Becoming Certified Organic

In September 2016 my farm, Good Heart Farmstead, became Certified Organic by Vermont Organic Farmers. We’d been growing for 3 years, but it wasn’t until our 4th season that we decided to make it official and become certified.

What deterred us in our first 3 years:

When we began our farm in 2013, our vision was for a 40-share, full-diet CSA. At such a small size, we didn’t feel it necessary to go through the certification process, as we planned all of our sales to be direct, giving us the opportunity to converse with each customer and build a level of trust and transparency about our growing practices.

A renegade streak runs through us, and in early conversations about certification, we often came back to the line “Monsanto doesn’t have to label anything. Why should we pay 
money and increase paperwork when we’re already growing organically?
” We ended these conversations looping back to the ideal of direct communication creating long-lasting relationships with customers.

Cost and paperwork. I know, I just mentioned these two, but as beginning farmers with a bootstrap budget and already feeling stretched thin on all fronts, we didn’t know how we could add another budget line or more office time.

What changed our minds:
Over the past 4 years, our farm has changed a lot from our original vision. We stepped away from livestock farming, focused on vegetable growing, and increased our CSA to 80 shares, with a future goal of 100-120. Clear communication with customers has always been important to us, and as we reached for more CSA members, we began to see how the certification could help us by simplifying our language while increasing trust in our growing systems.

As a non-certified farm, we were not allowed to use the word “organic” in our marketing, unless citing specific products such as certified-organic potting soil. But without that clear, concise word, describing our growing practices often required a paragraph or two, and not everyone has time for that. The certification allows us to be transparent and concise and still communicate how we farm.

Verification matters. Certified farms are required to do their homework, and it must pass a third-party’s test. Farmers must prove that what they put into the soil and onto crops is organically approved, and third-party verification ensures that farmers are meeting every standard. We’ve found this makes us better farmers by learning where and how to source amendments and fertilizers that not only meet organic standards, but our standards, too.

Cost-sharing decreases the expense. Organic farms are able to apply for a cost-sharing program through the government that reimburses up to 75% of the certification cost. While this doesn’t completely erase a budget line, it does make it easier to manage.

How the certification helps us:

We’re better farmers. Part of the verification process is keeping records: field records, application records, seeding and planting records, harvest records. If you did it, you keep a record. This makes us better farmers by making us pay closer attention to inputs and yields. We’ve updated our tools to track efficiencies, productivity, and profitability on our farm.

Customer satisfaction. In our first three years, we did create some amazing long-lasting relationships with customers, and nothing can quite replace the conversations and direct communication that creates those relationships. Since we’ve become certified, though, we’ve heard from a number of people how it matters to them. Just as it gives us a greater ability to communicate, the organic certification also gives customers a better understanding of our farm from the get-go.

Growing the movement. After a while, the argument that Monsanto doesn’t have to label anything lost its shine. As NOFA-VT members, we were already part of the organic community in Vermont, and we feel excited to deepen that relationship and join the organic movement in a more meaningful way. Because every farm matters. Food matters, and how we produce our food matters. Each new certified farm sends a louder message to the food industry that the roots of organic are growing stronger, and we know that can only yield good.

Posted in Commercial Growing | 6 Comments

Our Garlic Fanatic GIVEAWAY!

Did you know that over 2 million acres of farmland worldwide is dedicated to garlic production and that this has more than doubled since the ’70′s? Learn more and get into the garlic season swing by entering our giveaway. 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!

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Contest starts Friday, October 14th, 2016 at 2pm and ends Friday, October 28th, 2016 at 12am EST. Good luck!

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Cover Cropping for Nutrient Management

Cover crops are the quiet heroes of vegetable farming. Although it may utterly exhaust you to think about planting one more crop at this point in the season—especially one that doesn’t provide you with immediate revenue—you shouldn’t even allow yourself to think about not planting a cover crop. Through dedicated cover cropping, the overall health of your farm system improves through reduced erosion, increased pollinators, soil microbial activity, and improved soil organic matter levels. Furthermore, cover crops are a critical cornerstone of nutrient management planning because they cycle nutrients through the soil, prevent nutrient leaching, and leguminous cover crops convert atmospheric nitrogen into plant available nitrogen.

In some parts of the country, there is an effort underway to improve water quality by reducing nutrient run off from farms, particularly phosphorus. These initiatives, while applauded by most farmers, challenge a fundamental aspect of organic farming, namely our reliance on phosphorus containing amendments such as manure, compost, and compost-based fertilizers. Organic farms have long depended on these soil amendments, not just for nutrients, but to help build organic matter as well. Furthermore, compost and manure are often produced on-farm or locally, providing the farmer with a local, renewable, and affordable supply of soil nutrients.

Unfortunately, there are few affordable and sustainable sources soil amendments that adequately provide nitrogen (N) for organic growers without also adding phosphorus. Some options include peanut meals (apx $8/ lb N), soybean meal (apx $5/ lb N, but is usually from genetically modified soy), feather meal (apx $8/ per pound of N), and Chilean nitrate, (apx $5/ lb N). Compare that with $4/ lb of N typically paid for composted chicken manure (this and all prices vary based on source, volume, and trucking). Farmers who have access to their own or a neighbor’s manure pay far less.

There is little to compel growers to move away from the tried and true cornerstone of organic farming – compost based soil fertility – and convince them to try less familiar and sometimes more costly amendments like seed meals, which is where our star, the cover crop, comes to center stage. Cover crops can provide nitrogen without additional phosphorus and mop up left over nutrients at the end of a growing season while “banking” them for next year. Successful cover cropping provides an affordable source of nutrients, along with many other soil health benefits.

Here are a few tried and true cover crop combinations for effective nutrient management. Grass legume combinations are great for weed suppression and for a more sustained
release of nitrogen once the cover crop is incorporated.

Fall or Spring seeded Field Peas/Oats Mix: This combination fits well into most vegetable farm cropping systems. In the northeast, seed before the end of August (6-8 weeks before last frost) or as soon as the soil is workable in the spring. This crop will winter kill, leaving an easy field to prepare for early spring crops. For spring plantings, incorporate when the peas begin to flower. Be sure to inoculate pea seed when planting. This cover crop can provide between anywhere 50-100 lb nitrogen per acre.


Fall seeded Rye/Vetch Mix: This is a tried and true favorite of vegetable farmers. Best seeded before September 15 in the northeast, or 3-4 weeks before first frost. Most of the nitrogen fixation will happen in the spring, so be sure to seed in a field that won’t be planted until mid to late May. This cover crop can provide 60-150 lb nitrogen per acre.


Inter-planted Annual Rye Grass: This is a great cover crop to seed between beds of longer season crops, especially those in black plastic. It must be mowed or weed whacked regularly, but will mop up any excess nutrients in the soil. Also great for erosion and moisture control.


Clovers (yellow, medium red, and crimson): Clovers are great as a rotation crop for vegetable farms, but most need to be left in the soil for 2 years for maximum nitrogen benefit. Be sure to seed when conditions are right for good germination—clover can be quickly outcompeted by aggressive weeds. Clovers have the potential to fix a lot of nitrogen (be sure to inoculate your seeds!) and some (like yellow clover) are great at breaking up compacted soils and scavenging nutrients from lower in the soil profile.

For all cover crop, click here for seeding rates. For a more comprehensive information on cover crops and their role in nutrient management, here are a few suggested readings:

Managing Cover Crops Profitably (free download)
Northeast Cover Crop Handbook
SARE Learning Center
Cornell Cover crop website

Posted in Commercial Growing, Farmer Authors, Growing Tips, Soil Health, Uncategorized | 12 Comments

Our Beyond Canning GIVEAWAY!

Feeling uninspired by your old canning recipes and techniques? This month we’re giving away a canning upgrade! One lucky winner will receive:


  • Beyond Canning by Autumn Giles, filled with creative recipes and techniques for preserving, pickling and fermenting food. Featured recipes include Baby Bok Choy Kimchi, Pickled-Beet Carpaccio with Honey & Thyme, Tomato-Vanilla Jam and more!
  • Six vintage style 1 liter Weck Canning Jars


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

Contest starts Wednesday, August 17th, 2016 at 4pm and ends Friday, September 2nd, 2016 at 12am EST. Good luck!

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Posted in Contests, Uncategorized, Winter Growing | 228 Comments

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.


  • 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



  • 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



  • 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



  • 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



  • 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



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 | 22 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

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 | 130 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.

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 | 14 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 | 14 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 | 8 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

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 | 155 Comments