Time to Plant Fall Onions for Overwintering!

It’s a little-known fact that many seasoned gardeners don’t know: you can grow onions (and shallots) in the winter. These super-hardy plants can survive incredibly cold temperatures with a little protection, and provide quality bulbs even after they bolt in the spring. As with most fall-planted crops, success is mostly a matter of timing.


Walla Wallas can be harvested green or just after bolting

Planting Fall Onions

Prepare raised beds by incorporating compost, raking to create a smooth seedbed, then direct seeding onions about 1” apart in rows 6” apart in August or September. Once the onions reach scallion-size, harvest them individually with a knife until the remaining onions are spaced 3-4” apart.

For Northern growers (those in Zone 6 and colder), mulching the plants with straw or leaves once they become established will help the plants survive the winter. In late fall, plants should be covered with low tunnels made of PVC or bent conduit and a layer of 6mil plastic sheeting. A layer of floating row cover placed over the plants in fall will improve the microclimate even more, resulting in an air temperature inside the tunnels averaging about 20 degrees warmer than outside, according to this study from the University of New Hampshire.

Growers in warmer regions such as the South and Pacific Northwest will often need to provide some type of protection for overwintered onions, but usually low tunnels, row cover or mulch is sufficient.


Small bulbs can be harvested in late spring

The Spring Harvest

In spring you’ll find that the plants haven’t grown much over the winter, but with any luck most have survived. They will be about the size of large scallions in April, producing small bulbs by May, and generally are full grown (often very large in mild climates) by June. Many of the survivors will be sending up a scape to produce seeds, since onions are biennials—harvest the onions before or as soon as you see a scape appear, before it becomes large and starts to affect bulb quality. Just remember that these overwintered alliums won’t store very long – they should be used up quickly, just like a scallion or fresh market onion.


Bandit Leeks are a great selection for overwintering

Variety Selection

Northern growers have fewer varieties to choose from that will successfully survive and form spring onions. They will be best served by intermediate or day neutral onions such as Valencia or Talon F1, Bandit Leeks and bunching onions like Red Baron and Evergreen Hardy White. Growers in warmer regions can grow these as well, and are more likely to have success with large sweet onions traditionally grown in winter, like Ailsa Craig and Walla Walla.

Posted in Beginner Gardeners' Guide, Greenhouses, Variety Highlights, Winter Growing | 2 Comments

How to Preserve Fresh Herbs, 5 Ways

Fresh and dried herbs are usually expensive to buy, especially in winter when both supply and quality tend to be low. Fortunately herbs are easy to grow in quantity, and are equally easy to preserve for aromatic additions to your meals all year round.

 


Herb Drying Rack from Gardeners.com

Drying is the simplest method of preserving a wide variety of fresh herbs. Nearly any herb can be harvested, tied into bunches, and hung upside down in a dim, dry place. To preserve the flavorful essence of these herbs, it’s important to choose a place that doesn’t get much sunlight or humidity, since light and moisture will rapidly degrade their quality. Hanging herbs to dry next to a window or near the stove would not be ideal, whereas an attic or pantry would work well.

Once the herbs are thoroughly dry (usually in a week or two), you can take them down and crumble them into spice jars. I like to dry the staples I use a lot of, especially basil, rosemary, sage, oregano and marjoram. To dry herbs I make a miniature clothesline with string, then use clothespins to attach the herb bundles so they can be easily taken down, but you can also try this cute herb drying rack from Gardeners.com.

 

 

Leafy herbs like basil are excellent for freezing.

Freezing is another wonderfully simple method. You can either make pesto (as described here), finely chop fresh herbs, or place them in a food processor. Next just scoop the chopped herbs or pesto into ice cube trays and cover with water or oil before putting in the freezer.

The frozen “herb cubes” can then be dumped into labeled freezer bags and used as needed in a variety of dishes. I especially like them for hard-to-find fresh herbs like Sorrel and Thai or Lemon basil. You can also finely chop herbs like chives and simply pop them into a freezer bag for later use.

 

 


Spicy greek oregano is ideal for infused salts

Infused salt is a fun alternative for preserving herbs, makes a great gift and adds complex flavor to meals. You can create an amazing array of combinations – from basics like oregano or sage to gourmet options like chili lime, lemon rosemary or orange thyme—the possibilities are endless, and the steps are easy:

1)      Start with a good coarse salt such as kosher, fleur de sel or Maldon. The ratio should be about 1 tsp flavoring to ¼ cup salt.

2)      Pulse salt quickly in a food processor or combine in a bowl with finely chopped dried herbs, chilis, edible flowers and/or dehydrated citrus peel, then spread mixture onto a baking sheet and allow to dry for a few days at room temperature (or use the oven set at 250ºF for about 2 hours).

3)      Decant salt mixture into glass jars and allow flavors to infuse for at least 24 hours before using. Use herb salt within 1 year.

 


Woody herbs like thyme work well in infused oils.

Infused oil is very easy to make and delicious on everything from salad to crusty bread. You can use a wide variety of herbs (ones with woody stems work especially well) such as thyme, rosemary, sage, dried chilis, and ground or toasted spices. Just choose bottles that make a good seal, wash and very thoroughly dry all your flavorings and containers, then fill containers about 1/3 full with flavorings, cover with good quality olive oil, and seal.

The trick here is to make that sure that everything that goes into the oil is completely dry, since bacteria can’t grow in oil but grow easily in water and very easily if fresh garlic is involved. (Keep any garlic infusions refrigerated and use them up quickly). Let your oil infuse for 1-2 weeks in a cool, dark place, then strain and re-bottle. Use within one month and discard if you see any signs of spoilage.

 


Purple basil turns infused vinegar a lovely pink color.

Infused vinegar can really dress up a salad, makes a very pretty gift, and is a great way to use up herbs fresh from the garden. Basil, tarragon, lemon peel, garlic, chilis and many more can all find a home in an infused vinegar concoction. Just remember that whatever you infuse with will color the vinegar, and that sterilized jars must be used when decanting infused vinegars. The basic method (which I learned from Margaret Roach – click here to learn more), goes like this:

1)      Warm (don’t boil) plain white vinegar in a pot.

2)      While vinegar is heating, rinse your jars and lids and sterilize. (Lids can be done in a hot water bath, while jars can be done on a baking sheet in the oven set to 250ºF.)

3)      Stuff 1 cup of fresh herbs (stems are fine) and/or spices into hot jars, then fill with the warm vinegar. Let sit for several days to a week, then strain and decant into sterilized jars.

Posted in Beginner Gardeners' Guide, Health and Wellness, Recipes, Variety Highlights | 1 Comment

Green Machines: 5 Super-Hardy Greens for Winter Meals

With just a little protection from the elements, you can keep harvesting fresh greens well into fall and winter. The trick is to choose frost-hardy crops that continue growing during the transition to colder weather and lower light levels, and to plant them early enough that they’re nearly mature by the time the day length drops below 10 hours. Here are our top 5 picks for fall & winter greens, along with timing tips to help you get the most out of your greenhouse or coldframe.

 


Claytonia

Claytonia, also known as Miner’s Lettuce, is gaining popularity as one of the most cold-tolerant salad greens and is hardy to about 0⁰F. It is easy to grow, surviving moderate frosts and multiple harvests with ease. The heart-shaped leaves have fresh, wild flavor and crunchy, succulent texture that is especially delicious with dried figs and grated parmesan. Each stem ends in beautiful, tiny white edible flowers. Succession plant every two weeks in late summer and fall – direct sow about 1/2″ apart, 1/4″ deep, in rows 12″ apart, thinning to 4-6″ apart.

 

Vit Mache

Mâche, also called corn salad, is a very hardy, low growing plant that produces tight rosettes of thick glossy leaves hardy to 5⁰F. Though it takes up to two weeks to germinate, it is quite easy to grow as it was originally selected from a weed found growing in grain fields in Europe. It has a wonderful mild, nutty flavor that is excellent with citrus, pears or apples. Direct sow once temperatures have dropped below 68⁰F, (usually in mid to late August in the North) seeds 1” apart in rows 6-12” apart.

 


Grazia Arugula

Arugula – Those familiar with the standard arugula available in the grocery stores may be surprised to learn that there are other types as well, actually part of a completely different species that is spicier and much more cold-tolerant. Unlike the strap-shaped Eruca sativas, the Diplotaxis arugulas (such as Grazia and Sylvetta Wild) are more firey, with a shorter stature and deeply lobed leaves. Direct sow wild arugulas every 2-3 weeks until 1 month before the first frost date in your area for a continuous supply through the cool months, seeds ½” apart, 1/8” deep in rows 18” apart.

If you’re not a fan of the spicy flavor of the Diplotaxis types, you may find you prefer beet greens, spinach or kale instead. Vates kale is a great broad, low-growing curly variety perfect for cold frames, offering the most impressive cold-tolerance of any kale variety and easily surviving the entire winter with minimal protection at temperatures as low as -15⁰F. Direct sow for baby kale in late summer, or start transplants for full size plants.

 


Giant Winter Spinach

Spinach is the classic winter green, growing thicker and sweeter with every freeze, such that by March the leaves will be enormous and almost sugary. The heavily savoyed types, such as Giant Winter and Winter Bloomsdale, are the hardiest, and can survive in very cold climates (around 0⁰F) with only a layer of straw to cover them. The key for a successful crop is to get the plants sized up before nights dip below freezing—mid August to mid September is generally the best time to plant (by mid-August in the far North, or at least 6 weeks before your first frost date). Direct sow seeds 2” apart, ¼” deep in rows 12-18” apart. Cover with burlap or cardboard to shade and cool the soil to 60⁰F, removing the cover once the seeds have germinated.

 


Bull’s Blood Beet Greens

Beet Greens are surprisingly hardy, surviving with the protection of a greenhouse or coldframe and row cover even in very cold climates, to about 10⁰F. Bull’s Blood is Eliot Coleman’s preferred leaf for overwintered salad mixes in unheated greenhouses, thanks to its hardiness and deep magenta color even in low light conditions. Direct seed every two weeks until 6 weeks before the first frost date, seeds 1/2” apart, ½” deep in rows 12-18” apart.

Posted in Ask The Expert, Beginner Gardeners' Guide, Greenhouses, Growing Tips, Variety Highlights, Winter Growing | 9 Comments

August GIVEAWAY! Preserve the Harvest Canning Kit

This month we’re giving one lucky winner a brand-new set of canning supplies! Will this be the year you put up the Vermont obsession, dilly beans, or foray into a world of pickled beets?

Whatever your fancy, we’re giving away the tools to make it!

The kit includes:

  • Two canning funnels
  • A canning rack
  • A lid sterilizing rack
  • A jar lifter
  • A magnetic lid lifter
  • Cheese cloth, and
  • Putting Food By for recipes to get you started!

 

HOW TO ENTER
It’s easy! Just click “Log In” below if you have a Facebook account, or if you don’t just click “Use Your Email” to create a Rafflecopter account. Then follow the instructions to enter for more chances to win!

Contest starts Thursday, August 13th and ends Wednesday, August 19th at 11pm EST. Good luck, have fun and happy canning!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Posted in Health and Wellness, Recipes | 285 Comments

5 Easy Ways to Preserve the Harvest

Preserving summer’s bounty for cool-season meals doesn’t have to mean standing over a hot stove or a huge investment in canning jars. Fortunately for those of us with little time to spare, there are lots of quick, easy ways to bring the fresh flavors of summer indoors for the winter. And the very best part? By taking the time to put up some veggies this summer, you’ll find cooking meals this winter is easier than ever.

Peppers (both sweet & hot) can be easily preserved by freezing. Just remove the stems and/or seeds, chop them into bite-sized or smaller pieces, spread them onto a baking sheet in a single layer, and place in the freezer until they are dry to the touch. Then use a spatula to scoop them into labeled freezer bags. (This way they will stay loose rather than turning into a large frozen mass.) These peppers taste unbelievably fresh when thrown into pasta sauce or soup in the last few minutes of cooking. TIP: Place small freezer bags of peppers into a large freezer bag. The peppers will stay frozen longer in case of a power outage.

 

Tomatoes are another great candidate for easy freezing. Cherry tomatoes can be blanched by dropping them into a pot of boiling water, than quickly removing and placing in ice water. Allow them to dry, then pack in labeled freezer bags, and use in cooked dishes as you would fresh tomatoes.

Alternatively, you can make a delicious “instant sauce” inspired by Margaret Roach’s “Tomato Junk”: Simply quarter large tomatoes (or halve smaller ones) and spread onto baking sheets with chopped onions, garlic, olive oil, fresh herbs (really whatever you have on hand) and salt. You can then “true roast” them at 400 degrees for about 45 minutes, or “slow roast” at 275 degrees for about 3 hours–just until the tomatoes are slightly crispy and caramelized around the edges. Allow to cool, then use a spatula to pack into labeled freezer bags. You can even make a pizza sauce batch with extra marjoram and oregano, and puree the whole roasted mess before freezing. TIP: Choose freezer bag sizes that contain about the amount of tomato sauce you’d use in a meal. This way you can simply dump the contents into a pan and heat for a delicious ready-made tomato sauce or minestrone base. For easier cleanup, line baking sheets with parchment paper when roasting tomatoes.

 

Eggplant can be roasted, pureed in baba ganoush, then frozen, but (in my opinion), is best preserved as ready-to-fry cutlets for eggplant parmigiana. This way there’s no cooking involved during the hot months, and between the eggplant cutlets and your tomato junk, you’ll have many meals already prepped and ready to heat in winter. To make cutlets, cut up eggplants into ¼-1/2” slices and lightly salt each piece. Dip each slice (making sure to coat both sides) first into a bowl of flour, then into a bowl of beaten egg, and finally dredge in a bowl of breadcrumbs. Lay the slices on a baking sheet in a single layer and freeze when the sheet is full. Once the cutlets are frozen, pack in labeled freezer bags. The cutlets can then be removed as needed and baked or fried for eggplant parmigiana.

 

Sweet Corn is wonderfully easy to freeze. Just shuck the corn (leaving the stem on), then use a knife to carefully cut the kernels off the cob and onto a baking sheet. Once the sheet is full, spread the kernels out evenly and freeze until dry to the touch, stirring a few times, then pack in labeled freezer bags. You can throw the frozen corn into a huge variety of dishes, but it’s especially good in soup, chili and bean dishes. TIP: Freeze sweet corn as soon as possible after harvesting, since the sugars in most sweet corn varieties quickly convert to starches, and the quality declines rapidly.

 

Pesto is easy, delicious and fantastically versatile in the kitchen. You’ll find it usually makes the most sense to use what’s on hand rather than following a hard-and-fast recipe. My favorite combinations are Cilantro-Garlic Scape, Arugula-Garlic Scape, and of course the classic Basil-Garlic. I’ll remove the stems from whichever herbs or greens I’m using, fill the Cuisinart with them, then add about 2/3 cup of scapes or 4-6 cloves of garlic. Next I put the top on the Cuisinart and turn it on, adding just enough oil while it’s running to get the mixture moving. If it seems like a lot of oil, you can substitute a little water. Then I’ll add about 1/3 cup parmesan cheese (optional), a tablespoon of lemon juice (to taste) and salt (to taste). Right at the end I’ll throw in a small handful of walnuts or pine nuts and continue to blend until nearly smooth.

Once the mixture is smooth, taste and adjust the ratio as needed—if I like it, then it’s time to scoop the pesto into ice cube trays and freeze until solid, then dump the frozen cubes into labeled freezer bags. These pesto cubes are terrific in the winter—a healthy shot of green you can throw into just about anything. TIP: You don’t even have to make actual pesto – just puree any herbs you have in quantity (especially leafy herbs like basils, parsley, cilantro, sorrel, chives, etc) then scoop into ice cube trays, add just enough water or oil to cover, and freeze until solid. Then pack into freezer bags, and voila! Fresh herb flavor at your fingertips, all year round.

Posted in Ask The Expert, Beginner Gardeners' Guide, Health and Wellness, Recipes | 9 Comments

How to Harvest & Cure Garlic (Plus Save Some for Seed!)

Most of us eat garlic on a regular basis, but few realize how easy it is to grow this crucial ingredient of world cuisine. While growing garlic requires patience and some planning, the results are well worth the effort—and the crop can perpetuate itself for many years to come (we’ll explain later). For those that had the foresight to plant this culinary essential last fall, the long wait is over! It’s time to dig and cure your garlic, if you haven’t already.


Garlic being harvested in a High Mowing production field

When to Harvest

The ideal time to harvest garlic is when the lower 1/3 to ½ of the leaves have begun to “dry down”, or turn brown and papery. This signals that the plant has completed its life cycle and that the cloves have grown to full size. Leaving garlic in the ground after this point makes it more susceptible to disease, which in turn can shorten its shelf life. Not to worry, though—if your plants are all brown, just harvest them as soon as possible and discard any heads that are moldy or soft. If you planted different varieties, you’ll notice that they mature at different times. Just check them regularly and harvest each variety once half or more of its leaves are dried down.

Harvest on a dry day by loosening the soil around the garlic plants with a garden fork, then gently pulling up the garlic by the neck. Go slowly, being careful not to pierce the heads with the fork, since punctured or bruised heads will not store well. You will need to loosen the soil more and be very gentle when harvesting softneck varieties, as the neck is much weaker and more likely to break.


Chesnok Red garlic curing in a High Mowing pole barn

Curing

Proper curing of garlic is essential to long storage because, much like onions, this is when their skins become dry and papery, forming a protective barrier against moisture and mold. Curing should take place in a cool, airy place protected from sun and rain – an open barn, garage, shed, shaded greenhouse or under a covered porch all work well. It’s important to keep the garlic out of direct sunlight because hot sun can actually cook it at this stage.

Next, you can either lay the garlic out on pallets or wire mesh, or hang it up to dry. If hanging your garlic, make bundles of 10-12 plants, make a loop in one end of a piece of twine, and slip the other end of the twine through it to form a noose that holds the garlic bundle securely even as the stems dry down and shrink. Don’t worry about the dirt left on the heads, as it will dry completely and be easy to brush off later.


Cured garlic in the pole barn

Softneck garlic can be braided for curing and storage. Just remove the scraggly lower leaves, then carefully French braid the tops so that the heads are held securely in the braid. The key is to braid before the stems are completely dry, while they’re still flexible, and to do it on a soft surface (like your lap) to avoid bruising the heads.

Once your garlic is hanging or laid out to dry, leave it in place for about two weeks. The skins should be fully dry and slightly wrinkled by the end, and the roots dry and wiry. For hardnecks, trim the roots close to the head and lop the stems off about 1” above the head, brushing off any remaining dirt as you go. For braided softnecks, just trim the roots.


Trimmed garlic ready for storage

 

Storage

Garlic must either be stored at very low temperatures right around freezing, or at room temperature (between 60-70 degrees) with low humidity. Do not keep garlic in the refrigerator as this will cause it to start actively growing again. Garlic should also be stored so that it has plenty of air circulating around it—hanging mesh bags, baskets or braids are all good methods for keeping garlic for long storage. Just remember that hardnecks won’t store as long as softnecks – about 3-6 months, versus 9-12 for softnecks – so eat these first.

 


Monique planting garlic in the High Mowing Trials Field

Re-Planting the Harvest for Next Year’s Crop

One of the best things about garlic is that it has built-in seed saving potential, since each clove planted turns into a head of garlic. Once your garlic is cured, you can select large, healthy heads for planting in the fall (usually in October, before the ground freezes) for next year’s crop. Keep in mind that larger heads tend to have fewer cloves, so you’ll need more of them to plant next year’s crop (which will in turn produce larger heads with fewer cloves). If you want to stretch your seed garlic further, choose heads that have more individual cloves. Break up the heads just before planting for best results, and plant individual cloves 2” deep with the pointy end up, spacing them about 6-8” apart in rows 6” apart. Garlic prefers loose, deep, fertile soil and can benefit from a thick straw mulch in cold climates.

 

Excited about growing garlic? Check out our 4 new varieties available for Fall 2015!

Posted in Ask The Expert, Beginner Gardeners' Guide, Growing Tips, Variety Highlights | 11 Comments

July GIVEAWAY – A Taste of Food Independence!

This month we’re celebrating food independence–and giving away a great set of things to help you get there. We want YOU to extend the harvest using:

 

For much of the country, now is a great time to start brassicas like kale, kohlrabi, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower for a high-quality fall harvest.

You can also succession plant salad greens, radishes, scallions, carrots, beets and more every few weeks for a continuous supply throughout the fall & winter. When the cooler days of fall roll around, you’ll be glad you did!

HOW TO ENTER
It’s easy! Just click “Log In” below if you have a Facebook account, or if you don’t just click “Use Your Email” to create a Rafflecopter account. Then follow the instructions to enter for more chances to win!

Contest starts Thursday, July 16th and ends Wednesday, July 22nd at 11pm EST. Good luck, have fun and happy season-extending!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Posted in About High Mowing Organic Seeds, Beginner Gardeners' Guide, Winter Growing | 160 Comments

Keep it Covered: A Guide to Fall Cover Crops


Yellow Sweet Clover growing in the Trials field

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 fall 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.

Before the mature crop sets seed, it should be cut with a scythe or mower, then left as 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.

Crimson CloverRe-seeding annual hardy to Zone 5

Benefits: fixes nitrogen, builds soil, prevents erosion, attracts beneficials, tolerates shade, winter-killed residue is easy to manage in spring

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

When to sow: 6-8 weeks before the average first frost, by end of July in cold climates

Seeding rate and depth: 15 to 18 lbs/acre drilled, 22 to 30 lbs/acre broadcast, ¼-1/2” deep

How to harvest: Allow to winter-kill in cold climates and till in residue in spring, or mow and till in before seed set in spring

Limitations: does not tolerate heat well; growers in the South should plant in late summer/fall for overwintering to avoid heat-induced seed set

 

Field Peas - Annual

Benefits: fixes nitrogen, builds soil, decomposes quickly, edible tops

Uses: soil builder, edible tendrils, forage crop

When to sow: 6-8 weeks before first frost

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

How to harvest: Winter-kills at 15ºF or till in 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

 

Hairy Vetch - Perennial

Benefits: fixes nitrogen, suppresses weeds, tolerates poor soil, adds 3-4,000 lbs of organic matter/acre

Uses: soil builder, ground cover, nitrogen source, early weed suppression

When to sow: 30-45 days before first fall frost for use as a winter annual; by end of July if mowing in fall for winter-killed mulch

Seeding rate and depth: Drill seed at 15 to 20 lbs/acre, broadcast 25 to 30 lbs/acre or more if later in the fall or in challenging conditions, ¼-1/2” deep

How to harvest: Re-grows vigorously in spring; roller crimp or mow and till under when 50-75% of flowers are in bloom

Limitations: Requires consistently moist, well-drained soil for establishment – not suitable for planting in the driest parts of the Western U.S. Crimson Clover may be more practical in the Deep South.

 

Improved White Clover - Perennial

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

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

When to sow: Preferably before a rain and at least 40 days before first fall frost

Seeding rate and depth: ¼ lbs/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, prefers humid, cool, shady conditions for establishment

TIP: Inoculant must be used if growing in Zones 8 and warmer but is not necessary in cold climates

 

Medium Red CloverPerennial hardy to Zone 4

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: Preferably before a rain and at least 40 days before first fall frost, when soil is above 41ºF

Seeding rate and depth: Broadcast, drilled 1/2 lbs/1,000 sq ft or 10-15 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: Slow to establish; not exceptionally heat-tolerant – growers in the South should plant in late summer/fall for overwintering

 

Oats – Annual

Benefits: fast grower, prevents erosion, thick mulching cover suppresses weeds, scavenges nutrients, produces 8,000 lbs/acre dry matter from spring stands

Uses: soil builder, nurse crop for legumes such as vetch or peas, green manure, grain, hay

When to sow: At least 40-60 days before first fall frost, when soil is at least 38ºF. Proper timing is critical for good spring cover.

Seeding rate and depth: Broadcast or drill 4 lbs/1,000 sq ft or 100-140 lbs/acre 1” deep. If broadcasting for thick winter-killed mulch, use highest rate (3-4 bushels per acre).

How to harvest: Winter-kills in Zones 7 and colder. In warmer climates, graze, mow or till in when seedheads are just forming, or cut grain when seeds harden

Limitations: Performs poorly in hot, dry weather; requires timely planting for best results

 

Annual Ryegrass - Annual

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

Uses: soil builder, nurse crop for legumes such as peas and vetch, emergency forage

When to sow: At least 40 days before first fall frost, when soil is at least 40ºF. Sow in fall in warm climates.

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

How to harvest: Allow to winter-kill, or disk, till or plow under as soon as flowers form

Limitations: Occasionally some plants overwinter and become weedy if allowed to set seed

 

Winter Rye - Perennial

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

Uses: soil builder, nurse crop for legumes such as peas and vetch, emergency forage

When to sow: From late summer to fall in Zones 3-7; in late fall or winter in Zones 8 and warmer (20-40 days before first fall frost, when temperatures are at least 38ºF).

Seeding rate and depth: Drill 60 to 120 lbs/acre (1 to 2 bushels) into a prepared seedbed or broadcast 90 to 160 lbs/acre (1.5 to 3 bushels) and disk lightly, cultipack or roll to ensure good soil contact. Do not plant more than 2” deep

How to harvest: Different methods must be used to kill rye depending on the growth stage:

  • Disk and plow under as soon as soil can be worked in the spring to avoid N tie-up
  • Mow or chop, then disk or till in when plants are between 12 and 20” tall
  • Mow or roller-crimp when plants have just begun flowering and are at least 24” tall.

Limitations: Overwinters and grows vigorously in spring; may be difficult to kill with tillage.

 

Tillage RadishAnnual

Benefits: strong weed suppression, rapid growth, nutrient scavenging, lightening soil, reducing compaction

Uses: breaking up hardpan, lightening soil, suppressing weeds and pests

When to sow: Sow at least 4-10 weeks before the first fall frost

Seeding rate and depth: Drill 8-12 lbs/acre or broadcast 12-15 lbs/acre

How to harvest: Winter-kills in cold climates; in warmer regions mow, flail, or till in before the crop finishes flowering in spring

Limitations: Does not tolerate waterlogged soil

 

Yellow Sweet CloverBiennial

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: Sow at least 6-8 weeks before first fall frost, when soil is at least 42ºF, by late August in the Northern Plains and through late summer in mild-winter areas.

Seeding rate and depth: Broadcast ½ lbs/1,000 sq ft or 6-10 lbs/acre, drill 4-8 lbs/acre, ½” deep

How to harvest: Be prepared for explosive 2nd year growth. Kill in spring by mowing or tilling when stalks are 6-10” tall for maximum N contribution, or at 12-24” tall for more organic matter contribution. Can be killed by mowing after flowering; however plants may be 8’ tall at this point with woody stems. Do not allow to set seed as seeds may remain viable without germinating for 20 years.

Limitations: Does not tolerate waterlogged soil

 

Field Peas/Oats MixAnnual

Benefits: versatile, fixes nitrogen, builds soil, suppresses weeds, winter-killed mulch decomposes quickly, edible pea tendrils

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

When to sow: At least 6-8 weeks before first fall frost, when soil is at least 38ºF

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

How to harvest: Winter-kills at 15⁰F; in warm climates till under during flowering

Limitations: Peas do not tolerate very hot dry weather

 

Field Peas/Oats/Vetch Mix

Benefits: versatile, fixes nitrogen, suppresses weeds, spring residue 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: At least 6 weeks before first fall frost; when soil is at least 38ºF

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

How to harvest: Mow or roller crimp and till under once spring flowering has begun

 

Winter Rye/Hairy Vetch MixPerennial

Benefits: fixes nitrogen, suppresses weeds, adds organic matter

Uses: soil builder, weed suppression, reduces erosion, thick winter cover

When to sow: 30-45 days before first fall frost

Seeding rate and depth: Drill 60 lbs/acre (1 bushel) into a prepared seedbed or broadcast 90 lbs/acre (1.5 bushels) and disk lightly, cultipack or roll to ensure good soil contact. Do not plant more than 2” deep

How to harvest: Mow or roller crimp and till under just after spring flowering

 

Posted in Beginner Gardeners' Guide, Commercial Growing, Growing Tips, Variety Highlights, Winter Growing | 3 Comments

Lettuce Plan: Developing a Lettuce Program for your Region


Regal Oak Lettuce

Here at High Mowing we’re proud to offer an organic lettuce for almost every location, season and use. Whether it’s the middle of winter in Maine, a rainy spring in Oregon, a blistering Arizona summer, or even a trip to the International Space Station, we’ve got the lettuce to keep you in greens all year.

In this article we’ll recommend different varieties for each unique region and seasonal slot, and explain what factors you should consider when developing your own custom lettuce program. One of the things we love most about lettuce is that it grows so rapidly—since it generally reaches maturity in 25-50 days, you can start your lettuce program at almost any time of year—just make sure you have a market or use for hefty heads and bountiful baby lettuce.

Northern U.S.

Growing lettuce in the cool north is pretty easy all year round, which means that a wider variety of lettuces can be grown in all seasonal slots.


Roxy Lettuce

Spring – Look out for Bottom Rot and Downy Mildew in wet weather. Choose bolt-resistant varieties that can withstand prolonged wet conditions for the stressful transition from spring to summer.

Try: Magenta, Dark Lollo Rossa, Red Tide, Refugio, New Red Fire, Galactic, Waldmann’s, Oscarde, Bolsachica, Gaviota, Sulu, Regal Oak, Tango, Encino, Emerald Oak, Spock, Rhazes, Breen, Pomegranate Crunch, Outredgeous, Cimarron, Defender, Spretnak, Ansar, Aerostar, Winter Density, Coastal Star, Jericho, Green Towers, Kweik, Roxy, Balfour

Summer – Choose heat and bolt-resistant varieties such as Batavian or Summer Crisp types.

Try: Lovelock, Magenta, Red Tide, Vulcan, Dark Lollo Rossa, Refugio, New Red Fire, Red Sails, Galactic, Black Seeded Simpson, Waldmann’s, Two Star, Green Star, Bergam’s Green, Nevada, Bolsachica, Gaviota, Sulu, Regal Oak, Tango, Encino, Emerald Oak, Spock, Rhazes, Breen, Pomegranate Crunch, Outredgeous, Ansar, Aerostar, Freckles, Parris Island Cos, Jericho, Arroyo, Mirlo, Optima, Pirat

Fall – Choose varieties that hold their color well as light levels decrease and offer Downy Mildew resistance.

Try: Lettony, Red Salad Bowl, Red Oak Leaf, Oscarde, Blade, Sulu, Bolsachica, Gaviota, Sulu, Tango, Emerald Oak, Spock, Rhazes, Breen, Pomegranate Crunch, Rouge d’Hiver, Defender, Spretnak, Ansar, Aerostar, Australe, Kweik


Winter Density Lettuce

Winter – Start winter lettuce plants between the end of August and end of September for transplanting into the greenhouse by mid-November at the latest for an early April harvest. Choose varieties that hold their color in low light, offer Downy Mildew resistance, and have exceptional frost tolerance.

Try: Red Tide, Two Star, Lettony, Blade, Red Salad Bowl, Red Oak Leaf, Sulu, Rhazes, Pomegranate Crunch, Spretnak, Winter Density. Please note that Breen, Emerald Oak & Rouge d’Hiver did not produce heads reliably in our overwintering trials here in Northern VT.

Southern U.S.

Growing lettuce in the south is very practical in fall, winter and spring, but may be more challenging in the summer. Inter-planting lettuce between taller crops that provide some shade can help prevent lettuce from bolting early and becoming bitter in the intense summer heat. Choose Batavian & Summer Crisp types for spring and summer plantings.

Spring – Choose heat and bolt-tolerant varieties with resistance to Downy Mildew and Bottom Rot, especially in areas with heavy soils.

Try: Lovelock, Magenta, Red Tide, New Red Fire, Black Seeded Simpson, Waldmann’s, Two Star, Green Star, Oscarde, Regal Oak, Encino, Rhazes, Spretnak, Parris Island Cos, Coastal Star, Green Towers, Arroyo, Australe, Mirlo, Optima, Roxy, Balfour


Nevada Lettuce

Summer – Choose extremely heat and bolt-tolerant varieties with resistance to Tip Burn. Please note that in the hottest parts of the south, growing lettuce in summer may not be possible without shade.

Try: Red Tide, Vulcan, New Red Fire, Red Sails, Freckles, Two Star, Green Star, Bergam’s Green, Nevada, Coastal Star, Jericho, Pirat

Fall – Choose heat and bolt-tolerant varieties with resistance to Bottom Rot, Tip Burn, and Downy Mildew.

Try: Lovelock, Magenta, New Red Fire, Black Seeded Simpson, Lettony, Green Star, Bergam’s Green, Nevada, Red Salad Bowl, Regal Oak, Encino, Red Oak Leaf, Sulu, Spretnak, Parris Island Cos, Optima, Pirat

Winter – Choose cold-tolerant varieties with strong resistance to Downy Mildew and Bottom Rot, especially in areas with heavy soils.

Try: Lettony, Blade, Red Salad Bowl, Red Oak Leaf, Bolsachica, Gaviota, Sulu, Spock, Rhazes, Breen, Pomegranate Crunch, Rouge d’Hiver, Winter Density, Kweik

Pacific Northwest

The cool, temperate nature of the Pacific Northwest is idea for growing lettuce nearly all year-round. However the cool climate combined with regular rains that occur from winter through early summer mean that Downy Mildew can be a persistent challenge. Since new Downy Mildew strains originate on the west coast, it’s important to plant varieties with resistance to all the most recent strains (1-31). The normally dry fall is the best time to plant varieties that do not offer this resistance.


Pomegranate Crunch Lettuce

Spring – Plant in unheated greenhouses or low tunnels where plants will be protected from rain, or choose varieties that perform well in wet conditions outdoors. Select varieties with all 31 races of DM resistance.

Try: Lovelock, Refugio, Bolsachica, Gaviota, Encino, Breen, Pomegranate Crunch, Spretnak, Ansar, Australe, Mirlo, Roxy, Balfour

Summer – Select bolt-tolerant varieties with strong resistance to Downy Mildew.

Try: Magenta, Bolsachica, Gaviota, Encino, Spock, Breen, Pomegranate Crunch, Defender, Ansar, Aerostar, Arroyo, Pirat

Fall – Select varieties with bolt-resistance and drought-tolerance.

Try: Magenta, Vulcan, New Red Fire, Red Sails, Black Seeded Simpson, Two Star, Green Star, Bergam’s Green, Nevada, Red Salad Bowl, Oscarde, Red Oak Leaf, Bolsachica, Sulu, Regal Oak, Spock, Rhazes, Defender, Spretnak, Outredgeous, Australe, Kweik, Pirat, Balfour

Winter – Plant in unheated greenhouses or low tunnels where plants will be protected from rain, and select varieties with strong Downy Mildew resistance.

Try: Lettony, Blade, Bolsachica, Gaviota, Breen, Pomegranate Crunch, Defender, Spretnak, Ansar, Aerostar, Australe

Space


Outredgeous Lettuce

Did you think we were kidding? We weren’t. We are thrilled that of all the lettuces on the planet, NASA has chosen Outredgeous, an intensely red romaine created by Frank Morton of Wild Garden Seeds, to represent Earth lettuces in the International Space Station. The variety has unique characteristics they like, like growing well in a zero-gravity environment, and contributing a hefty dose of vitamins to the astronauts’ diet. Thanks to special wicking soil pouches that feed the plants while preventing water from floating away, the ISS residents can finally eat a proper meal in orbit.

Posted in About High Mowing Organic Seeds, Beginner Gardeners' Guide, Commercial Growing, Greenhouses, Growing Tips, Plant Diseases, Trials, Variety Highlights, Winter Growing | 2 Comments

Preserving Value-Added Products for Winter Meals and CSAs


Katie Spring & Edge Fuentes hoeing at Good Heart Farmstead

When the main Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) season comes to an end in October, we don’t close up the farm for the season here at Good Heart Farmstead. Instead, we keep on going all the way through December with an early Winter CSA. With the season-extending powers of hoop houses and low-tunnels, many farmers in Vermont and New England offer a Winter CSA these days, stocking hardy fresh greens alongside roots and storage veggies. But what often sets Winter CSAs apart from the summer season is the addition of value-added products—the spoils of the summer transformed and preserved for the cold months ahead.

Inspired by Green Mountain Girls Farm in Northfield, VT, which offers a whole “pantry” of value-added products, we processed and preserved food for our first Winter CSA in 2013. That year, we only had 20 members, and the processing was at a comfortable scale, as if we were preserving for a large family to get through the winter. This year we are at it again, but this time with 40 members. In doubling the number of shares we realized we needed a dedicated processing day each week to get it all done, and ideally a crew of three, two for processing, and one for cleaning up as we went.

Considerations When Adding Value


Sauerkraut is a great way to use up excess cabbage

While putting value-added products into a Winter CSA is a great way to, well, add value to the share each week, there are some important considerations, as well: the cost of raw products, the cost of containers, and time. The majority of our raw product comes right out of our fields, but for things like pesto there’s also salt, oil, lemon juice, and the like. We’ve found it’s most cost-effective to buy in bulk, which also ensures that we have plenty of each ingredient when we begin.

The same goes for containers—at 20 members, we bought ball jars at the retail price, and it didn’t break the bank; with 40 members, we realized we were about to spend $400 on jars alone. We solved this by searching out a wholesale distributor of food-grade containers, and bought these in bulk as well.

As for time, with so much to do on a farm in late summer and early fall, it’s important to put processing into the schedule. If you don’t, you risk losing crops to frost, or having to do three days’ worth of processing in one day (I speak from experience, and have to admit that staying up all night is exhausting!)

With these considerations in mind, putting value-added products into your Winter CSA is well worth it. You can make use of the “ugly” (but still delicious!) vegetables that would otherwise get passed over, and members positively light up at the sight of vibrant green pesto when it starts snowing. Though some folks make their own sauerkraut, we find our members are delighted to have it handed to them ready-to-eat.

This year we expanded our Winter CSA to include pesto, sauerkraut, magic soup starter and pumpkin puree.


Jars can get expensive when packaging value-added products, like this Garlic Scape Pesto, for CSAs.

PESTO

We make all sorts of pesto: basil, parsley, cilantro, arugula, kale—almost any green can be added. Because of possible allergens, we don’t put cheese or nuts in our pesto. Our main batch this year is a parsley-cilantro pesto with kale, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, and salt. The result is a complex flavor great for pizza, pasta and soups. We fill 8-ounce containers and put them in the freezer, where they can be stored all winter.

SAUERKRAUT

We keep our kraut simple: just cabbage and salt (this year we used Capture F1 Cabbage). We follow the ratio from Sandor Katz’s Wild Fermentation, of 5 lbs cabbage to 3 Tbs salt, and ferment it in a 15-gallon crock, then transfer it into clean glass pint jars for our members.


Mixing Magic Soup Starter


Packaged Magic Soup Starter

MAGIC SOUP STARTER

When my husband Edge farmed in Alaska, this was the “magic stuff” that started many meals throughout the winter months. When you don’t have veggie stock on hand, this magic little preserve will make up for it fast. The soup starter is a salt preserve and can be made with any combination of vegetables. Simply grate or finely chop 5 lbs of vegetables and combine it with 1 lb of salt. The vegetables I’ve used include carrots, beets, turnips, onions, garlic, Brussels sprouts, kale, collards and herbs such as sage, thyme, parsley, and oregano. Thoroughly mix the salt and vegetables, and store in a glass container. The abundant salt absorbs the flavor of the veggies and preserves them, so the soup starter does not need to be refrigerated. To use, combine one heaping tablespoon of soup starter per quart of water.


Preparing pumpkin puree

PUMPKIN PUREE

Everyone loves pumpkin pie, but not everyone wants to cook the pumpkin and make the puree. Our Long Pie pumpkins grew very large this year, with our average Long Pie making 2 ¼ lbs of puree (the typical pie recipe calls for 15 oz). We find that folks are slightly baffled at what to do with a large pie pumpkin, but are very excited to get a 16 oz container of the puree and be able to bake with it immediately. To make puree, quarter your pumpkin, place it on a baking sheet, and roast at 400° for about 45 minutes. Let cool enough to handle, then scoop out the flesh, mash in a bowl or process in a food processor, and transfer to a container. Refrigerate for a week, or freeze for up to three months. This is also a great way to save winter squash.


Finished pumpkin puree ready for freezing

Whether you run a Winter CSA, are a member of one, or simply want to make your harvests last beyond the growing season, making value-added products is a great way to stretch your vegetables into the cold months. As we creep closer to winter, there’s still time to reinvent cabbage into sauerkraut and transform the carrots, beets, onions and garlic that won’t store well into soup starter. Have fun, and may your taste buds be ever thankful for your ingenuity!

Posted in Ask The Expert, Commercial Growing, Farmer Authors, Recipes, Variety Highlights | 8 Comments