A Guide to Planting Spring Cover Crops

Planting cover crops is a powerful way to improve your soil. Cover crops perform a host of valuable functions like increasing soil organic matter, fixing nitrogen, breaking up compaction, suppressing weeds and preventing erosion. In this guide we’ll discuss your options for spring cover crops and the benefits of each, when and how to plant, and how to manage the crop once it’s established.

While commercial growers typically use a seed drill or mechanical broadcaster to plant cover crops (followed by mowing and tilling before the crop sets seed), home gardeners can grow cover crops too. For gardeners we recommend planting most cover crops by hand-broadcasting seed over freshly turned soil, then raking in lightly just before a rain. When the cover crop is in flower, just before it sets seed, it should be cut with a scythe or mower, then left as a living mulch for the rest of the season or turned under with a rototiller. Because of the nutrients bound up by the decomposing crop, it is recommended to wait 2-3 weeks after tilling before planting another crop into the area. At this point the cover crop residues will have mostly decomposed, making organic matter and nutrients available to the next crop.

BMR Sorghum-Sudangrass F1

Life cycle: Annual

Benefits: fast growing, tolerates drought, builds biomass, smothers and discourages weeds, penetrates compact soil. Can grow to 12’ tall with 4,000-5,000 lbs of dry matter produced per acre, easier to grow than corn (for silage)

Uses: soil building, silage or green forage when 24-30” tall (not suitable for horses)

When to sow: Late May to early July depending on location, or when soil reaches 60ºF

Days to maturity: 90-100

Seeding rate and depth: 35 lbs/acre drilled or 40-50 lbs/acre broadcast, .5” deep in heavy soil, 1.5” deep in sandy soil

How to harvest: Mow when crop reaches 36-40” tall for silage

Limitations: soil temperature must reach 65ºF at least two months before first fall frost. Performs poorly in waterlogged soils

Learn more about Sorghum-Sudangrass for silage here

 

Common Buckwheat

Life cycle: Annual

Benefits: a rapid grower widely used for smothering weeds, lightening heavy soils, holding nutrients for the next crop and attracting pollinators

Uses: as a green manure in rotation with vegetable crops, for grain

When to sow: late May through July or when soil is at least 50ºF, at least 3 months before first frost for grain

Days to maturity: 35-42 bloom, 70-84 grain

Seeding rate and depth: 2-3 lbs/1000 sq ft or 35-135 lbs/acre

How to harvest: for green manure mow or harrow before seeds mature, about one month after planting. For grain cut when 80-90% of seeds have turned brown, after killing frost

Limitations: does not tolerate waterlogged soils or very hot, dry weather (later planting is recommended for Southern growers to avoid the hottest part of the summer)

Learn more about Buckwheat for grain production here

 

Medium Red Clover

Life cycle: Perennial

Benefits: fixes nitrogen, mines nutrients & conditions soil, tolerates shade, reduces compaction, attracts beneficial insects, tolerates poor/wet/acid soils, produces 2-4 tons dry matter/acre in 2nd year

Uses: soil builder, ground cover, undersown in existing crops, insectary, hay and forage

When to sow: Spring to summer when soil is above 41ºF

Days to maturity: 14 months when spring sown

Seeding rate and depth: Broadcast, drilled or frostseeded 1/2 lb/1,000 sq ft or 5-15 lbs/acre, ¼-1/2” deep

How to harvest: Incorporate once blooming begins in spring of 2nd year by mowing and/or tilling under

Limitations: not exceptionally heat-tolerant; growers in the South should plant in late summer/fall for overwintering

TIP: “Frostseeding” can be effective at least a month before last frost; sow in early morning when soil is still frost-covered

 

Field Peas

Life cycle: Annual

Benefits: fixes nitrogen, builds soil, moderate weed suppression, biomass decomposes quickly, edible tops

Uses: soil builder, edible tendrils, forage crop

When to sow: Early spring as soon as soil can be worked

Days to maturity: 52-75

Seeding rate and depth: 5 lbs/1,000 sq ft or 200 lbs/acre, 1 ½ to 3” deep

How to harvest: Till when flowering begins

Limitations: does not tolerate hot, dry conditions; growers in the South should use as fall/winter crop in areas where legumes have not been grown recently

TIP: Oats support weak pea stems and act as a “nurse” crop; sow 120 lbs of peas with 2 bushels of oats per acre

 

Improved White Clover

Life cycle: Perennial

Benefits: fixes nitrogen, reduces compaction, improves soil health, tolerates mowing/trampling/wet soils/drought

Uses: soil builder, excellent for paths and lawns, undersow around existing crops for living mulch, green manure, hay, pasture forage

When to sow: Anytime, preferably before a rain

Days to maturity: 60-70

Seeding rate and depth: ¼ lb/1,000 sq ft, 5-9 lbs/acre drilled, 7-14 lbs/acre broadcast then rolled, raked or cultivated to ensure good soil contact

How to harvest: Chisel or moldboard plow to kill; regular mowing to maintain

Limitations: Slow to establish, not ideal for smothering weeds.

TIP: Combine with Annual Ryegrass to increase soil benefits. “Frostseeding” can be effective a month before last frost; sow in early morning when soil is still frost-covered

 

Oats

Life cycle: Annual

Benefits: fast grower, prevents erosion, suppresses weeds, scavenges nutrients, builds biomass with up to 8,000 lbs/acre dry matter from spring stands

Uses: soil builder, nurse crop for legumes, green manure, grain, hay

When to sow: Early spring to summer, when soil is at least 38ºF

Days to maturity: 100-120 for grain

Seeding rate and depth: Broadcast or drill 4 lbs/1,000 sq ft or 100-140 lbs/acre 1” deep

How to harvest: Till in when seedheads are just forming, or cut grain when seeds harden

Limitations: performs poorly in hot, dry weather; Southern growers should plant in fall

 

Annual Ryegrass

Life cycle: Annual

Benefits: fast grower, suppresses weeds, controls erosion, adds organic matter, catches nutrients, thrives in all soil types

Uses: soil builder, nurse crop, emergency forage

When to sow: Anytime soil is at least 40ºF

Days to maturity: 50-70

Seeding rate and depth: Broadcast 20-30 lbs/acre or drill 10-20 lbs/acre ½” deep

How to harvest: Disk, till or plow under as soon as flowers form

Limitations: occasionally some plants overwinter and become weedy

 

Yellow Sweet Clover

Life cycle: Biennial

Benefits: nitrogen-fixer, mines nutrients from deep in soil, drought-tolerant, attracts beneficials, tolerates poor soil, adds up to 2.5 tons dry matter/acre in first year

Uses: excellent green manure, soil builder, subsoil aerator, and honey plant

When to sow: Spring to summer when soil is at least 42ºF

Days to maturity: 60-70 to bloom

Seeding rate and depth: Broadcast ½ lb/1,000 sq ft or 15-20 lbs/acre, drill 8-15 lbs/acre

How to harvest: Kill early in 2nd year by mowing or tilling when stalks are 6-10” tall

Limitations: does not tolerate waterlogged soil; recommended for fall in the South

TIP: Best grown with 2 bushels of oats as a nurse crop

 

Field Peas/Oats Mix

Life cycle: Annual

Benefits: versatile, fixes nitrogen, builds soil, suppresses weeds, decomposes quickly, edible pea tendrils

Uses: versatile soil builder, marketable pea tendrils, forage crop

When to sow: Early spring when soil is at least 38ºF

Days to maturity: varies

Seeding rate and depth: Broadcast 5 lbs/1,000 sq ft or 200 lbs/acre and rake or cultivate

How to harvest: till under or otherwise incorporate before seeds are set

Limitations: peas do not tolerate very hot dry weather; may be grown as a fall crop in the South

 

Field Peas/Oats/Vetch Mix

Life cycle: Annual

Benefits: versatile, fixes nitrogen, suppresses weeds, decomposes quickly, edible pea tendrils, adds up to 8,000 lbs/acre of organic matter

Uses: versatile green manure, soil builder, marketable pea tendrils, forage crop

When to sow: Early spring when soil is at least 38ºF

Days to maturity: varies

Seeding rate and depth: Broadcast 6-8 lbs/1,000 sq ft or 210 lbs/acre and rake in

How to harvest: till under or otherwise incorporate before seeds are set

Limitations: peas do not tolerate very hot dry weather; may be grown as a fall crop in the South

 

Posted in Beginner Gardeners' Guide, Commercial Growing, Growing Tips, Soil Health, Variety Highlights | 2 Comments

The Perfect Potato: How to Choose Varieties

Ever since potatoes in the grocery store came to be known simply as “red”, “white” or “russet”, knowledge of potato cookery has gone into decline. While potatoes are fantastically versatile, there are significant differences in the varieties that make them well suited for particular purposes. The simple spud, as it turns out, isn’t so simple after all. But with just a bit of knowledge you can transform your cooking using this delicious and nutritious tuber. We’ve broken down the different types of potatoes by the cooking methods you prefer to help you make the most of your potatoes. We also included a comparison chart below to help you compare other characteristics such as storage qualities and disease resistance to help you select the right varieties for your garden.


Dark Red Norland

I like my potatoes new

For these tender early treats, boil whole and toss with butter – they can be any variety but we especially recommend Dark Red Norland, Red Chieftain and Purple Viking

 

I like my potatoes baked, mashed, as French fries, hashbrowns or latkes

Choose Burbank Russet potatoes – their fluffy texture is ideal and holds together well when fried – also try All BluePurple Viking and German Butterball

 


Yukon Gold

I like my potatoes in chowder, soup, scalloped, boiled, or in potato salad

Choose waxy potatoes like Yukon Gold, Yukon Gem and Katahdin or firm, moist potatoes such as Red Chieftain, Dark Red Norland, All Blue, All Red or Purple Viking

 

I like my potatoes roasted

You can’t beat the moist, buttery spuds Russian Banana Fingerling and German Butterball

 


All Blue

I like my potatoes sauteed or pan fried

Choose All Blue, All RedDark Red Norland or German Butterball

 

2015 Seed Potato Comparison Chart

 

Update: Elba, Yukon Gem, Purple Viking, All Blue and Rose Finn Apple Fingerling are now SOLD OUT for 2015

 

Posted in Beginner Gardeners' Guide, Growing Tips, Recipes, Variety Highlights | 1 Comment

Dig In to Gardening GIVEAWAY!

Dig In to gardening with our March giveaway, in collaboration with Gardener’s Supply Company!

One lucky winner will receive our Garden Starter Seed Collection AND our favorite garden tool, the Hori Hori Garden Knife from Gardeners.com.

  • The Garden Starter Seed Collection  includes 10 vegetable varieties that you can sow directly in your garden – no seed starting required! Perfect for beginners ready to get their hands dirty, this collection offers some of everything you need for an easy, productive and delicious vegetable garden, including
    • Provider Bush Bean
    • Detroit Dark Red Beet
    • Danvers 126 Carrot
    • Marketmore 76 Cucumber
    • High Mowing Mild Salad Mix
    • Gourmet Lettuce Mix
    • Cascadia Snap Pea
    • Cherry Belle Radish
    • Sweet Basil
    • Dark Orange Calendula
  • We’re also giving away our favorite hand tool, a Japanese tool known as the Hori Hori Garden Knife (pronounced hari-hari) from Gardener’s Supply Company. What’s our obsession about? We love it because it’s small, lightweight, wearable, and performs the same tasks as numerous other hand tools, but more efficiently. Made from heavy duty stainless steel with a full tang (steel built into the hardwood handle), plus a serrated edge on one side, this tool is perfect for digging up stubborn weeds (think dandelion and burdock). It’s hefty enough to put your weight into without breaking or bending. Its relative sharpness and narrow profile make it the ultimate tool for transplanting (much easier than a big, dull trowel). And when it comes to digging or dividing perennials, working in tight spaces, or harvesting root crops, it just doesn’t get any handier than this. Plus, it comes with a sheath that attaches to your belt so you’ll never be without it. (TIP: Wrap some neon tape around the handle so it doesn’t get lost in the garden!)

HOW TO ENTER
It’s easy! Just click “login” below to create a Rafflecopter account if you don’t have a Facebook account. Then follow the instructions to enter for more chances to win.

Contest starts Thursday, March 12th and ends Thursday, March 19th at midnight EST. Good luck, have fun and happy gardening!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Posted in About High Mowing Organic Seeds, Beginner Gardeners' Guide | 380 Comments

Affording the Farm: Financing for Beginners


Katie Spring and her son Waylon

For beginning farmers, finding the support to start your own farm or to improve your existing farm can seem like a challenge. This challenge doesn’t necessarily let up for the first few years—for perspective, a beginning farmer is defined as someone who has farmed for 10 years or less on their current operation. In other industries, you might feel as if you’ve passed the beginning stage by year 8 at least, but if you’ve ever worked with soil, plants, and livestock, you know the intricacies of these living systems are ones that are learned over a lifetime.

According to the USDA Ag Census, in 2012 there were 522,058 beginning farmers in the US, and 226,670 of those had been farming for five years or less. Though this may sound like a healthy number of new folks entering the field, the census also showed a 20% decrease in the overall number of beginning farmers compared with 2007 (with a 22% decrease in the five year or less category).

There are surely many factors leading to this decrease in beginning farmers across the country, though two of the largest hurdles when it comes to starting a farm are access to capital and land. Many new people entering agriculture are first generation farmers, and therefore don’t have family land or equipment to start out with.

As our food system faces unprecedented droughts in the west, higher flooding rates in the east, and all-around unpredictable weather from year to year, plus an aging farming population where the average age of the principal operator is 58, it’s imperative that we find ways to support beginning farmers, as they are the ones who will not only feed us, but who will be creating new sustainable systems in a changing climate, which in turn will inevitably reshape our national food system.

With that in mind, I wanted to learn more about what kind of financial support there is for beginning farmers. I myself am a beginning farmer, going into the third year of running my business, and am looking at how to finance some major infrastructure improvements. As I began to search for financing options, I found some good news: the number of programs, lenders, and borrowing options out there are many! The closer you look, the more people and places you’ll find that are committed to supporting new farmers and the local food economy. The hard part of it is wading through all the opportunities to find the right one for you.

Financing options can be broken down into a few categories: private contracts, community and state, and federal lending programs. There are also grants to be found in each of these categories.

Private contracts are those between farmers and current land owners, and often come into being when a current land owner is looking for a new farmer to take over his/her business, or for a new farmer to revive an agricultural business on land that is no longer in use. Finding a situation like this take more relationship building and willingness to seek out land owners to present them with a proposal. Many of these organizations, like the “Land Links” help connect farmers seeking land with land owners.

Vermont Land Link

New England Land Link

Center for Rural Affairs – National Land Link and Financing

Beginning Farmers – Finding Land to Farm – Land Link programs by state

Information on Community and State financing programs can often be found through your state’s Cooperative Extension office. In Vermont, UVM Extension runs the New Farmer Project, as well as the Women’s Agricultural Network and the Farm Viability Program, all three of which have educational and technical support for beginning farmers. Local and state credit unions are another, more traditional lending option.

The National Council of State Agricultural Finance Programs has an excellent Directory of State Programs, which is a good place to find more information on loan programs state by state.


Katie Spring researches financing in her yurt “office”

Federal programs through the FSA present still more options for financing, and they offer a a straightforward guide to farm loan programs that details all of the different programs available and helps you figure out exactly where to start.

When you’re ready to start reading through the different types of loans, I recommend getting a hot cup of tea or coffee and a chocolate chip cookie and settling in for a morning or afternoon of gathering information and noting down questions. While there is a wealth of information online, I find it most helpful to get a sense of the programs, write down my questions, and follow up with a real person who can have a more in-depth conversation with me. Reaching out to someone in the Beginning Farmers office at Cooperative Extension can be a good place to start. Don’t forget to have some fun, too! Though it can be a bit daunting to wade through so much information, remember that these all present opportunities, and behind each link there is a real person who wants to see new farms succeed.

 

Katie Spring owns and operates Good Heart Farmstead in Worcester, VT with her husband Edge and son Waylon. They grow diversified vegetables and meat that they market through a CSA and their mission is “to make fresh, local food accessible to everyone, despite income.” They work with NOFA-VT’s Farm Share program to provide subsidized CSA shares to low-income customers. Katie writes on a variety of topics for her own blog, Wild Spring, and works in Sales at High Mowing during Vermont’s cold winter months.

Posted in Ask The Expert, Commercial Growing, Farmer Authors | 1 Comment

Growing Partners: The Greening of Detroit

This year we are excited to launch Growing Partners, a series of articles focusing on the farmers, gardeners, seed growers, breeders, vendors, donation recipients and non-profits we work with who are making waves in sustainable agriculture. Together they form a revolution of environmental stewardship and positive change working its way over the global landscape. We’re so invigorated by their trail-blazing work every day, we want to share it with the world–and inspire the food movement leaders of tomorrow to follow in their footsteps.

Neighborhood kids make bird feeders during a Camp Greening session. The Greening of Detroit hosts Camp Greening, an outdoor environmental education program, at city parks throughout the summer months.

To kick off the series, we’re starting with a longtime High Mowing customer and non-profit, The Greening of Detroit. We wanted to let them speak for themselves about what they do and why, so we interviewed their Director of Urban Agriculture, Tepfirah Rushdan to get the lowdown.

HMOS: What is the mission of the Greening of Detroit? What makes it unique?

GD: The Greening of Detroit’s mission is to inspire sustainable growth of a healthy urban community through trees, green spaces, food, education, training and jobs. I think we are unique because all of our three field departments collaborate on various projects that collectively support the mission.  These departments include Green Infrastructure, Workforce Development, and Urban Agriculture. We also are firmly grounded in community while also maintaining a higher vision to support policy and advocacy.

The Greening of Detroit’s farm apprentices learn about transplants and growing methods as they begin their training program at the Detroit Market Garden site.

HMOS: Please tell us about the Greening of Detroit, including location, crops grown, land area in production, and how produce is distributed.

GD: The Greening manages three farm sites in Detroit:

Romanowski Farm Park is a two-acre farm inside of a 26-acre city park in the ethnically diverse southwest neighborhood of Detroit. It features an orchard with five different varieties of fruit in production, a community gardening area, and a butterfly garden.

The Detroit Market garden, a 2.5 acre farm situated in Detroit’s Eastern Market District, is an example of intensive small-scale production site.


Lafayette Greens garden in downtown Detroit. Last season, The Greening hosted more than 100 wellness events and activities on-site. More than 1,300 pounds of chemical-free produce was also grown and donated to community groups.

This farm garden features four hoop houses, a free-standing wash/pack and storage area, and access to Detroit’s premier greenway called the Dequindre Cut.

Lafayette Greens, a 3/4 acre farm and greenspace, is located in the heart of downtown Detroit.  This site was recently donated to the Greening of Detroit by the Compuware Corporation and features a children’s garden, a lavender promenade, trellised hardy kiwi, and a small heirloom apple orchard. Produce is aggregated from all three sites and sold in retail, wholesale, and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), markets as well as donated to many emergency food centers.

HMOS: What is the relationship between the Greening of Detroit and your local/regional community? What programs do you offer that foster this relationship?


The Greening of Detroit’s nutrition education team teaches students how to grow fresh vegetables and prepare healthy food.

GD: The Greening offers expertise and support to community members looking to create green spaces in their community. We support community efforts to repurpose vacant land in ways that improve quality of life in Detroit neighborhoods. We assist communities in developing neighborhood green plans that may include tree plantings, vacant land treatments, gardens, pocket parks, etc. We hold demonstration gardens with a variety of education classes and community events each year. In addition, we teach both environmental and nutrition education in dozens of schools and housing sites throughout Detroit.

HMOS: How old is the Greening of Detroit? How would you describe its growth/expansion?

GD: The Greening is 25 years old. We began with three employees committed to planting trees in the city. Today we employ between 30 and 40 full-time employees and between 200 and 300 seasonal staff. The city of Detroit has more than 20 square miles of vacant land. Our scope continues to grow as the needs and focus of the city we serve evolves.

HMOS: What are some advantages of the area in which you are located? What are some disadvantages?

GD: Advantages are a robust urban environment (the people). We also have a unique opportunity to transform the city into a cleaner, greener, healthy urban center because of all the vacant land. The disadvantages are the increased pollution in soils and air.


Produce grown at The Greening of Detroit’s farm gardens are sold at farm stands in the city to help fund the organization.

HMOS: What is a major challenge you have faced as an organization, and how did you overcome it?

GD: A major challenge for The Greening of Detroit is funding. This is not unique to The Greening, as all nonprofit organizations struggle with inadequate funding. Many grants are annual or one-time only, and this is disruptive to the continuity of programming. The Greening of Detroit has a complicated funding mix, and is always trying to provide and measure community impact. Unrestricted funding would allow us to strengthen measurement, evaluation and community impact but this type of funding is very difficult to obtain. This is a common challenge for all organizations in the nonprofit sector.


Volunteers assist in the gardens at Lafayette Green garden in downtown Detroit.

HMOS: What resources have been important to your success as an organization? What advice would you give to someone just starting out?

GD: Funding is of course essential to our work. In addition, we hire talented, educated people to champion our mission. Collaboration is also very important to our successes, as well as sweat equity from our volunteers.

HMOS: What High Mowing varieties perform best in your area? (And tell us why if you know). Are there any special techniques you use?

GD: We have had success with all varieties purchased from your catalog, along with a satisfying germination rate. We believe in building and maintaining healthy living soil for success. Our City is extremely diverse in their interests and food choices, so we have chosen to explore the possibility of implementing at least two to five new varieties each year from your catalog.


Students participating in The Greening of Detroit’s Our LAND program plant trees in Detroit’s Rouge Park. After a series of classroom lessons on the environment, students venture outdoors for experiential learning.

HMOS: What are your goals for the future of the Greening of Detroit?

GD: We hope to continue to be a catalyst for environmental stewardship in Detroit, and desire to pass on farming skills to the next generation. We are committed to assisting Detroiters in becoming healthier, self-sufficient, and more knowledgeable about the food options in their community.

To donate, volunteer or learn more about the Greening of Detroit, visit them on the web at www.greeningofdetroit.com and check out their Facebook page!

Posted in Farm Ethics, Farmer Authors, Health and Wellness, Kids and Gardening, Philosophy | Leave a comment

A Guide to Seed Starting: Brassicas & Succession Planting (Part 3)


Brassica Seedlings in an HMOS Greenhouse

In our last blog post we covered starting artichoke transplants and “hardening off”, the all-important period of acclimating your seedlings to the outside world. This week we’ll talk brassicas (the family that includes kale, cabbages, kohlrabi, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and broccoli) and how to make a succession planting plan so that you’ll always have the transplants you need for an abundant, extended harvest.

Brassicas are cold-tolerant plants that should be started soon, depending on your last frost date. (Don’t know your last frost date? Find out yours here). For a last frost date of May 1st, for example, you could begin starting brassicas around March 6th. Because they are frost-tolerant, your brassica seedlings can be planted outside about two weeks before the last frost date in your area.

Starting Seeds

Brassicas germinate best between 65-75ºF, but will germinate at temperatures as low as 50ºF. You may start them on a heat mat if the ambient temperature is cool, just be sure to remove them from the heat mat and place under lights as soon as soon as they germinate. I recommend starting them in fairly large plug trays, such as the 50 cell tray included in our seed starting kit or in 4-packs, but they can also be potted up from smaller cells (like those in a 96-cell tray) once they have their first true leaves. Sow one seed per cell (to avoid wasting seed) unless your space under lights is at a premium, in which case sow two seeds per cell and then snip the weaker of the two with scissors.


Seedlings hardening off in an HMOS coldframe

Be very gentle when potting up these tiny plants, as any small nicks in the stems caused by fingernails or rough handling create an opening for the plants to become diseased. A  butter knife or dowel may be helpful to loosen seedlings from smaller plug trays, especially if they have become root bound. You can find crop-specific seed starting instructions (such as seeding depth, spacing, nutrient requirements and more) on our website here.

Here’s a tip: touch your plants! Gently brushing your hand over the leaves several times a day simulates the wind and helps them grow stronger, sturdier stems. (Just make sure yours hands are reasonably clean first). You can also set up a fan blowing towards the seedlings, which accomplishes the same thing. Keep in mind that the soil in your trays will dry out more rapidly with the increased airflow, so check on them regularly to make sure they aren’t getting dried out. Brassicas do not tolerate heat or drought well, and wilting even a few times can significantly reduce yields.

We discussed hardening off last week, and the same rules apply here. Start giving your plants some time outdoors about 2 weeks before planting, increasing the time they spend outside each day until they spend the whole day outside. Just be sure to bring them back indoors or otherwise protect them in cases of extreme weather.


Kale growing in the HMOS Trials field

Frost Tolerance

Continue to keep an eye on the weather for the first few weeks after your seedlings have been planted out, and cover with row cover or low tunnels in the event of a hard frost or hail. In general brassicas will tolerate a light frost, when temperatures dip between 28-33ºF for a few hours. Young plants are more vulnerable than mature ones, however, and must be covered to survive a hard frost, when temperatures fall below 28ºF for more than 2-3 hours. Hard frosts usually occur on spring nights with clear skies and calm conditions.

Making a Succession Planting Plan

Brassicas are a great example of a crop that you can succession plant repeatedly throughout the season to extend the harvest as long as possible. They thrive in the cool conditions of fall as well as in the spring, and can even be overwintered in many climates. Creating a succession planting plan will help ensure that you always have transplants ready just when you need them.

To make a plan, use a grid or spreadsheet to conceptualize how your garden space can be maximized over time. First determine a way to divide up your garden, such as by bed and row, and give each a name to stay organized. Write the name of each bed in the left-most column of your grid. Then use the months of the year as the headings for each column starting from left to right. To figure out how long a crop will remain in each bed, you would need to first determine the days to maturity for that variety (listed on the packet) and then add the time you’ll be harvesting from the crop to figure out how long to dedicate that space to it. But that information varies by variety, region and conditions—so let’s just stick with the broad strokes:

Short Season Crops take 30-50 days to reach maturity and are harvested over 1-3 weeks. Allow 1.5 months for these crops: Cilantro, Fennel, Salad Greens, Baby Greens, Head Lettuces and Radishes

Mid Season Crops take about 40-60 days and are harvested over 1-3 weeks. Allow 2-3 months for these crops: Basil, Beans, Beets, broccoli, Cabbage, Carrots, Cauliflower, Cucumbers, Greens (Full Sized), Kohlrabi, Okra, Peas, Potatoes, Scallions, Spinach, Summer Squash and Turnips

Long Season Crops take 55+ days to reach maturity and are harvested over a 1-3 month window. Allow 3-4 months for these crops: Artichokes, Beans, Brussels Sprouts, Celery, Chard (Full Sized), Collards, Corn, Eggplant, Kale, Melons, Onions, Peppers, Pumpkins, Tomatoes, Watermelon and Winter Squash

Lay out your crops in the grid according to how long they’ll spend in the garden. Use our Vegetable Planting Guide to determine how early to start transplanted crops. Then mark your calendar with the dates you need to start transplants in order to plant on time according to your plan. Here’s an example based on a northern garden:

And if you missed them, check out the other articles in our series: A Complete Guide to Starting Seeds: Tools, Tips and Alliums (Part 1) and A Guide to Starting Seeds: Artichokes & Acclimation (Part 2)

Happy seed starting!

Posted in Beginner Gardeners' Guide, Greenhouses, Growing Tips | Leave a comment

A Guide to Starting Seeds: Artichokes & Acclimation (Part 2)

If you read our article from last week, you already learned about gathering your seed starting materials, including lights, soil, containers and more. You (hopefully) figured out your last frost date, and used it to determine when to start your first transplants (onions and leeks). This week we’ll talk about starting your next crop, artichokes, and how to “harden off” all of your seedlings in preparation for outdoor planting.


Artichoke Seedlings

Artichokes are a perennial crop that can be grown as an annual in areas with cold winters. They should be started 8-10 weeks before planting outdoors—so if, for example, your last frost date is May 1st, they should be started between the middle and end of February. In order to produce flowers (artichokes), they need to be convinced that they are in their second year of growth. In other words, they need to be “vernalized”, or exposed to cold, to make them think they’ve experienced winter. Our variety, Tavor, requires less vernalization time than others, but it is still essential to produce artichokes.

Germination & Vernalization

Here’s a tip for success: before starting your artichoke seeds, put them in an airtight container in the refrigerator with a small amount of slightly damp peat moss. The cool, damp conditions will help convince your seeds that it’s springtime, and result in better, more even germination. Start artichokes according to our instructions (under the Growing Info tab), keeping the plants between 60-70ºF until two weeks before your planting date. At that point, move the plants to a cold frame or other cool, protected location. The goal is for them to experience some stress, with temperatures below 50ºF but above freezing for ten days. If the weather threatens to dip below freezing in that period, move them indoors until the frost danger has passed.


Taylor & Sarah in the HMOS Artichoke Trials

Bed Prep

Once you’ve moved your artichokes outside for vernalization, it’s time to prep your artichoke bed. Loosen the soil with a garden fork and incorporate compost, then dig a 6” deep trench in each row and line it with compost. Space plants 4-6’ apart over these trenches, in rows 7’ apart. After planting, keep an eye on the weather and cover your plants with row cover if frost or hail threatens.

Growing Tips

Anyone who’s grown artichokes knows that they’re a bit particular—they like cool (but not cold) winters, warm (but not very hot) summers, and moist, fertile soils. A good rule of thumb to make them happy all the time? Compost and mulch once a month, and provide a little shade from the hot afternoon sun so they don’t get too dry. With a little care and a little luck, you’ll be harvesting 7-8 buds per plant. And yes, you can grow artichokes in containers, but they’ll need to be BIG—ideally the size of a whiskey barrel or larger—and always kept moist for bud development. They make great ornamentals, and look beautiful in giant mixed containers with flowers like Sea Shells Blend Cosmos and our trailing Nasturtium Blend. The nasturtiums will help cover the surface soil in the container, keeping it cool and moist even in bright sun. And of course, if you don’t harvest the artichokes they’ll make giant purple thistle-like flowers that will knock your socks off.


A coldframe, like this HMOS low tunnel, is a great place to harden off seedlings

Hardening Off is just what it sounds like—preparing your coddled transplants for the harsh world outdoors. (Note: this is for your other transplants, not artichokes.) Hardening off is simple to do, requiring just a little of your time and attention, but it makes a huge difference in terms of plant health and reducing “transplant shock”. About two weeks before your planting date, move your transplants outdoors to an area protected from strong wind. Leave them out for just an hour or two the first day, especially if it’s sunny or windy, and then bring them back inside. The next day increase the time they spend outside to 3-4 hours, and so on each day until they spend pretty much the whole day (and night) outside. The key to hardening off is to be aware of the weather and make sure your still-tender plants don’t get left outside in strong winds or torrential downpours before they’re really ready for them. You’ll notice as the days pass that the plants will become visibly sturdier, growing thicker stems and producing more protective waxes on their leaves.

When it’s time to plant, the best time is on an overcast day, just before it rains, or late in the afternoon on a sunny day. If your plants are properly hardened off, planted at a suitable time and watered in, they should acclimate beautifully to the outside world.

Stay tuned! Next week we’ll look at starting brassicas and how to create a succession planting plan, so that you’ll always have the transplants you need for an abundant, extended harvest.

And if you missed it, check out last week’s post, A Complete Guide to Starting Seeds: Tools, Tips and Alliums (Part 1)

Posted in About High Mowing Organic Seeds, Beginner Gardeners' Guide, Growing Tips, Variety Highlights | 1 Comment

Hot Potatoes – for Every Purpose


Comparing Potatoes in High Mowing Trials

Here at High Mowing, we LOVE potatoes. They always appear at our monthly potluck lunches, they’re endlessly versatile in the kitchen, and they store beautifully–an important feature in a state where the growing season is a mere 120 days (in a good year!) They make a great early crop for farmer’s markets, and come in such a wonderful range of colors, flavors and uses these days that just about everyone can pick a favorite. Everyone…except Paul.


Paul Betz with Potatoes

Paul Betz has earned the affectionate nickname “Potato Man” here at HMOS, and is without a doubt our resident expert. Normally, though he is a Commercial Grower Sales Rep and an organic farmer at High Ledge Farm in Woodbury, VT. He grows many varieties on his farm each season, conducts trials, and always knows what to recommend at the end of the day–but of course, as a true potato connoisseur, what he recommends will depend entirely on what you want to do with your potatoes. So next we’ll introduce all of our new potato varieties, and include Paul’s thoughts on each.

 

Early Season


Purple Viking Potato

Purple Viking

Paul: “Purple Vikings make beautiful new potatoes and are visually exciting at all stages. If allowed to grow to full size, they also store well – a very versatile potato with great flavor.”

Outstanding yields of spectacular deep purple potatoes with rich flavor – a winner in our taste tests! Bright white flesh is moist and firm, adaptable for many types of cooking. Vibrant purple skins are flecked with pink for an eye-catching early market offering. Compact plants; good Scab resistance. Compact habit • For fresh market. (Solanum tuberosum)

Disease Resistance: Scab

 

Mid Season


Yukon Gem

Yukon Gem

Paul: “Yukon Gem is a much-improved version of Yukon Gold, offering all the same great qualities as Yukon Gold but with better disease resistance and significantly higher yields.”

This mid-season variety features bright gold skin, pink hued eyes, yellow flesh, and the same delicious flavor as its parent Yukon Gold. Resistance to blight and scab make this a fantastic potato! Round to oval tubers mature about 10 day later and are significantly higher yielding, especially in wet conditions. (Solanum tuberosum)


Red Chieftain

Red Chieftain

Paul: “Red Chieftain is awesome for storage and is super uniform – much more so than Red Norland – but it matures a bit later than Norland, so I recommend planting both.”

Large, oblong red tubers with very good flavor and storage potential. Thin coppery-red skins and shallow eyes make this a beauty on the table or at market. Delicious boiled; a treat as a new potato. Superior flavor to Dark Red Norland with better storage potential. Very resistant to Scab. Stores well. (Solanum tuberosum)

Disease Resistance: Scab

 

Late Season


Elba

Elba

Paul: “Elba is one of my favorites – it’s incredible mashed, standing up in amazing fluffy white peaks with delicious flavor. It’s also great for storage.”

High yields of large potatoes with buff skin and delicious white flesh. Easy to grow with good disease resistance, especially to fungal blights. Ideal for baking and salads; excellent storage potential. Stores well. (Solanum tuberosum)

Disease Resistance: Scab

UPDATE: Our potatoes ship by April 15th, but we recommend ordering as soon as possible – varieties sell out quickly. Check out all of our potato varieties here and learn how to green-sprout potatoes in Paul’s article from last year.

Posted in Ask The Expert, Beginner Gardeners' Guide, Commercial Growing, Growing Tips, Trials, Variety Highlights | 6 Comments

GIVEAWAY! Enter to Win a Commemorative Abundant Bloomsdale Seed Starting Kit

This contest has closed. Congratulations to Tara on her win!

We’re so excited about our newest variety, Abundant Bloomsdale spinach, we just couldn’t resist giving some away. One lucky winner will receive a commemorative Abundant Bloomsdale seed starting kit to get the garden season off to a great start!

The Seed Starting Kit includes:

Our seed starting kit, which includes a 50-cell plug tray, an open flat without drainage holes, a clear propagation dome to hold in moisture during germination, and a 6 qt bag of premium Fort Vee potting soil from Vermont Compost Company.

One packet of Abundant Bloomsdale spinach seeds (500 seeds). Check out our recent blog post about Abundant Bloomsdale, a new variety bred through a colloborative process by organic farmers and public seed breeders with the support of the Organic Seed Alliance and Seed Matters. Abundant Bloomsdale is an “improved open-pollinated” variety with large, luxuriant deep green leaves, exceptionally high nutritional content, a vigorous upright habit, succulent, deeply-savoyed texture and delicious sweet flavor. A versatile variety for spring or fall plantings.

A commemorative Abundant Bloomsdale poster created by the Organic Seed Alliance to celebrate their 10th anniversary. The poster features a beautiful botanical painting in watercolor that shows the full life cycle of this unique variety.

A High Mowing Organic Seeds Eco-Trucker Hat made with 70% sturdy organic cotton and 30% recycled polyester. This spiffy new hat features our logo embroidered on the front and an adjustable, breathable mesh back that will keep you cool and comfortable all summer long!

HOW TO ENTER
It’s easy! Just click “login” below to create a Rafflecopter account if you don’t have a Facebook account. Then follow the instructions to enter for more chances to win.

Contest starts Thursday, February 12th and ends Thursday, February 19th at midnight EST. Good luck, have fun and happy seed starting!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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A Complete Guide to Starting Seeds: Tools, Tips and Alliums (Part 1)


Jen carrying trays in an HMOS greenhouse

Whether you live in Washington or Maine, Arizona or Tennessee, your time has come—time to dust off your grow lights, unfurl a seedling heat mat, and soak your cell trays in soapy water. Because even if there’s still snow on the ground, frost deep down and a chill in the air, somewhere nature is making its first stirrings and the season of hibernation will soon be loosening its grip. So, in a few sections, we’ll walk through the seed starting season together. We’ll start with gathering your materials and the information you need to make a transplant plan, and then sow the first seeds of the season: alliums.

Last Frost Date and Planting Dates

The very first piece of information you need to know when getting started is the “last frost date” in your area. This is the latest date a frost is likely in your area, and you can find out yours here. Knowing this date will help you determine when to start transplants so they’re just the right size when they get planted out.

Next, take your last frost date and plug it in to Margaret Roach’s Planting Calculator. For example, by plugging in my last frost date (Memorial Day) I can see that the first crop I need to start is onions on February 23rd. However for the purpose of this article (and for the benefit of those lucky enough to live in slightly warmer climates), we’ll use May 1st as our happy medium. This moves the first onion planting date to January 23rd—so I guess we’d better get started!

Location, Location, Location

You’ll find that if you set up your grow light in a place that you walk by several times every day (such as in the kitchen or living room), you’ll be more likely to take good care of your baby plants. So, even though the basement is probably the most popular place to start seeds (and other messy projects), it’s a good idea to consider if they’ll receive enough attention there. A well-traveled location is especially beneficial for newer gardeners, because you notice right away if something goes wrong. You’ll also know if your plants are comfortable—baby plants and people like similar conditions—and they will be happy in an area that is between 55-70ºF with moderate humidity. Right next to the front door or directly over a heat register would be “uncomfortable” places for you—and your starts. Whatever spot you’re considering, just ask yourself if you’re comfortable, and they will be too.

Light


Margaret Roach’s adjustable light stand

Unless you have access to a heated greenhouse, you will usually need grow lights to produce your own transplants. The light coming in through a sunny window is not enough and will result in plants that are weak and “leggy” (elongated from stretching to reach the light). While you can splurge for a plush setup, grow lights don’t have to be fancy or expensive to work well and last for years. And the best news is, they now use less energy than ever before. The most affordable option is to use standard shop light fixtures available at home improvement and hardware stores. You then have the option of T12, T8, or the newest T5 bulbs. (T refers to “tube”, and the number refers to the diameter of the bulb.)

With the old T12 bulbs, you really needed to use one incandescent bulb and one fluorescent in each fixture—neither bulb produced enough of the light spectrum to produce healthy transplants on its own, and you still needed to keep the bulbs within one inch of the tops of the plants. The newer T8 bulbs are 40% more energy-efficient than T12s and plants can be up to 2” from the bulbs. Two four-foot T8 bulbs and a fixture cost around $30 in retail stores. The T5 is the newest option, also known as a “high output” fluorescent, is 9% more efficient than a T8, and is so intensely bright that plants must be at least 3 inches away from the bulbs to avoid scorching. The bulbs are also thinner and therefore more breakable.

You will need to figure out a way to raise and lower the fixture as the plants grow (most people hang them on adjustable chains), and a timer is a very worthwhile investment to make sure your seedlings receive the ideal 14-16 hours of light per day. Lots of people opt to purchase a complete seed starting set-up—like these from Gardener’s Supply—to avoid these hassles. You can also make your own, like this clever one from Margaret Roach.

Temperature

A seedling heat mat is useful (some might even say essential) for starting heat-loving crops like tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, basil and more. If you’re starting these seeds in an area that is consistently right around 70ºF, you may not need one. But generally you’ll get the most consistent germination using a heat mat, and the investment is well worth it—they last a long time and will avoid time and money lost on poorly germinated seeds. Even cold-tolerant onions and leeks germinate best at 75-85ºF. As soon as your seeds germinate, they should be removed from the heat mat and placed under lights. Note: Never attempt to start seedlings in the oven. The oven cannot provide consistent heat in the range suitable for seedlings and also generates fumes that are toxic to them (the fumes are vented from the oven during baking, but cannot escape at low temperatures).

Soil


HMOS Seed Starting Kit

Good quality soil is always important, and not all potting soil is created equal. At High Mowing we offer only one type of potting soil, from Vermont Compost Company because we think it is, quite simply, the best. We offer this soil as part of our seed starting kit, which includes a 50-cell plug tray, an open flat without drainage holes, a clear propagation dome to hold in moisture, and a 6 qt bag of potting soil from VCC.

Ask around for potting soil recommendations in your area—both Extension and Master Gardeners are great resources. Make sure that the soil is suitable for organic production and is used by commercial customers that depend on it—otherwise you may find that the quality is poor, nutrients are missing, or worse still that it contains chemicals like herbicides that can harm your plants. It is not necessary to choose a “germination mix” specifically. This just means that the mix is finer and larger chunks have been screened out—which you can easily do with a piece of hardware cloth or by hand.

Containers


Trays in the HMOS greenhouse

The variety of containers that could be used for starting seeds is literally infinite. Everything from cow pots to egg cartons to yogurt containers can be used, but for simplicity’s sake I recommend an ordinary cell tray (new or used). A 50-cell tray will provide plenty of room for each plant to get started, without giving so much room that smaller seeds “drown” in a large volume of soggy soil. When the roots fill the cells, the seedlings can be easily scooped out with a butter knife and planted in 4” pots. Biodegradable pots have advantages, but may fall apart before planting, and can’t be reused each year (ultimately costing more). And while you often see biodegradable pots advertised as being plantable directly in the ground, this sometimes causes problems—especially with coir (coconut fiber) pots, which degrade slowly and wick moisture away from the plant. As an alternative, you can also build simple wooden flats or try this individual paper pot maker to make pots from newspaper. If you’re going to reuse pots, flats or trays, wash them in warm soapy water and rinse thoroughly before planting to avoid introducing any diseases from last year.

Let’s Get Sowing!


Taylor filling flats in the greenhouse

Now that you’ve gotten your materials together, it’s time to sow the season’s first seeds! And they are: onions and leeks (alliums). Alliums require a very long season to mature, which is why we start them so early, 8-12 weeks before planting out. Ready? Here we go:

1)      Moisten your potting soil. Add a little bit of water and mix with your hand, and keep adding a little more water until it feels moist but not wet or soggy.

2)      Fill your tray or pots with the moist soil, making sure each cell is nearly full of soil but not packed down.

3)      Sow your onion or leek seeds densely on the surface of the soil – there should be about 10 seeds per square inch.

4)      Cover seeds by lightly sprinkling with about 1/8-1/4” of potting soil, then gently water in. If you have one, cover your tray with a propagation dome to hold in moisture and place the tray on top of a seedling heat mat.


Stephen seeding trays in the HMOS greenhouse

5)      Once the seeds have germinated, move the tray from the heat mat and place under lights. Water gently when the surface of the soil becomes dry to the touch.

6)      As the plants grow, gradually raise the lights so they are 1-3” from the top of the plants. When the plants reach 5” tall, cut them back to 2” as this will encourage them to grow thicker and stronger (and the onion greens are delicious in salads!) At this point, you can begin hardening off your onion starts for transplanting.

Stay tuned! Next week we’ll cover starting your next batch of crops and some pointers on that all-important period of “hardening off”.

Check out our previous posts, Budget Seed Starting on a Small Farm and When to Plant (& Succession Plant): Using Margaret Roach’s Planting Calculator

Posted in Ask The Expert, Beginner Gardeners' Guide, Growing Tips | 3 Comments