Kids are your Best Customers: Making your Farm Family-Friendly

Kids taking advantage of the Pick-Your-Own area at ICF

At the Intervale Community Farm (ICF, a 550-member CSA in Burlington, VT), we work hard to grow a bounty of high-quality, certified organic produce for our CSA members. Most of the resources, personnel, and energy on our farm go towards this purpose. But at the end of the season, when we survey our members to ask them what they like most about the farm, many of them say that they are ICF members because they simply like coming to the farm each week. The on-farm experience with their families is what compels them to join ICF over the many other high-quality CSA options available in our region. In particular, children love coming to our CSA pick-ups. Therefore, we’ve had to recognize that nurturing an alluring environment for the kids is an important aspect of our business.

An Inviting Atmosphere

Keep it tidy – but not too tidy! Kids love mud puddles at ICF

One challenge of inviting families to visit the farm—whether it’s for CSA pickups, pick-your-own, pizza nights, or other events—is the constant need for physical upkeep of the farm. Most members of the public aren’t compelled by typical farmyards, which, even if “tidy”, still involve sights like abandoned swaths of used row cover, piles of harvest containers, towers of greenhouse trays, unmowed field edges, and torn scraps of black plastic. Inviting the public to the farm means tidy storage and hiding some messes. It also means a regular routine of mowing, trimming, parking lot maintenance (at ICF, we stripe the parking lot to delineate parking spots), and general clean up. Depending on the size of the farm, the costs of maintaining an appealing appearance can add up quickly.

Managing Risk

Another challenge posed by incorporating visiting families into the farm business is the liability risks associated with visitors. Even the most organized farm is still full of hazards for children—implements, tractors, old barbed wire fences, rusty tomato cages, holes dug by groundhogs that could twist an ankle…the dangers are endless once you look carefully around the farm. Making sure that your farm has liability insurance—or an additional rider or policy–for visitors is critical and requires a call to your insurance agent.

Kids helping to plant sweet potato slips at ICF

Enjoy the Ride!

Finally, it’s crucial to make sure that having kids and families on your farm is fun for YOU. It can be easy to underestimate the effort and focus it takes to manage customers on your farm, and it’s worth dedicating staffing effort to create a welcoming, warm atmosphere that focuses on the visitors.

Creating a Kid-Friendly Area

Some simple infrastructure additions dramatically enhance the experience for kids visiting the farm. Investing in a very small (but incredibly well used) sandbox and asking for any unused lawn toys from farm members has vastly improved the experience small children have at ICF pick-ups. Some kids just want to come to the farm to play, and providing them with a joyful space to do so makes the experience parents have gathering their CSA share much more enjoyable.

Entrance to the Kids’ garden at ICF

Bringing kids down to the farm also means charming them into tasting the treats from the field. Planting fun, easily edible things near the visitors’ area helps them take the initiative for trying the food themselves—things like cherry tomatoes, raspberries, husk cherries, beans, and peas are good examples of kid-friendly crops. At the Intervale Community Farm, we also plant a “Kids’ Garden” with all sorts of wacky and wild plants, like giant snake gourds, Mammoth sunflowers, vines running up teepee structures, fuzzy grasses, herbs, and edible flowers.  This is a space where kids are free to pick whatever they want to without any adult oversight.

Allowing kids to sit on parked equipment is probably never very safe, but something that is a favorite activity for our young farm visitors. At the Intervale Community Farm, we generally have the tractors out of sight during CSA pick up times, but some farm members bring their kids down on off hours to carefully look at the tractors.

Ultimately, creating a kid- and family-friendly atmosphere at a farm isn’t hard, but requires a different type of energy than what we are accustomed to directing towards the field. It demands a level of aesthetic maintenance that many of us struggle to prioritize over the pressures of weed control and irrigation. Furthermore, and perhaps more

Musicians at ICF make CSA-pickups fun

importantly, welcoming families to the farm requires a social personality and willingness to slow down, smile a lot, patiently answer questions, and graciously provide a vibrant and compelling farm experience for visitors.

The rewards of having families—especially kids—at the farm are huge, both economically and emotionally. Very little can pull you away from the summer rush better than sweet little hands reaching up to pluck a cherry tomato. Who knows…maybe those little hands will eventually turn into farmer hands!


Posted in Ask The Expert, Commercial Growing, Farm Ethics, Farmer Authors, Kids and Gardening | 1 Comment

Grow Your Greens Indoors with Sprouts, Shoots & Microgreens

Last chance to enter our sprouting kit giveaway! Contest ends Thursday, October 23rd, 2014 at midnight! Click here to enter.

Fall is a great time to start experimenting with new flavors, taking advantage of the season’s bounty of crisp apples, tart cranberries, sweet squashes and nourishing kale. But in spite of the dropping temperatures and abundance of storage vegetables, many of us still crave regular infusions of fresh greens. Refreshing salads and sandwiches don’t need to be a signature of summer—you can keep growing greens all winter, with no greenhouse or coldframe required. In this article we’ll talk about three of our favorite ways to grow your own greens indoors, all year-round—with sprouts, shoots, and microgreens.

What Are Sprouts, Shoots, and Microgreens?

  • Sprouts are tiny leaves and shoots grown without soil by soaking and rinsing seeds with water. They are exceptionally nutritious and are a popular topping for sandwiches, salads, and in ethnic food. They are very easy to grow using either a wide mouth jar and sprouting lid or a tray sprouter, and can be produced from start to finish in 3-5 days. They are much more affordable to grow yourself than buy store-bought, and they’re fresher too! They can be grown where space and light are very limited, and come in an array of terrific flavors ranging from popular mild classics like Alfalfa and Mung Beans to full-flavored varieties like Ancient Eastern Blend and Spicy Salad Mix. We love: Mung Bean Sprouts on Authentic Pad Thai and Crunchy Bean Mix Hummus
  • Shoots are young plants grown to the cotyledon or first true-leaf stage in trays of potting soil. They are larger than sprouts and require a few more tools—a 1020

    Sunflower, Pea, and Wheatgrass Shoots Growing in a Tray

    plastic tray, drip tray, soil, and a clear germination dome (like the one in our seed starting kit) are all you need to get started. You will also need a very bright sunny (south-facing) window or grow lights to grow shoots successfully. They come in a few signature flavors that will quickly win a place at your table: Pea Shoots with yummy fresh pea flavor are delicious on pasta dishes, Sunflower Shoots with buttery, nutty flavor are delicious as sandwich or salad greens, and Wheatgrass Shoots are great for grinding to make nutritious wheatgrass juice. We love: Pea Shoots on Orechiette with Parmesan, Megen’s New England Winter Slaw, Pea Shoot, Pomegranate and Chevre Salad, and Tempeh Spring Rolls

    Mild Microgreen Mix

  • Microgreens are similar to shoots—they are small, immature plants grown to the cotyledon or true-leaf stage, and they are also grown in trays of potting soil just like shoots. They require a bright sunny (south-facing) window, grow lights, or a greenhouse to succeed. They are smaller than shoots when harvested, and come in a great array of flavors, colors and textures to add excitement to virtually any dish. Try easy-to-grow Red Beet or Red Mustard to start out with, then graduate to delicious Basil and Onion microgreens for a gourmet treat. We love: Homegrown Microgreens Salad and

Grilled Zucchini Rolls with Chevre and Basil Microgreens

Grilling zucchini slices


1 large zucchini, thinly sliced lengthwise

1 Tbsp olive oil

1/8 tsp salt

Pinch black pepper

6 oz. chevre

1 Tbsp fresh parsley, minced

½ tsp fresh lemon juice

2 oz. arugula or microgreens

1 cup basil microgreens

Preheat grill or grill pan over medium heat. Brush zucchini slices with olive oil on both

Finished zucchini rolls

sides and sprinkle with salt and pepper, then grill about 4 minutes on each side until tender. Set aside, ideally on cooling racks or paper bags.

In a bowl, combine goat cheese, parsley and lemon juice with a fork until well combined.

Place about ½ tsp of the cheese mixture ½” from the end of a grilled zucchini slice. Top with arugula and microgreens and roll, making sure the seam-side ends up underneath the roll.





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Non-GMO Month Sprouting Kit Giveaway

It’s official! High Mowing Organic Seeds now offers the first full line of organic, Non-GMO Project Verified seeds for farmers and gardeners. All of our seeds are now both 100% certified organic and Non-GMO Project Verified. 

To celebrate this milestone and the fact that October is Non-GMO Month, we thought it would be fun and apropos to give away a starter kit of our some of our very first Non-GMO Project Verified products: SPROUTS!

This kit features three of our most popular varieties, Alfalfa Sprouts, Spicy Salad Sprout Mix and Sandwich Booster Sprout Mix, plus a mason jar and sprout jar lid  and Rita Galchus’ fantastic book, “Homegrown Sprouts: A Fresh, Healthy, and Delicious Step-by-Step Guide to Sprouting Year Round.” It’s everything you need to try out High Mowing’s sprouts line.

It’s easy! Just click “login” 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, October 16 and ends Thursday, October 23 at midnight EST. Good luck, have fun and be sure to read the press release about our big news here, if you haven’t already!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Spread the word! We have the nation’s first Certified Organic and Non-GMO Project Verified seeds

High Mowing Organic Seeds is proud to announce that we now offer the nation’s first and only line of 100% certified organic, Non-GMO Project Verified seeds!

This has been a long journey, one that started for us six years ago, and which we are pleased to say is now complete. When the Non-GMO Project first asked us to provide support in developing standards for seed production, we knew we would push for the most stringent standards possible. We’ve always been certified organic, but with so many new GM (genetically modified) crops on the market, we knew we had to do more to protect the integrity of our seeds. So we began the process of Non-GMO Project Verification.

What are GMOs?

Genetically modified organisms (or GMOs) are varieties that have been created by adding genetic material from one species into the DNA sequence of another species, with the intention of introducing new traits. The result of genetic modification by laboratory methods is a combination of genetic materials that could never occur naturally. This is unlike traditional breeding, wherein pollen is moved between closely-related plants to produce controlled crosses of two individuals.

VT became the first state to pass a GMO-labeling bill in May this year. High Mowing joined the celebration at the Statehouse by handing out 1,500 packets of seeds.

If Your Seeds are Organic, Why Verify?

GMOs are not allowed in certified organic production and we have never sold GM seeds. As new GM crops are grown experimentally or released to the general public, however, there is an increased risk of GM crops cross-pollinating organic crops and resulting in seeds with GM contamination; we verified our seeds as part of our process to mitigate these risks.

Through a combination of testing of stock seed, field isolation and inspection and harvesting and handling policies we focus on prevention of GMO-contamination in our seeds. All seed lots of corn, summer squash, soybeans and alfalfa are also tested to confirm that our preventative measures are working and to ensure that no contaminated seed lots will ever be sold. Our policy is that only seed lots with a detectable level of zero contaminated seeds in 10,000 seeds will ever be sold.  This standard goes beyond what is otherwise required by the Non-GMO Project because we know our customers care deeply about High Mowing’s exceptional quality. Similarly, our germination and organic certification standards exceed the national requirement for the same reason. We are applying the same standards of prevention for all of our seed crops and are closely monitoring the ongoing risks posed by GMOs.  Additionally, we are increasing our testing of other crops to ensure that they are also non-GMO, and all policies are reviewed and strengthened on an annual basis.

The Non-GMO Project is a third-party voluntary labeling system that helps companies develop procedures and testing protocols to avoid GMOs in their products. The Project has the highest standards in the US and not only examines the full supply chain but also facilitates testing for the presence of GMOs to validate the effectiveness of GM-avoidance procedures.

Safe, Healthy Seeds for the Future

It has always been our goal to provide seeds that are safe and healthy for people and the planet. We believe that consumers have a right to know what’s in their food and should be able to make informed decisions based on accurate labeling of food and the seeds used to produce food. To that end, we want to give our customers complete confidence that our seeds are tested and verified non-GMO. For us, it is also about protecting genetic resources so that they can be utilized by future generations for traditional breeding.

As one of the founding companies and a primary supporter of the organic seed industry, we feel it is our responsibility to raise the bar for all seed. At a time when GM crops are entering our food supply and wild ecosystems, it is more important than ever to preserve the purity of our seed resources. We are not willing to take any chances with our seeds—and we know you aren’t either. Providing our customers with an additional layer of safeguards against GMO-contaminated seeds helps ensure the future we want to see. An organic, non-GMO food supply should, after all, begin with organic, non-GMO seeds.

To learn more about our Non-GMO Project Verification, read our press release or visit

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Planning to Order in 2015? Save 10% with CSS

If you’re planning to order from us in 2015, there’s no reason not to save 10% with a Community Supported Seed share! It’s simple:

Just purchase your seed share anytime before December 21st, 2014, and save 10%! For example, if you select a $100 seed share, you will pay only $90.

Receive your share certificate and redeem your share after January 15th, 2015
and until December 31st, 2015.

How will a CSS share make life easier for you?

  • Saves money on seeds
  • Helps with budgeting for the upcoming season
  • Ensures you get your favorites – reserve seeds ahead of time with CSS!

How will your purchase of a CSS share help High Mowing?

  • Supports your family-owned organic seed company at a time when costs are high and sales are low, just like a CSA share
  • Helps us succeed, ensuring the continued improvement of our selection of organic seeds

CSS shares are a win-win for everyone – you save on seeds you were going to purchase anyways while supporting your family-owned organic seed company. No games, no gimmicks – just a great way to help us help you, while supporting progress in organic agriculture.

NEW this year – you no longer have to wait to purchase your share! For added convenience, CSS shares are available for purchase now and through December 21st, 2014. Don’t see the amount you’re looking for on our CSS page? Just give us a call at 802-472-6174 and we’ll be happy to process a CSS purchase in any amount! And while you’re at it, be sure to reserve seeds – if you know what you want already, we’ll make sure to hold it for you until you receive your seed credit certificate.

Ready to purchase a share? Visit our CSS page or call 802-472-6174 to reserve seeds and purchase a share in any amount.

Thanks for supporting your family-owned organic seed company!

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Meet Us There! Our Winter Tradeshow and Conference Lineup

Paul, Sara, Nels and KT at Northeast Veg and Berry

Each year our Sales staff travels far and wide to tradeshows and conferences all over North America. The goal of these trips: to forge new relationships with our customers, to strengthen existing ones, and to understand their needs better. These shows are exciting and meaningful for everyone who attends; whether you’re a farmer, gardener, seed company representative or just hoping to acquire some new knowledge or skills, you’ll be sure to learn something valuable.

Most shows include an amazing line-up of workshops and presentations by leaders in the organic food movement, many great freebies, and incredible networking opportunities. PLUS, there are a few more benefits in it for those who visit our booth – we offer discounted, regionally-appropriate seeds at each show, free magnets and other goodies, and this year we’ll be giving away gift certificates to lucky winners (but you have to be at the show to enter!) We hope you’ll come say hello at our upcoming shows near you – here’s the schedule so you can find us in your area:

Mother Earth News Fair – Topeka, KA 10/25-10/26

Growing Power Urban and Small Farms Conference – Milwaukee, WI 11/7-11/9

Eastern Canadian Organic Seed Growers Network – Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, Quebec 11/7-11/9

Tilth Producers of Washington – Vancouver, WA 11/7-11/9

Carolina Farm Stewardship Sustainable Agriculture Conference – Greenville, SC 11/10-11/12

Acorn – Halifax, Nova Scotia – 11/12-11/14

Young Farmers Conference – Pocantico Hills, NY – 12/3-12/5

Acres – Austin, TX 12/4-12/6

NOFA-Mass – Worcester, MA 1/10

Southern SAWG – Mobile, AL 1/14-1/17

Eco-Farm Conference – Pacific Grove, CA 1/21-1/24

NOFA-NY Winter – Saratoga Springs, NY 1/23-1/25

NOFA-NJ Winter Conference – Lincroft, NJ 1/24-1/25

Mid-Atlantic Fruit and Veg Conference – Hershey, PA 1/27-1/29

Vermont Farm Show – Essex Jct, VT 1/27-1/29

Guelph Organic Conference – Collingwood, ON 1/31-2/1

PASA – State College, PA 2/4-2/7

Organicology – Portland, OR 2/5-2/7

NOFA-VT – Burlington, VT 2/13-2/15

New Mexico Organic Farming Conference – Albuquerque, NM 2/20-2/21

MOSES – La Crosse, WI 2/26-2/28

Natural Products EXPO WEST – Anaheim, CA ¾-3/8

Organic Growers School – Asheville, NC 3/7-3/8

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Getting Started with Hydroponics

As the weather gets colder, many of us are thinking about moving our food production indoors. Hydroponics is a unique way of growing food indoors year-round, and can be done with completely organic inputs. While not yet approved for use under the National Organic Program, gardeners and growers who aren’t certified may benefit from these techniques. Since we don’t have much experience with hydroponics, we asked long-time customer Fullbloom Hydroponics what they recommend for people interested in getting started.

What is Hydroponics?

Leafy greens NFT hydroponics setup Photo: Ryan Somma

Hydroponics is a type of indoor agriculture. Plants are grown in containers filled with soilless growing media and receive nutrients dissolved in water that they’re irrigated with on a regular schedule. Hydroponics has the unique benefit of being possible year-round in virtually any climate, regardless of light and temperature levels. It has become a popular method of growing commercial crops, particularly lettuce and tomatoes, in Northern climates during the winter. It can also be almost completely automated, so that very little maintenance is required to produce bountiful fresh produce all year round.  The first thing to learn about hydroponics is which plant varieties are best suited to a soilless growing system.

Plants Suited to Indoor Hydroponic Growing Systems

Herbs growing in an NFT system with continuous shallow stream of water Photo: Ryan Somma

Most hydroponic setups are indoors or in greenhouses so it is good to stick with plants that like warm temperatures and high humidity levels. Cucumbers, tomatoes, beans, and most types of peppers are a perfect choice to start with. Try varieties like the Silver Slicer

Cucumber, Bronco Bush Bean, Gold Nugget Cherry Tomato, or Shishito Japanese Pepper. They are a nice treat because they aren’t readily available at your local supermarket, plus they are very reliable, productive plants.

Leafy greens and herbs also tend to do extremely well in hydroponic systems. They grow very quickly and don’t take up too much room in your growing area. Try out Rainbow Chard, Red Oak Leaf Lettuce, and Rosie Basil for some interesting varieties that will add a splash of color to your plate.

Easy Setups for Getting Started with Hydroponics

Small homemade deepwater culture (DWC) setup Photo: Ted Major

There are a number of basic hydroponic systems that are easy to set up and perfect for beginners. Drip systems are easy to control and cheap to make. All you need is a growing medium that doesn’t hold too much moisture, a water pump, and some drip irrigation emitters. Another good choice for beginners is a Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) system. A NFT system basically consists of a small gutter which has a shallow, continuous stream of nutrient-rich water flowing past the roots. An ebb and flow system is similar to an NFT, the main difference being that ebb and flow setups are flooded with water a few times a day and then drained. Whatever system you use, you will need some kind of reservoir to hold the water that passes through these systems.

Organic Growing Mediums for Hydroponics

Many growers are committed to producing organic, environmentally-friendly produce. If you are looking to keep your hydroponics setup completely organic, you have a number of great growing mediums to choose from.

Coconut Coir and Coconut Chips

Compressed coconut fiber growing medium Photo:

Coconut is a fantastic choice for organic hydroponic growers. It is completely pH-neutral, which is important as growing mediums that change pH levels can affect how well your plants absorb nutrients. It also has a great water-to-air ratio which means you won’t have to worry about overwatering and drowning your roots.


Sand is an often-overlooked organic growing medium that produces great results. It holds minimal amounts of water so it is often mixed with other mediums in systems where there is not a constant flow of water.

Rice Hulls and Wood Chips

Rice hulls and wood chips are two of the most environmentally friendly organic growing mediums, but have very different properties. Rice hulls are great because they provide good drainage and are a product that would normally be thrown away. Wood chips store a high level of water so they are good for hydroponic systems that don’t have a steady stream of water, such as ebb and flow setups.

Benefits and Challenges of Hydroponic Growing

Commercial-scale production of basil and cucurbits with deepwater culture hydroponics (DWC)

There are a number of benefits to using hydroponic systems for growing your fruits and vegetables. They are highly productive, which means you can grow fewer plants but still get higher yields. Due to the nutrient-rich nature of hydroponic systems, plants are able to devote more energy to producing food as opposed to searching for nutrients.

One thing that is important to keep in mind is that plants in a hydroponic system are usually grown in very clean conditions. Particularly if you are only growing one crop, any pests accidentally introduced into your growing area can take over quickly in the warm, predator-free environment. But as long as you are diligent in cleaning what you bring into your growing area, pest infestations will be much less common than outdoors. Depending on your situation, hydroponics may offer a growing system that is more efficient, more practical, and more easily-controlled than outdoor growing.

For more information about hydroponic systems, visit


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Garlic Keeper Giveaway!

With garlic-planting season in full force, we thought we’d add a little fun by offering a giveaway. 

We’re very excited to partner with local potter Abby Tonks of Abby T Pottery in Randolph, Vermont, who is as big a fan of our seeds as we are of her pottery. Her signature pieces are these lovely “Little Birdie Garlic Keepers.” Depending on how you look at it, you’ll see a little bird or a garlic clove or both!

This porcelain garlic jar, glazed in robins egg blue, was hand-thrown with great attention to detail. It is large enough to hold 5-6 heads of garlic and will keep them fresh for weeks! This piece features a carefully hand perforated design and a little white bird forever perched atop the lid to keep you in good company.

It’s easy to enter! Just click “login” 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, September 18 and ends Thursday, September 25 at midnight EST.

Good luck, have fun and be sure to order your garlic for fall planting now – we run out every year!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

NOTE: Rafflecopter is the easiest way for us to manage contests and give people more opportunities to win and share the contest.

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How to Plant (and Order) Garlic

It’s hard to believe, but it’s that time already – time to start thinking about ordering and planting garlic! Here are some instructions for planting garlic and how to order the right amount. Already know what you need? Click here to see our varieties.

Garlic is best planted in the fall for a spring crop. It can be planted in spring, but this will result in lower yields and is not recommended, as cloves that have not been exposed to temperatures below 65 degrees may not form bulbs. Garlic is very cold-hardy and starts growing again early in the spring after planting. Hardneck garlics produce flower stalks called scapes in early summer. The scapes should be cut to encourage larger bulb development and are also a popular food and marketable product. Garlic bulbs are then ready to dig and cure around mid to late summer, after the lower leaves have dried down.

The best time to plant garlic depends on where you live – but generally it should be planted between the end of October and end of November, after the first frost but before the ground freezes. Our garlic ships between October 6th and 15th, and sells out every year – so if you’re thinking about planting garlic this fall, now is the time to order. Whether you’re a Music lover or a Spanish lover, don’t get your heart broken when they sell out!

How to Plant

Garlic prefers soft, loamy soil with good fertility and likes to be covered with a thick mulch. A thick layer of straw mulch laid down after planting helps prevent the garlic from “heaving” out of the soil when the ground freezes, and will also help keep down spring weeds.

Separate bulbs into individual cloves right before planting, being careful not to break off the basal scar, which protects the bulbs from rotting. Plant each clove with the basal root end down, and pointed tip up. Larger cloves will produce larger bulbs with fewer cloves, while smaller cloves will produce heads with more small cloves. Small cloves, especially those found on softneck bulbs, can be sown in the fall at a close planting density for garlic greens.

For most hardneck and softneck varieties individual cloves should be planted 2″ deep (if mulching) or 3-4″ deep (if not using mulch), with the cloves 6″ apart in rows 18″ apart. Elephant garlic requires a wider spacing of 8-12″.

How Much Do You Need?

The amount of space that can be planted from a bag of garlic depends mainly on how many cloves are in each head for that variety.

Softnecks weigh about 2.25oz/bulb, so you get about 50 seed cloves/lb with roughly 7-10 seed cloves/bulb. For a 10 foot bed with 3 rows in it, you would need 60 cloves or a little over 1lb. That translates to about 60,000 cloves/acre (~1,200lb/acre) using 6” bulb spacing and 18” row spacing.

Hardnecks weigh about 2oz/bulb so there are about 40 seed cloves/lb with 4-7 seed cloves/bulb. Since hardnecks and softnecks use the same spacing, the number you need is the same – about 60,000 cloves/acre using 6” bulb spacing and 18” row spacing. However the weight of garlic you need will be different, about 1.5 lbs for a 10 foot bed or 1,500 lbs/acre.

Happy planting!

Click here to see our varieties.





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Got Veggies? Lacto-Ferment Dilly Beans and more for Healthy Winter Meals

I don’t know about the rest of the country, but in Vermont everybody makes “dilly beans”, vinegar-pickled string beans with garlic and dill.  When I first heard about dilly beans after moving to VT in 1999, in order to immerse myself in the culture of my new home, I immediately began canning this old time tradition, lining my pantry shelves. Recently, though, rather than canning all my preserves, I have begun lacto-fermenting all of my favorites, starting with dilly beans.  I have yet to convince the true Vermonter that my creation is better than theirs, but my recipe has won the hearts of just about everyone who has tried them, including my four year old daughter, who eats them like they’re going out of style.

What is Lacto Fermentation?

Lacto-fermentation predates canning as the original way of pickling produce.  While the scientific explanation followed later, it was discovered that foods could be preserved by this method for long periods of time without freezers or pressure canners by way of lactobacilli, a “good” type of bacteria that converts sugars and starches into lactic acid, and inhibits the growth of putrefying bacteria. In the process, it actually increases the health benefits of these foods over time by boosting the levels of vitamins, enhancing digestibility, and promoting heathy gut flora. Not only are lacto-fermented foods better for your health, but the process is also much simpler and quicker than canning. By just adding a little salt, you can turn your fresh summer veggies into healthy winter food with a tangy kick. Many different crops can be lacto-fermented with great results. Good examples are kimchi and sauerkraut, ginger carrots, and many more.

Before you get started…

I do all my ferments in small batches like pint, quart, and half-gallon mason jars with plastic storage lids, which you can get most places that sell the canning jars.  These lids do not interfere with the fermentation process and are not airtight so they allow the escape of gasses created in the process of fermentation. And unlike the canning process, the jars do not need to be sterilized, only cleaned well.

Aside from the ingredients in my ferments, I also use something to weight down the veggies under the brine.  The veggies need to remain submerged in the brine because exposure to oxygen will cause them to spoil.  Some people use a boiled rock or glass weight, but I like to use a large leaves like horseradish (my preferred leaf), oak leaves, or grape leaves, which are all high in tannins, helping to preserve the turgor and crunch of the veggies in the ferment.  Since these may be hard to find, a large cabbage leaf will do just fine.

What You’ll Need

Aside from the jars, lids, and weights, you will need to collect your ingredients.  This suggested ingredient list is to make one quart size jar of fermented beans, with options for the many variations I have tried and loved:

  • Green or yellow beans with stem ends trimmed, enough to stuff into a quart sized jar standing straight up and down  (my favorites are Provider and Gold Rush)
  • 1 or 2 large garlic cloves, cut in half
  • 2 or 3 large sprigs of dill weed
  • 1 or 2 dill flower heads
  • 1 TBSP of sea salt
  • 4 TBSP of whey (if you do not have whey, you can double the salt)
  • Spring water

I have tried using other fresh herbs in place of dill, my favorite being fresh thyme, two large sprigs per jar.  I also love to spice them up with hot peppers like chili peppers, habaneros, or Thai hots.  And while the traditional dilly beans are made with green beans, I have found my preference to be yellow beans because they maintain their crisp the best.  I have also tried purple beans too hoping they would retain their color, but have found that, despite being raw, they turn a dark green color after some time fermenting.

The Process

Pack your jar with trimmed beans, garlic, herbs, and optional hot peppers.  Top with salt and whey and fill with spring water, leaving 1 ¼ inch of head room.  Fold your large leaf that you chose for your weight to be just larger than the mouth of the jar and stuff it into the brine using it to hold down the other ingredients.  Tightly close the plastic storage lid on the jar and allow to sit and ferment at room temperature for approximately 4 days.  70 degrees is ideal, so if it is cooler, ferment longer and vice versa.  After fermenting, place into cold storage (a root cellar, the refrigerator, a cool closet or under the bed in a cool room…you will have to be creative if you don’t have space in the frig). Below 50 degrees and above freezing is ideal – if stored properly your beans will be good for at least nine months if not longer.  When you are ready to eat your ferment, remove the leaf weight, but keep any unused portion submerged in the brine and stored in the refrigerator.  Enjoy!

Posted in Articles by Megen Hall, Beginner Gardeners' Guide, Farmer Authors, Health and Wellness, Recipes | 10 Comments