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High Mowing Organic Seeds
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The Seed Bin - September 2008


Notes from Tom
Tom Stearns

On our Company Overview page on the High Mowing website it talks about seeds as a key part of healthy food systems. Of course you need seeds before you can have almost any kind of food whether it is vegetables, grains, or feed for animals to produce meats, milk, eggs and dairy.  We are in a country where most have lost touch with what a healthy food system means. For so many, all they have ever eaten is overly processed food products that are devoid of any real nutrition and if they are lucky to get many veggies in their diet they are of less than ideal quality and shipped from thousands of miles away. Many people have no idea what can grow in their region or when it is ripe. For many, the distinction of meats and vegetables and where they come from is considered an area of study and not one learned as a child. This is no longer acceptable. With increasing food and medical costs people of all backgrounds are reaching out for healthier, locally grown foods. 

 

It is YOU, organic gardeners and growers everywhere that are the leaders changing our food system. It is a comprehensive change that we need and in doing so, we will have to address all the major concerns of the day including energy, pollution, water, land use, nutrition, transportation and much more. We are very fortunate in Vermont to have a great many farmers and agricultural business leaders. In fact, right in Lamoille County, VT, many of these leaders have been getting a lot of attention both for their individual efforts and their innovative collaboration. Locals have been reading about these folks for a while now but those of you reading this that are from further away can soon read more from our corner of the state in the NY Times Food section and Gourmet Magazine. We are proud to call these leaders our partners in the bigger mission of High Mowing Organic Seeds; rebuilding healthy food systems through strong and vital organic seeds. Your role is crucial to this effort. Keep growing food for yourselves and your communities and keep helping people to learn about the benefits of locally based, healthy food systems. Anything else just doesn't make sense.

 

Thanks for your support,
T om

Notes from the Field

Heather Jerrett

We have had an amazing stretch of sunny weather after a very rainy July and early August. This is great for seed crops but many growers would actually prefer a bit of rain now. Winter crops are thirsty, and this weeks rain was spotty, not reaching everyone. It is funny how there is always a way to complain about the weather!

 

Seed Production

Harvesting BrassicaWe have been busy as usual getting seed crops out of the field and into the greenhouse to dry. At this point all of the brassica crops are done or near done and we are keeping a watchful eye for their pods to dry down to capture the remaining seed before they shatter. We will have a few new Brassica specialty greens this year that we produced here on our farm. We have shied away from Brassicas and similar Harvesting Brassica podded crops in the past years due to a dormancy issue we had yet to figure out. We have recently begun testing particular varieties for their seed production qualities in smaller plots to see if we are able to avoid some of these issues with certain varieties and have found we can. Our new specialty greens we have to offer are Yukina Savoy mustard green, Golden Frills mustard green, Hon Tsai Tai flowering brassica, Hong Vit radish, and Shunghiku chrysanthemum green.

 

Measuring CucumbersWe've also been harvesting the softer cucurbits, like melons, for seed and are now starting on cucumbers. Later in September and October we will be focusing most of our time and energy on harvesting and processing our summer and winter squashes and pumpkin seed crops. Last year we attempted a number of new pumpkin varieties that just did not have enough time to finish for a large enough seed crop to sell. This year we put out all pumpkins four weeks earlier than usual and covered with remay.  We kept our fingers crossed that we would not see a hard frost at the end of May. We were happily successful and had colored pumpkins Harvesting Pumpkinsas early as mid-July! With the shift in climate, we are seeing much milder early season conditions, especially in the past two years. Look for our new introductions of specialty pumpkins this fall:   Valenciano, Long Island Cheese, Musque de Provence and our Brand New Exclusive Hybrid Jack-o-Lantern we developed in cooperation with UNH’s Dr Brent Loy named Cider Jack F1.

 

Trials

We have had a truly successful summer this year. Yay!   One of our major accomplishments were producing excellent quality field tomatoes. For the past four years we have had such a difficult time with Early Blight and Septoria and often lose too much foliage by the end of August for green fruits to mature, and if they do turn color, they often lack any desirable flavor.

 

After a lot of planning and great weather we did it. Our heirlooms, red slicers and cherries all are doing well and taste wonderful! Some of the techniques we incorporated this year were to use raised plastic beds spaced 15’ apart for optimal air flow. After planting in late May we put oat seed down immediately and very thick near plastic sides to cover soil and reduce soil splash onto leaves. We mowed this about every three weeks. The spacing and cover crop made the most significant impact and we did not even see signs of fungal disease until late July when it became airborne on close by breeding tomatoes that were not planted in the same conditions.

 

We also began using copper and sulfer sprays, when first signs of disease were noticed, around the end of July. We have not had to spray as much as recommended due to low rainfall. We do not like to spray but realized we had to in order to make it worth planting tomatoes. We put so much effort into tomatoes and to have a multitude of green fruits that never ripen is heartbreaking. If we can incorporate the physical barriers that decrease infection spraying can be kept to a minimum, reducing harmful effects.

 

In addition to our field tomatoes we grew high tunnel tomatoes for the first time this year. We had a late start and are now evaluating fruit quality and flavor. We have a couple standouts that we hope include in the 2009 catalog.

 

Fall brassicas are all doing extremely well. The warm days and cool nights are ideal for these crops. We are keeping a close eye on our brussel sprout trial and experimenting with cultural techniques, such as stripping leaves, topping or just growing as is. We plan on having an organic selection for the 2009 catalog.

 

Keep in mind our September Field Days is Wednesday, September 17 for 5-7:30, we have a number of pre-workshops such as Growing and Processing Soybeans in Vermont, and Seed Saving with Tom Stearns and Katie Traube.   Check out our listing in our Current Events section in the Newsletter or online. We will have our usual field walks and Local Food Jubilee as a grand finale!  

 

Hope to see you there,
Heather

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Bringing In The Harvest - Getting the Most out of Storage Crops

Paul Betz

 

Paul Betz

In my last newsletter article I talked about some general post-harvest handling of summer crops after they had been harvested from the field. Now that fall is here and storage crops are coming out of the field, I thought it may be helpful to discuss how to get the most  out of these. With winter markets becoming more and more common, there has been a renewed interest in growing storage crops for direct sale throughout the winter. Curing and storage of these crops can make a big difference in quality throughout the winter months.

 

Potatoes

We grow a lot of potatoes, both because I love to eat them and I think they are a lot of fun to grow. One of the things that I think is really neat about them is that you are the first person to ever see them when they are getting dug. It is a lot like a treasure hunt, and who does not like finding a surprise every once in a while?

 

While the potatoes are growing, the skins are very thin and fragile, and are not suitable for long term storage. The skins need to be set before they are ready to dig. The death of the plant sends a signal to the potatoes to go dormant. You can either let the plant die naturally, or do what’s more commonly done, kill the tops. Conventional growers typically do this with a chemical that kills and desiccates the tops. Organic growers have different options. We lop ours off with a weed whacker. It takes a little time, but does a better job than a mower. I have never gotten my mower to work well for this purpose. Another option is to flame the tops off, but depending on the health of the plants it may take more than one pass. One consideration is that when you are trimming tops or mowing, you are also creating millions of injuries that can allow the spread of disease. We always time our topping so there is a long stretch of hot and dry weather, this ensures plants wounds will dry quickly and lessen the chance of infection. After the tops are removed, a minimum of two weeks is required for the skins to thicken. I wait a third just to be sure. Then they are set for harvest and long term storage.

 

After we dig them, we leave them on the soil surface just long enough to have the skins dry. We then put them in bushel baskets in our “cold room,” an insulated room next to our cooler. I allow cool air in at night time to keep the temperature at 55- 60°F for 3-4 weeks. This gives the potatoes a chance to heal any bruises or cuts that happened during harvesting. For long term storage we lower the temp to 38°F. We have used a root cellar that also worked well, but found the physical moving of potatoes was not very fun. Now we move them in and out of our walk-in in the barn, which gives us much more time and energy to eat them!

 

Onions

Drying OnionsThe harvesting of onions is also subject to the condition of their tops. It is important for the tops and necks to be as dry as possible before they are topped and brought in. Some varieties that have thin necks down really quickly and can easily be pulled from the bulb. Unfortunately the ones I choose to grow do not do this easily. I have had problems with Alternaria and Botrytis in my onions for some time, so I choose varieties that have really good resistance to these diseases but may not dry down quickly or have thin necks. My experience is that they also hold onto their greens longer than most varieties too.

 

Most growers simply let their onions dry down in the field and come through and top as they harvest. You can also undercut the bulbs several days before harvesting when there is only a few green leaves left. Undercutting speeds dry down and will improve storage quality but relies on special equipment. Due to my particular situation I do things a little differently. I invariably walk the patch and push over the necks with my foot to encourage them to finish up. I seem to never get the weather I need for them to dry in the field either, so I bring them into a greenhouse and lay them on the benches a few deep to finish drying down and top them here. It’s extra work, but it feels like it pays to have them where I have more control. I keep them in the greenhouse for five or six weeks, ensuring they are well cured, and then I put them in a cool and dry spot for the winter in mesh bags. Be sure to gradually decrease temperatures, if decreases too quickly or fluctuates significantly it can cause bulb staining, sprouting or decay. Ideal storage temperatures area as close to 32°F as possible with out   freezing at 60-70% relative humidity.

 

Carrots and Beets

There is always the question of wether to wash or not to wash carrots and beets before storage. We store ours washed for two reasons. The first is that my barn is really a three season barn, and is pretty cold in the winter, making washing very uncompfortable. I also have better luck getting them really clean when they are first out of the soil as the soil can stain carrots. If you can keep the humidity high enough, the soil won’t stain the carrots as much, but I just assume get them done in the fall.

 

Carrots and beets will store until the spring if kept cold enough. Store them in vented plastic bags at 34°F till spring. It is commonly said that you can not store washed carrots longer than 6 or 7 weeks, but we kept ours into the next season, and they did fine. I was super picky about what went into storage, and anything questionable was set aside for earlier use.

 

For those who bring in carrots and beets and store them dirty, there are a few considerations. First, it is important to make sure that they are cooled quickly. Bringing in tons of unwashed, warm roots can overload the capacity of many walk-in coolers. A local grower I know leaves his bags outside on a cool evening and picks them up in the morning before the sun comes out. This way he is leaving a lot of the field heat outside. The other piece is to stack the bags in a way that allows for air flow around the pile. A heap against a back wall will have a core that takes a long time to cool down, and those roots will degrade quicker. Misting the stacks with water will help keep the humidity up, and make them last longer and be easier to clean.

 

Cabbage

We have had good luck storing Napa cabbage in the cooler for long stretches as well. They keep at 34-36°F and have had them be beautiful after stripping the outer leaves 5 months after going into the cooler. The same with red and green cabbage. Clean them up before they go into the cooler and keep them cold.

 

Winter Squash

Winter squash is one of my favorite things. I look forward to it for at least the second half of summer, and enjoy it well into the winter. Curing the squash is important, not only for flavor but also for storage. We use our greenhouse again, keeping them in there for at least two weeks before we bring them to market. I keep them in the greenhouse until late fall, and then move them into a cold room, which we keep around 50°F and a relativehumidity of around 50-60%. I keep checking them, and I eat them as they get a bad spot. They can suffer injury at temperatures below 50 F, so be careful with the temps.

I hope that this season has brought you loads of good food for your families and customers, and that a well deserved rest is on the horizon.


 
Update on Septoria in Tomato Project

Jodi Lew-Smith, PhD

 

Plants affected by SeptoriaFor those of you who have been following this fascinating project through the various suspenseful stages, I’ll give you the brief update. As you’ll recall, the project goal is to identify lines of tomato resistant to infection by Septoria lycopersici, one of the two fungi that contribute to early blight in the Northeast. The strategy has been to create a rigorous screening process by which I infect a large number of seedlings in the greenhouse and then attempt to identify more resistant individuals. Early setbacks in isolating the fungus directly from dried tomato leaves led to delays in getting the procedures worked out, but with the help of my colleague at Cornell, I did manage to successfully culture the fungus in our lab and work out a means to effect mass infection via a moist chamber in the greenhouse.   Using this method, I successfully infected three different sets of tomato plants. Unfortunately, however, none of the lines I worked with exhibited more resistance than any of the other lines. One possibility is that this was due to inoculating with such a massive load of fungus that nothing could have resisted that onslaught, and doing some experiments with reduced fungal loads might answer that question. But for the moment I am considering some other strategies and might change tack altogether.

           

Current Disease Issues
More pressing in the research wing of High Mowing Organic Seeds at the moment is the onslaught of diseases that I have not caused myself. The recent state of horrendously wet and cool weather has caused an outbreak of fungal diseases in certain locations, particularly in some seed crops grown by one of our collaborating growers. I am awaiting confirmation from our state lab, but I am pretty sure that what see in this field of mixed cucurbits is widespread cucurbit scab, caused by the fungus Cladosporium cucumerina.      

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Current Events
Gwenael Engleskirchen

Seed-Saving Workshop
September 13th

12:30 – 2:00 PM

Gardener’s Supply Store

Burlington, VT

 

Learn about how to save seeds from plants in your garden! This workshop, led by High Mowing Seeds’ seed production crew leader Katie Traube and marketing manager Gwenael Engelskirchen, will cover pollination, isolation for purity, seed cleaning techniques and optimal seed storage. We’ll end with a fun hands-on activity: saving seed from tomatoes and peppers, which we’ll then use to make a yummy salsa! Call Gardener’s Supply Company at (802) 660-3500 x5386 for more information or to register.

 

Annual Garlic Festival – Food Works at Two Rivers

September 13th

12:00 – 6:00 PM

Two Rivers Center

Montpelier, VT

 

Live music, cooking demos, food tastings, plant and herb walks, educational agricultural and herbal workshops, kids’ activities, garden tours, silent auction, horse-drawn wagon rides and more!  For information and tickets follow the link above to the Two Rivers website.

 

High Mowing Organic Seeds' September Field Day

September 17th

12:30-3:30   Growing Food Grade Soybeans in Vermont

3:00-5:00   Seed Saving Workshop

5:00-7:30  Field Walk and Local Food Jubilee

HMS Trial Gardens  

Wolcott, VT

 

Free and open to the public! 

The event will kick-off at 12:30 PM with a tour of one of the Hardwick area’s exciting agricultural ventures. Learn about growing and processing soy products in Vermont with a tour of Vermont Soy’s processing facililty. The next stop down the road is High Mowing Seeds’ seed mill, and then to the HMS Trial Gardens to look at UVM’s soybean field trials. At 3 PM, Tom Stearns, HMS founder & president, and Katie Traube HMS seed production crew leader, will lead a Seed Saving Workshop (sponsored by NOFA-VT and the Stowe Library), followed by a tours of the HMS Trial Gardens. Finally, at 6:30 PM, a Local Food Jubilee, featuring locally grown produce and delectable treats from Vermont companies such as Vermont Soy, Liz Lovely Cookies, Cabot Creamery, Jasper Hill Farm, Pop Soda, Elmore Mountain Bread, VT Milk Company, NECI, Capital Grounds, the NOFA-VT Pizza Mobile and more! Check out the HMS website for more information and directions.

Common Ground Country Fair

September 19–21

Unity, Maine

 

MOFGA celebrates rural living with its 32nd Common Ground Country Fair!  Fairgoers make connections with a rapidly expanding base of organic farms in the state of Maine. Hundreds of vendors, exhibitors and demonstrators and roughly 50,000 fairgoers will gather to share knowledge about sustainable living; eat delicious, organic, Maine-grown food; buy and sell beautiful Maine crafts and useful agricultural products; compete in various activities; dance; sing and have a great time.  For information and tickets follow our link above.

 

City Market Harvest Celebration

September 27th

12:00–4:00 PM

City Market parking lot

Burlington, VT

 

Free and open to the public!

A fun celebration of Vermont seasonal bounty: delicious samples food vendors, live music and much more!

 

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 Localvore Recipes

Katie Lavin 

Winter Squash Puree

Recipes for Morning, Noon, and Night

 

Winter squash demands space, warmth, and a long time in the field or garden. For your patience and attention, you are rewarded with brilliant, versatile fruit. Simple to exotic, sweet or savory, winter squash is delicious in all types of recipes.  

 

The following recipes all are based on winter squash puree. Butternut, Delicata, Red Kuri, Buttercup, and Hubbard squashes all work well. If your squash is large, cut it in half, flesh side down, and bake at 375°F for an hour or so. For smaller squashes bake whole, making sure to prick all over with a fork…or it may explode! Your squash will be done when it is easily pierced by a fork. I like to bake several varieties at once, and then puree together in a blender or a food processor (you might have to add a little water). The easiest way to preserve puree is by freezing. Measure out in generous 2 cup portions and freeze in a freezer bag or plastic container. When you have a hankering for some pie or soup, take your puree out of the freezer and let it thaw. Soak in a mildly warm water bath to speed thawing process. It’s just as easy as opening a can of pumpkin but so much tastier.  

 

 

Morning:  Butternut Pancakes (makes 4-5 large pancakes)

 

Dry ingredients:

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon each:  cinnamon , ginger, nutmeg (or 1 ½ tsp pumpkin pie spice)

½ tsp salt

 

Wet ingredients:

1 tablespoon honey or maple syrup

1 cup milk  

1/3 c winter squash puree

2 tablespoons melted  butter

1 egg

 

Optional: ½ c. of chocolate chips, toasted nuts, or chopped apples

 

Mix dry ingredients together in a bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together milk, squash, melted butter, honey or maple syrup, and egg. Add dry ingredients to wet and stir until just mixed (don’t overmix). Add optional ingredients as desired.

Oil or butter a pan and heat over medium heat: pour in 1/3 cup batter for each pancake. Cook pancakes until golden on each side. Serve with butter and syrup.

 

Noon:   Harvest Squash Soup (4-5 hearty servings)

 

2 cups chopped onions or leeks

3 minced garlic cloves

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp coriander

½ tsp nutmeg

½ tsp cinnamon

1 or 2 pinches of cayenne (to taste)

1 cup chopped carrots or parsnips (or both)

3 cups water or stock

1 cup apple cider

2 cups squash puree

 

Optional:   minced cilantro or diced apple

 

Sauté onions or leeks in oil or butter on low-medium heat until they are clear.   Add garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add spices and cook for 1 more minute, stirring. Add roots and water or broth, bring to a simmer until roots are tender.   Add cider and squash puree and heat through. Blend all or part of the soup in a blender (or don’t), and top with optional garnishes. Serve with cheese and bread.

 

 

Night:   Honey Squash Pie (8 modest slices)

 

2 cups winter squash puree

1/2 cup honey (More or less, depending on how sweet your squash is)

¼ tsp salt

2 tsp pumpkin pie spice (or combine 1 tsp cinnamon, ½ tsp ground ginger, 1/8 tsp cloves)

½ cup of heavy cream

½ cup of sour cream or whole milk plain yogurt

2 eggs, yolks and whites separated

1 unbaked pie shell

 

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Except for egg whites and pie crust, put all ingredients into a blender and blend. Pour into a large bowl. Beat your egg whites separately until frothy and then fold into the mixture in bowl. Add mixture to pie shell and bake for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake for 40-50 more minutes until set and golden. Let cool for at least an hour.   

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