Putting Cover Crops to Work

Growing vegetables is hard on a place, and it’s important to put something back for all that we take out. One of our responsibilities as growers and gardeners is to be good stewards of the earth that we use. Feeding the soil is an important piece of increasing the health of our fields. One can add compost, but increasing levels of available phosphorus is becoming a problem and leads to pollution of our waterways. A simple way to both give the soil a boost of organic material and address other common soil concerns is through cover cropping.

Choosing a cover crop and when to plant, should really be a function of the intended result. Review the benefits of cover crops below and consider the many and varied applications to your soil.


ORGANIC MATTER

  • Considered by many to be the lifeblood of healthy soil, organic matter nurtures soil life, holds and recycles nutrients and promotes good soil structure.
  • Soils high in organic matter allow for proper soil particle aggregation, aeration and water retention.

Which Varieties:
Spring planting- Organic Field Peas, Organic Oats
Summer planting- Organic Sorghum Sudangrass
Fall planting- Organic Field Peas, Organic Oats, Organic Winter Rye

 

NITROGEN FIXATION

  • In a process called “nitrogen fixation”, leguminous crops harvest nitrogen gas from the air with the help of bacteria living on their roots called rhizobia.
  • Legumes efficiently convert this valuable nitrogen source into a usable form which is then stored in the soil for future crops.

Which Varieties:
Spring planting- Organic Field Peas, Organic Medium Red Clover
Fall planting- Organic Medium Red Clover, Organic Tillage Radish

 

REDUCING SOIL COMPACTION

  • Cover crops with fibrous root systems help break up and aerate the soil and once decomposed, leave small channels in the soil through which water and nutrients can move freely, decreasing surface compaction.
  • When a compaction issue exists well below the soil surface, those species with deep taproots can break through the hardpan, reducing compaction and allowing for greater root penetration.

Which Varieties:
Spring planting- under-sown Organic White Clover, Organic Medium Red Clover
Fall planting- Organic Medium Red Clover, Organic Tillage Radish

 

EROSION CONTROL

  • The prevention of soil erosion is best achieved using cover crops that quickly establish a fibrous root system and a substantial canopy above ground.
  • For winter cover, even those which do not survive in cold weather can provide excellent erosion control given adequate growth in the fall.

Which Varieties:
Spring planting- Annual Organic Ryegrass, Organic Oats, Organic Winter Rye
Fall planting- anything that winter-kills, Annual Organic Ryegrass, Organic OatsOrganic Winter Rye

 

WATER RETENTION

  • A healthy soil structure encourages water retention.
  • Organic matter can hold up to twenty times its weight in water.
  • Soil planted with a cover crop is less likely to suffer from excessive evaporation, the cover crop restricting direct sunlight and trapping even the lightest rain.

Which Varieties:
Spring planting- Organic Medium Red Clover, under-sown Organic White Clover, Organic Field Peas
Fall planting- Organic Medium Red Clover

 

WEED SUPPRESSION

Cover crops can suppress weeds in one of several ways:

  • Many species can out-compete weeds for light, water, or nutrients altogether.
  • Some cover crops can act as a physical barrier, suppressing weed seed germination and significantly limiting early growth.
  • A few species (Rye and Oats) even have allelopathic properties, exuding compounds during growth and decomposition that inhibit germination of other seeds. In this case, it is important to allow adequate time for decomposition prior to planting a new crop.

Which Varieties:
Spring planting- Annual Organic Ryegrass, Organic Oats, under-sown Organic White Clover, Organic Medium Red Clover
Summer planting- Organic Buckwheat
Fall planting- Annual Organic Ryegrass, Organic Oats, Organic Medium Red Clover

 

The importance of cover crops in organic growing cannot be overstated. Many times, cover crops are viewed as something to put on open ground while a “cash crop” isn’t happening. There is value to incorporating cover cropping into a farm plan and thinking of it as a part of the cash cropping process.

Posted in Commercial Growing, Growing Tips, Soil Health, Uncategorized, Variety Highlights | 2 Comments

A Root Storage GIVEAWAY!

Looking for a way to keep your root veggies fresh all winter? This month we’re giving away the tools you need to get started. One lucky winner will receive:

 

 

 

 

 

HOW TO ENTER It’s easy: just click “Log In” below if you have a Facebook account (if you don’t have Facebook, just click “Use Your Email” to create a Rafflecopter account). Then click any of the dropdown options (below) to enter for more chances to win!

Occasionally certain browsers don’t play nice with Rafflecopter – if you have any trouble entering the giveaway, please email webmaster@highmowingseeds.com

Contest starts Thursday, July 21st, 2016 at 4pm and ends Thursday, August 4rd, 2016 at 12am EST. Good luck!

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Posted in Contests, Uncategorized, Winter Growing | 105 Comments

Storage Carrots: A Fall Planting Guide

Here in Vermont, it feels like we just finished talking about how much wood we have left to heat the house, and now it’s time to be thinking about storage carrots? It just doesn’t seem fair.

I realize that there is still a lot of the season left, but keeping fall crops on the screen is important. So much of the success of a carrot crop is a result of preparation, giving them the best chance to effectively do their work. Time spent planning and prepping now can make a huge difference in the harvest.

Preparing Carrot Beds
I still use a rototiller to make my finished beds. I do have a right angle cultivator set up with spring loaded shanks that I use before I make my pass with the tiller. I run them about 10-11” deep, and they break up any pan that is being formed by the tiller. The less the carrots have to work to grow down, the straighter and less stressed they will be. I know some people set their chisels to run directly under the seeded rows, but I set mine to cover the whole bed, and run 7 shanks.  It takes all of my tractor’s power to pull them, and I’ll occasionally run a few times.

If you can manage it, running a stale bed will help with weed control. I try to make my beds 7 to 10 days before we seed them.  Using the stale seed bed technique, I am dependent on a rain event to get the weeds to germinate, but if the bed can get watered it will help to get a good flush of weeds. A shallow, blind cultivation or flaming will take down the young weed growth and leave an open bed for the carrots to come up.

Seeding
In prior years, I have used an Earthway seeder with a custom plate that I had made for pelleted carrots. It worked okay, as long as there weren’t too many seeds in the hopper. It did, however, limit my varieties to the ones I could get pelleted.

I recently got a Jang seeder and I love it. I use the Y-24 disc and gear it to the 1/2″. I have had great results. I spend a little time with the brush adjustment, and make sure that it is sweeping the disk. Using this method, I don’t have to do any thinning. I like the level of precision that the Jang seeder brings, and the price wasn’t really a barrier when considering the cost of thinning and value of a good stand.

 

Help with Emergence
In the past, I have had mixed results getting a good stand. My soil is susceptible to crusting over, and the caliber of rains that we have been getting recently has created a challenge for emergence. The carrots were germinating fine; they just couldn’t make it up through the soil surface. I started putting down row cover after I seeded them, and it has made a big difference. When the rain comes too hard, the remay softens the blow and reduces compaction.  It also helps hold in some moisture when the world is a little dry and helps with germination. The weeds love it too, so incorporating some kind of stale bedding is important if one takes this approach.

 

 

Looking ahead to Harvest
My goal is to be harvesting my fall storage carrots in September and October. Following this timeline, I have found July 7th is that latest that I can plant a varieties like Negovia F1 or Dolciva and get the size that I want.

I start planting around June 4th. I know that by the calendar that seems early, but it gives me the chance to recover from a bad stand. If a seeding takes two weeks to really express itself, then I have two chances to re-till and seed before I need to look to a shorter DTM variety, like Miami F1 and Resistafly F1. My experience is that the carrots will hold in the ground pretty well into the late fall, even at full size, and I would rather have them be ready a little early than be smaller than my customers want.

The real benefit of planting later is that I can focus on keeping up with the weeds in other places on the farm, and come to the carrots later. Planting them earlier often means that weeding gets a little crazy at times, and occasionally we are rushed and the carrots need a weeding 2.0.  At my scale, the benefit of having a good stand is worth a little extra weeding.

Properly prepping your carrot beds, giving them the best chance of emergence, and managing your time and planting schedule in a way that will encourage a good stand are all important in a successful fall carrot harvest.

Click here to view the all our varieties of main season carrots.
Another resource for fall crops: Brassicas Rule! A Fall Planting Guide

 

Posted in Articles by Farmer Paul Betz, Commercial Growing, Farmer Authors, Growing Tips, Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Heat Tolerant Greens: Varieties for the Hottest Summer Months

Jodi Lew-Smith is the Breeding Coordinator at High Mowing Organic Seeds.

As our season slowly evolves from spring into summer, those of us who grow greens all season long are thinking about how to change up successions to those that will put up with heat. This is a challenge every year, as consumer demand for fresh leafy greens remains strong while it becomes increasingly difficult to produce quality greens without the bitter leaves and tough texture that say “mid-summer.”

Some greens are best left out of the hottest succession, mainly the spinach and the other super cool-loving greens, but fortunately there are others to take their place. As a general rule for specialty greens, the types that make a bigger frame as full-size plants will do better in the heat, i.e. resist rapid bolting, even as baby greens.

This group of large-framed types includes the bok choys, the bigger-framed mustards like Green Wave and Golden Frill, the bigger-framed Asian types like Mizuna, Tat Soi, and Tokyo Bekana, and then a few that just happen to resist bolting, such as almost all of the arugulas. Of course baby kale and baby chard can also do well in heat (with enough water), as they won’t bolt without experiencing cold temperatures.

For lettuces, there are similar big differences in bolt resistance between varieties, though the differences do not have as much to do with frame size. Batavian (also called Summer Crisp or Crisphead) types are bred specifically for heat tolerance and will almost always hold better than other types. Their leaves tend to be a bit thicker and less refined than other types, but in the heat of summer their reliable bolt tolerance makes them our new best friend. And then, as with the greens, a few varieties stand out as having unusual heat tolerance for their class. Among these are Green Star green leaf, Coastal Star green romaine, New Red Fire red leaf, and Red Oak Leaf. All of these will generally hold longer as full size heads in the heat, meaning they can be left out when other varieties have to be harvested immediately or lost.

If any of these haven’t yet found a spot in your rotation, consider giving one or more a try this year!

Posted in Breeding / Research Program, Commercial Growing, Growing Tips, Uncategorized, Variety Highlights | 8 Comments

The Humble Beet: New Ways to Look at an Old Friend

Jodi Lew-Smith is the Breeding Coordinator at High Mowing Organic Seeds.

Many of us who grew up eating only canned beets have had the similar experience of trying a fresh beet and saying, “Wow, I never realized these could actually taste good.” Or, “Hey, these are sweet!”

The humble beet is used to being overlooked. But why scorn a vegetable that is not only beautiful, not only sweet, not only amazingly nutritious, but also incredibly easy to grow? Perhaps because it is so easy to grow – people end up with more than they can eat and decide to pickle them?

Beets for all Palates Touchstone Beet
In any case, I’d like to make a case for growing more and different beets and discovering new ways to use them. Not all beets are created equal of course. Beets contain differing amounts of a compound called geosmin that is almost solely responsible for the refrain that beets “taste like dirt.” The reason is that geosmin is similar to compounds made by soil microbes, thus the dirt taste, but not every beet contains the same amounts of these compounds. In general the darker red beets contain more geosmin than the milder yellow or orange beets, and even among the red beets there are variety-specific differences, where some have more dirt taste than others. Some people like this taste, and for them the darker red beets are probably a good choice. For those who really don’t like this taste, the yellow or orange beets can be thought of as “salad beets,” i.e. mild enough to eat raw.

 

Enjoying Your Beets
Regarding ways to use beets, every part of the plant is edible and you can choose different ways to harvest and store them. The tops, or beet greens, have a distinctive bitter flavor that many people like. As young leaves they can be eaten raw in salads, adding both an unusual flavor and texture to a salad mix. As older leaves they can be cooked either lightly or more heavily, often seasoned with some kind of smoked meat.

The roots themselves can likewise be harvested either young, as baby beets, or older, for long-term storage. Baby beets are best lightly steamed or fresh because they have a delicate sweet flavor you want to preserve. Older beets can be steamed, blanched or roasted and then eaten alone or incorporated into a frittata, quiche, or other type of casserole. Also, don’t forget you can always grate full-size beets into salads, just as you might a carrot.

Which Varieties arShiraz Beete Right for You?
The way you plan to use your beets should influence your variety choices. If you expect mainly to grow them to full size and store them as roots, you’ll want to choose varieties that don’t get woody at the core, that are sweet at full size, and that make a generally uniform root size. Some good suggestions for this type would be Rhonda F1, Detroit Dark Red, or Red Ace F1. If you expect to eat or sell beets at baby size, a variety that is quick to bulb out is a good choice, and Boro F1 is excellent for this slot.

Likewise, if you expect to eat or sell beet greens, a variety with strong and flavorful tops would be Shiraz, an open-pollinated variety developed for sweet roots and strong tops by combining several different heirlooms.
For a more unusual beet, Touchstone Gold is magnificent in color and very sweet and mild, while Chioggia has unusual striped roots and Cylindra has a long, narrow shape that’s easier to cut in rounds or strips.

And so, if you haven’t tried a beet lately due to excess childhood scarring, or you’re ready to try them a new way, beets are both incredibly forgiving and amazingly delicious. It’s not too late to plant some this year!

Posted in Breeding / Research Program, Growing Tips, Uncategorized, Variety Highlights | 2 Comments

Winter Harvest GIVEAWAY!

Looking for a way to extend your season and grow food year round? This month we’re giving away everything you need to plant your winter garden. One lucky winner will receive:

 

 

 

 

 

HOW TO ENTER It’s easy: just click “Log In” below if you have a Facebook account (if you don’t have Facebook, just click “Use Your Email” to create a Rafflecopter account). Then click any of the dropdown options (below) to enter for more chances to win!

Occasionally certain browsers don’t play nice with Rafflecopter – if you have any trouble entering the giveaway, please email webmaster@highmowingseeds.com

Contest starts Wednesday, June 15th, 2016 at 12pm and ends Thursday, June 29th, 2016 at 12am EST. Good luck!

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Posted in Contests, Uncategorized, Winter Growing | 152 Comments

Father’s Day GIVEAWAY!

We know Father’s Day is a little ways off yet, but we wanted to make sure Dad gets accessorized in time for the holiday! This month we’re giving one lucky Dad:

 

Enter for yourself or a Dad you love below!

HOW TO ENTER It’s easy: just click “Log In” below if you have a Facebook account (if you don’t have Facebook, just click “Use Your Email” to create a Rafflecopter account). Then click any of the dropdown options (below) to enter for more chances to win!

Occasionally certain browsers don’t play nice with Rafflecopter – if you have any trouble entering the giveaway, please email webmaster@highmowingseeds.com

Contest starts Friday, May 13th, 2016 at 10am and ends Thursday, May 26th, 2016 at 11pm EST. Good luck & Happy Father’s Day!

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Pest Management on the Small Farm


Katie & Edge with their son Waylon

Like all good medicine, our pest management is built on prevention. At Good Heart Farmstead, we don’t use any pesticide sprays, and instead focus our efforts on creating a balanced system, which includes building healthy soil to grow strong, hearty plants.

Here’s a round-up (organic, that is!) of our pest prevention techniques:

Decrease Pest Habitat

Mowed borders around crops. Many pests, including cucumber beetles (our worst pest at Good Heart), overwinter and find early food in the tall grasses of the pasture. Maintaining a mowed border along your vegetable fields can help keep pests out in the first place, and slow their jump into your crops.  At Good Heart, we seeded low-growing white clover in the border, which endures heavy foot and garden-cart traffic.


Row cover protects Mizuna, Arugula and Toyko Bekana from flea beetles at Good Heart Farmstead

Physical barriers like Remay or fine insect netting. Row cover is our best friend when it comes to protecting early spring greens from flea beetles. For the purposes of keeping pests out, it’s important to fully bury the edges the entire length of the bed, which we do by shoveling soil from the pathways onto the edges. While this may not be feasible on large farms, row-cover is a great resource for smaller farms and gardens.

When we find ourselves short on row cover, we use Surround, a type of kaolin clay that mixes with water to coat the leaves of cucurbits. Surround leaves a white film on the leaves of cucumbers, melons, squash, and pumpkins, and serves to both irritate and repel cucumber beetles.

Crop rotation. Rotation is especially important in the spring, when overwintering pests may be hanging out in last year’s crop residue. On our farm, this has been particularly important in the brassica family, and rotation coupled with using row covers make it possible to get clean, marketable harvests of early mustard greens, pac choi, arugula and Asian greens.

Increase Habitat for Beneficials


Borders of pollinator-attractant plants like chives also attract beneficial predators

Plant borders of pollinator plants. Many beneficial insects, including lady beetles and braconid wasps, are attracted to the same habitat as important pollinators. Providing beneficial insects with habitat that is always there will encourage their presence and help keep pests in check. Many herbs, such as dill, fennel, and parsley, also attract beneficial insects. The key is to have a wide variety of perennials and herbs in bloom throughout the season in order to provide constant shelter and food. In addition, plantings of native woody trees and shrubs provide excellent year-round habitat for beneficials, while discouraging pests (which feed almost entirely on soft-stemmed annuals).

Focus on growing healthy plants rather than fighting pests. We’ve all seen how stressed plants are the first to get hit by pests, while vigorous, healthy plants are able to withstand pest pressure. Though this could be an entire article in itself, here are a few quick tips on growing healthy plants:


Healthy seedlings from the GHF greenhouse grow vigorously and are more tolerant of pests

  • Have your soil tested and amend it accordingly so your crops receive all the nutrients they need.
  • Plant out your strongest seedlings; a weak start can give you more problems and a lighter harvest.
  • Attend to stressed crops quickly; determine if they need irrigation, a foliar feed, or top-dressing, and proceed accordingly.
  • Use cover crops to feed the soil, increase organic matter, smother weeds and provide habitat for beneficial insects. This will give you a more fertile field to plant in, and reduce nutrient loss while you’re between crops.
  • Select appropriate varieties for your region, and keep notes. We always grow a number of varieties per crop, trying out new ones each year to determine the most vigorous varieties for our farm. Bringing together the best varieties with a healthy environment is a sure way to get abundant harvests.
Posted in Ask The Expert, Commercial Growing, Farmer Authors, Growing Tips, Plant Pests, Variety Highlights | 3 Comments

Crop Talk: A Season of Lettuce Production at High Ledge Farm


Paul Betz checking on lettuces at High Ledge Farm

No matter where you grow, our high quality lettuce varieties mean a consistent supply all season long. I really like that we offer all the classic market standards, as well as a number of specialty varieties that are exciting visually or offer a unique eating experience. Together they make up an interesting, complete collection that works well on my farm, and can help you succeed on yours.

This is how my lettuce season works at High Ledge Farm:

 


New Red Fire

Red Tide is one of my favorites for spring, a fast grower that holds well in the field and has good resistance to bottom rot. It has a taller habit, so produce departments can remove some bottom leaves and still have a nice big head. I do 4-5 successions of it, stopping around mid-June when I switch to more heat-tolerant varieties. New Red Fire is another workhorse red suitable for all slots. It’s consistent, packs out well, has real weight to it (great for wholesale), and it holds well post-harvest—a great variety overall.

Waldmann’s is a great commercial green that does well in most slots. When it starts to get really hot I switch to Bergam’s Green, which has some Summer Crisp bred into it for exceptional heat-tolerance, though it looks like a regular green leaf to customers.

 


Mirlo

Optima is my favorite butterhead for spring and summer planting. It has a really big frame, and the thicker (though still very tender) leaves are more rugged post-harvest than other varieties. You can cut it, dunk it 3 or 4 times, pack it and it still looks nice at market, which is rare for a butterhead. Mirlo also does well in the spring and summer, with more of a blond-green color and thinner, more delicate leaves.

For romaines we offer some key commercial varieties like Green Towers, which is very reliable and forgiving, and gets really large so you can trim it for hearts. I also really like Arroyo, a refined, newer romaine great for hearts that offers the complete downy mildew resistance package growers need (especially out west). For minis, the Rhazes and Spretnak are some of my favorites. They have similar growth rates and good weight, and look really nice together.

 


Magenta

I plant the Summer Crisps Magenta & Nevada on my farm every cycle—they do well in the cold, in the heat, and have good bottom rot resistance – very forgiving. Nevada is one of my favorite varieties in the world; the eating quality is amazing, and it’ll easily hold 7-10 days post-harvest without any loss in quality. It also has a “tell” where the top starts to close in, then peel back when it’s about to bolt; you can harvest at this stage and there’s no bitterness to it. It’s great if you have a hard time with successions and having lettuce every week, since it can fill the gaps between successions thanks to its impressive holding ability and shelf life.

 

 


Yankee Hardy Lettuce Blend

If you want to take the guesswork out of salad mixes, try our Gourmet, Yankee Hardy or DMR Blend (the latter two are great if you have high DM pressure). You can also get all the baby lettuce and mustard components from us to make your own custom mixes—we list the DM race resistances in the catalog, so you can design a mix with the resistance you need.

When fall rolls around I want to avoid diminishing returns, so I have a secret: I wait until my late greenhouse tomatoes are done, then dig up head lettuces from the field and transplant them in the greenhouse. I grow on about 700 heads with no added heat, and have a tender, beautiful crop right in time to crush Thanksgiving markets. It is extra work, but since I keep on my schedule of planting every 10-14 days all season, I can just go out to the field and select the right-sized heads for transplanting (and it brings a valuable crop back into production). Magenta, AnsarRhazes & Spretnak all do really well with this at 6 inch spacing.


From L to R: Pomegranate Crunch, Ansar, Breen, Spretnak & Rhazes

Lettuce is a profitable crop for me and allows me to establish a clientele that I see every week, which in turn drives sales to other crops. High Mowing’s selection of proven market standards and cutting-edge new varieties is sure to catch customers’ attention early in the season and keep them coming back for more!

To learn more check out our complete lettuce selection, or learn how to make a lettuce plan.

Posted in Articles by Farmer Paul Betz, Ask The Expert, Commercial Growing, Greenhouses, Growing Tips, Variety Highlights | Leave a comment

Mother’s Day GIVEAWAY!

We know Mother’s Day is a little ways off yet, but we wanted to make sure Mom gets her goodies in time for the holiday! This month we’re giving one lucky Mom our favorite garden accessories:

  • a Large Garden Hod for harvesting, washing, transporting & storing homegrown produce and 
  • our favorite quick-drying Garden Gloves, both from Gardener’s Supply Co!

The sturdy, long-lasting garden hod was originally designed by Maine clam diggers to hold and rinse their catch, and they’re perfect for harvesting and rinsing off vegetables too. Made in New England, the garden hod is constructed from pine and maple with a hand-rubbed oil finish and food-grade, vinyl-covered mesh. And it’s great for storing potatoes and winter squash through the winter!

Moms will also love our favorite garden gloves–they’re stretchy and thin, so you can plant seeds, pull small weeds and do other tasks that require dexterity without taking them off. The nitrile-coated palms and fingers are puncture-proof and provide great protection for your hands, while also being lightweight enough to dry quickly. Plus, they’re machine washable so you can say goodbye to funky gloves for good. Enter for yourself or a Mom you love below!

HOW TO ENTER It’s easy: just click “Log In” below if you have a Facebook account (if you don’t have Facebook, just click “Use Your Email” to create a Rafflecopter account). Then click any of the dropdown options (below) to enter for more chances to win!

Occasionally certain browsers don’t play nice with Rafflecopter – if you have any trouble entering the giveaway, please email webmaster@highmowingseeds.com

Contest starts Thursday, April 14th, 2016 at 3pm and ends Wednesday, April 27th, 2016 at 11pm EST. Good luck & Happy Mother’s Day!

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Posted in Uncategorized | 151 Comments