ground. A few days ago, as I was planting my peas, I was once again struck by the beauty of the place where I live and farm. The smell of the soil. The path of the seeder and my footprints in the freshly tilled ground. The silence. I was also struck by how much I really need to farm this season. It serves as an anchor for me, and a good piece of my personal identity comes from what I do for work. The thought of being at a farmers market with nothing to sell but some eggs for a few weeks is a little scary, but I am sure my customers will understand.

I hope that this upcoming season brings with it everything that you need.

Take good care. 

Paul

(photo credits - P. Betz, & Jeb Wallace-Brodeur /TIMES ARGUS)

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Research Report - Small Seed Germination - Jodi Lew-Smith, Ph.D


It has been an interesting year for making discoveries about seeds within our lab and greenhouses. These tidbits of information are endlessly interesting to us, and we hope they might be useful to others as well. 

As I discussed in the January Seed Bin with regards to seed cleaning, the most challenging seeds to work with are usually the very smallest seeds. This is true for seed cleaning but is just as true for germination – i.e. the small seeds require the most skill and experience.

First we learned that, contrary to the official rules for testing seed, the medicinal sacred basil (Ocimum sanctum) needs light to germinate. Unlike sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum), which germinates easily in paper towels, our germination tests for a particular sacred basil lot continued to fail until Jeremy Weiss, our seed technician, happened to try germinating on blotters, that allow light to hit seed, rather than towels which exclude light, and the seed happily sprouted.

Conversely, pansy seed is typically said to need dark to germinate. We are doing some test seed productions with pansy this year, and have been looking at germination of a number of different varieties in our greenhouse. After a series of plantings, we were struck by the fact that four different hybrid varieties germinated easily in all conditions tested, but that the open-pollinated varieties – which have become rather rare these days – refused to germinate until they were given the standard dark conditions. Thus something within the breeding of these hybrids has broken the requirement for darkness to germinate, making them easier for commercial flower growers to manage. This fact is undoubtedly well established among flower growers, but less well known to the general public – and we thought it highly interesting.

In another small seed challenge, our lot of Violet Queen Cleome grown on our farm last summer germinated in the 50 percent range until we put it in the freezer, at which point it nose-dived and we got a result of 13% germination. We often put small-seeded flower and herb see in the freezer to vernalize them, which breaks dormancy. However we had failed to notice in the rules for testing seed that cleome is sensitive to cold. We feared we had damaged it irreparably, but it turns out that the cold had just put it into a deeper sleep of dormancy. We learned this by treating a small sample with hot water to see if that might “wake it up,” and lo and behold we got back a test result of 76% germination, which is excellent for a small flower seed of this type. From now on we will be careful not to chill the cleome.

As you can see, management of the small seeds is one of the trickier pieces of our business, but also, undoubtedly, the most interesting.



News and Events 

Be sure to check out our Events Page on our website for new additions and updates to our calendar. We hope to see you this summer!

Grow an Extra Row for the Hungry
High Mowing Organic Seeds, in cooperation with WCAX, Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Vermont Foodbank, City Market, is encouraging Vermonters not only to plant a garden, but to plant an extra row to donate to those in need.

Taste of Vermont in Washington, D.C
High Mowing Organic Seeds and several other Hardwick area food businesses were invited to the 2009 Taste of Vermont in Washington, D.C on May 7th.  Hosted by the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Vermont Convention Bureau and the Greater Burlington Industrial Corporation, the event showcased over 50 diverse Vermont businesses. 

This special event was by invitation only, and the guest list included U.S. senators and representatives, including special guest Sen. Patrick Leahy.  Under the umbrella of The Center for an Agricultural Economy, Tom Stearns of High Mowing Organic Seeds was joined by Vermont Soy, Pete’s Greens, Jasper Hill cheese crafters, and other local food-focused, independently-owned businesses.

Gourmet’s Dairy of a Foodie
Hardwick Food Businesses (including High Mowing Organic Seeds) were featured in Gourmet's Diary of a Foodie television show.  “In a small town in upstate Vermont, meet four men who have created a sustainable food infrastructure.”  Episode 49 in season 3, “The Collective”, highlights the cooperative relationship between several sustainably-minded businesses in Hardwick’s local “food-shed”.  Go to Gourmet's website to see a preview of the episode or enter in your zip code to find airtimes in your area.

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Localvore Recipes - Fast Food - Kaite Lavin

Spring has sprung and time flies. The light of the sun extends later into evening and so does dinnertime. There is work to be done playtime to be had! The recipes that follow are very adaptable to whatever vegetables are on hand and come together quickly.


Fast Greens Side Dish

Here is what you need:

4-6 cups coarsely chopped greens (kale, chard, collards, Chinese cabbage, bok choi, lamb’s-quarters, etc)
A few cloves minced garlic cloves or chopped garlic greens
1-2 cups small cooked pasta, cooked rice or other cooked grains
Oil
Salt and pepper


This is what you do:

Coat the bottom of a large sauté pan with oil and set over low-medium heat.  Add greens and stir.  Add a couple of cloves of minced garlic or a few shoots of chopped garlic greens on top of the pile of greens (so it doesn’t burn) and cover with a lid.  Let steam a little and stir a few times.  When the greens are tender, add your cooked pasta or grains, stir, and heat through.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Serve with fish, veggie burgers, or an omelet.



Fast Sauce for Anything

This is my all-time favorite sauce. 

Here is what you need:

¾ cup tahini
A few tablespoons hot water (to thin the tahini)
Tamari or soy sauce, to taste
Cayenne pepper
1-2 Tbs grated fresh ginger root
A few cloves minced garlic cloves or chopped garlic greens

Here is what you do:

Add the tahini to a small mixing bowl. Add hot water and thin to desired consistency.  Add the rest of the ingredients and mix.  Mix with steamed vegetables, sautéed tofu chunks, and rice or noodles for a great meal.

 




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