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


Brassica Seedlings in an HMOS Greenhouse

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

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

Starting Seeds

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


Seedlings hardening off in an HMOS coldframe

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

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

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


Kale growing in the HMOS Trials field

Frost Tolerance

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

Making a Succession Planting Plan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy seed starting!

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

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


Artichoke Seedlings

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

Germination & Vernalization

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


Taylor & Sarah in the HMOS Artichoke Trials

Bed Prep

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

Growing Tips

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Hot Potatoes – for Every Purpose


Comparing Potatoes in High Mowing Trials

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


Paul Betz with Potatoes

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

 

Early Season


Purple Viking Potato

Purple Viking

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

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

Disease Resistance: Scab

 

Mid Season


Yukon Gem

Yukon Gem

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

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


Red Chieftain

Red Chieftain

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

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

Disease Resistance: Scab

 

Late Season


Elba

Elba

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

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

Disease Resistance: Scab

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

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

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

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

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

The Seed Starting Kit includes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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


Jen carrying trays in an HMOS greenhouse

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

Last Frost Date and Planting Dates

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

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

Location, Location, Location

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

Light


Margaret Roach’s adjustable light stand

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

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

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

Temperature

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

Soil


HMOS Seed Starting Kit

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

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

Containers


Trays in the HMOS greenhouse

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

Let’s Get Sowing!


Taylor filling flats in the greenhouse

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

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

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

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

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


Stephen seeding trays in the HMOS greenhouse

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

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

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

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

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

A Future Heirloom: Introducing Abundant Bloomsdale!

WE believe that when farmers and public seed breeders get together, amazing things happen. We think it’s essential that organic farmers be involved with breeding projects because they are the end users – they know what it takes to make a high quality variety, and their input helps shape these varieties so that they thrive in organic conditions. Being part of a breeding project also helps put control over (and knowledge of) seed production back in the hands of farmers, where it belongs. Not only can farmers help breed varieties for particular regions or growing systems, but once they do, they have the knowledge to continue selecting for conditions on their farms. This is one of the primary reasons we support the development of improved, open-pollinated varieties.


Abundant Bloomsdale spinach

Improved OP’s can in many cases offer the same quality and uniformity as hybrids, but at a fraction of the cost, and they have another important benefit: growers can save the seed and adapt the variety over time to thrive in their unique locations. This continued selection increases seed biodiversity and strengthens our food system as a whole. So, without further ado, we are pleased to introduce a new variety that meets all of these criteria – Abundant Bloomsdale spinach.

The Organic Seed Alliance (OSA) is a non-profit based in Port Townsend, Washington that works to steward and advance organic seed resources. Their Heirlooms of Tomorrow program involves working with farmers to “breed new varieties and restore older varieties to the needs of organic farming and gardening.” The goal is to use older varieties to breed new ones that perform well in organic conditions and are broadly adaptable – meaning that they can continue to be selected to meet the needs of future farmers and generations.


Dr. John Navazio harvesting Abundant Bloomsdale

Abundant Bloomsdale was created through Heirlooms of Tomorrow and developed through a participatory breeding team including Dr. John Navazio, the OSA and several farms in the Port Townsend, WA area. The goal of the project? To create a deep green OP spinach with savoyed leaves, high nutritional content and strong bolt-resistance. The breeders were also looking for a highly upright habit that would make the variety easy to harvest and versatile at all stages of growth, from babyleaf to bunching. Finally, the breeders hoped to create a variety specifically for the organic market, to help farmers and seed companies by providing an alternative to hybrid spinach varieties bred for conventional systems.

The variety was developed from a cross between a classic OP spinach variety, ‘Winter Bloomsdale’ and a variety with multiple disease resistances, ‘Evergreen’, bred by Dr. Teddy Morelock and released to the public in 2005. ‘Winter Bloomsdale’ provided the cold-hardy, deeply savoyed and sweet-tasting traits, while ‘Evergreen’ supplied resistance to damping off, white rust and downy mildew. The varieties first came together in a “strain cross”, where crosses were made between at least 15 different plants of each variety to retain as much genetic diversity from both parents as possible. The offspring were then grown out and allowed to pollinate freely, and this went on for five years. In this time, the only selection that took place was to remove diseased or weak plants.


Farmer-Breeder Marko Colby and Dr. John Navazio

In 2010 OSA teamed up with Midori Farm in Port Townsend to select the plants with the ideal characteristics: dark green, heavily-savoyed leaves, sweet flavor, and good disease resistance. Midori Farm is operated by Marko Colby and Hanako Myers, who grow about 5 acres of mixed organic vegetables and seed crops. According to Colby, “We got involved in the ‘Abundant Bloomsdale’ project because we had grown this variety from some seed a friend had given us and we really loved it. So we asked Micaela [Colley], the [executive] director of OSA, if they had any seed we could grow out for use on the farm.”

It wasn’t long before OSA asked them to help finish the variety.

“Hanako and I were already interested in seed growing and growing some of our own seed for use on the farm, so it seemed like a really interesting project to be involved in. Plus, we are getting to select this already great variety of spinach for its ability to thrive on our farm. It will be better suited to our system than any other spinach out there,” Colby explained.

After 5 years of interbreeding, 130 offspring of the original two varieties were selected as representatives and were allowed to pollinate freely at Midori Farm. Of these, seeds were saved from 67 female plants – what would become the “progeny families”, each getting its own row in which to grow in 2012. And finally, 5 of these “families” were chosen to be grown out in 2013 for final selections. The variety was released to the public in 2013—8 years after the project began—and just in time for the 10th anniversary of the Organic Seed Alliance!


Abundant Bloomsdale

Abundant Bloomsdale was developed with the support of OSA and Seed Matters and was released through the Open Source Seed Initiative, ensuring the variety will always be available for seed saving and adaptation. It is prized among eastern and western growers for its large, luxuriant leaves, sweet flavor, high nutritional content, upright stature, versatility, disease resistance, vigor and superior cold-hardiness. Abundant Bloomsdale was named for the Abundant Life Seed Foundation, a Port Townsend seed library whose offices burned the year the project began, but gave rise to the founding of OSA as a result!

Excited about organic breeding? Check out the Organic Farming Research Foundation’s Introduction to Organic Plant Breeding to learn more!

Posted in About High Mowing Organic Seeds, Breeding / Research Program, Commercial Growing, Farm Ethics, Philosophy, Variety Highlights | 6 Comments

Our Top Varieties for California Growers

Each year High Mowing attends the EcoFarm conference in Pacific Grove, California, and each year we are fascinated to hear about the diversity of climates that California growers work with. This year one farmer mentioned that his farm in Sebastopol had a mountain range behind it and consequently received two hours less daylight than surrounding farms, and had only about 120 frost-free days available (even less than here in Vermont!) A gardener told us about the ideal conditions in the San Francisco Bay area, neither too hot nor too cold, and with essentially no winter. Yet others described the difficulty of farming in Southern California, where water is scarce and daytime temperatures could reach 120 degrees, then drop to 50 at night!

So in an effort to better serve our California growers, we have compiled some recommendations of our varieties that do particularly well there. We have included varieties that thrive in each unique climatic region, and each variety has abbreviation(s) next to it that indicate the areas in which it is most likely to succeed. Without further ado, here are our picks for Northern California (NC), Central Coast (CC) and Southern California (SC):

 

Belstar F1 Broccoli – Suitable for CC, SC (planted in fall/winter)

Our most heat-tolerant broccoli for spring, summer and fall crops. Compact plants have round domes, small to medium beads and short flowering stems with a thick main stalk. Domes span 6-8” at maturity averaging 1.5 lbs. Ideal for short-stemmed crown cuts or florets. Heat-tolerant. (Brassica oleracea var. italica)

Days to maturity: 65 days
Disease Resistance: Fusarium Yellows, Fusarium Wilt, Downy Mildew

 

Tipoff F1 Romanesco Broccoli – Suitable for NC, CC

Beautiful early Romanesco with nutty flavor delicious raw or steamed. Excellent flavor—though worth growing just for looks alone! Earliness, yield and uniformity all tip the scales in favor of this variety. Thrives if given adequate moisture and can take summer temperatures a little better than Veronica. Spring or fall crop • Gourmet specialty • Uniform 6-7” heads. (Brassica oleracea var. botrytis)

Days to maturity: 72 days

 

Capture F1 Cabbage – Suitable for NC, CC

Disease-resistant fresh market cabbage for organic growers! Full-sized green cabbage for fresh market or processing; short term storage ability. Excellent disease resistance—grows best in susceptible climates where Black Rot and thrips are present. Uniform heads sit high on the stalk with good wrapper leaves. Uniform 4-6 lb heads. (Brassica oleracea)

Days to maturity: 85 days
Disease Resistance: Fusarium Yellows, Fusarium Wilt, Black Rot, Thrips

 

Murdoc F1 Cabbage - Suitable for NC, CC

Unique hefty heads perfect for fresh eating, kraut, or processing. Caraflex’s big brother, with the same tender, crisp juicy leaves and unusual pointed cone-shape, but supersized! Grows up to 10” in diameter at the base. A distinctly silky texture makes this an excellent variety for sauerkraut. Excellent processing type • Stores well • 7-8 lb heads (Brassica oleracea)

Days to maturity: 80 days

 

Yellowstone Carrot - Suitable for NC, CC

Long, sunflower-yellow carrots with strong, feathery tops. Extremely productive and adaptable to many growing conditions. Mix with other specialty varieties for a colorful display. Pick early for a tender, mild-flavored treat. Productive • Mild-flavored 9” roots. (Daucus carota)

Days to maturity: 70 days

 

Interceptor F1 Carrot – Suitable for SC

Very long, slender and coreless; a true cut-and-peel variety. Very sweet, tender dark orange roots stay slender and free of splitting even at low planting densities. Shorter tops with some resistance to leaf blights. Good resistance to storage diseases such as Pythium Crater Rot and Alternaria Black Rot. Suitable for mechanical harvest • 12” Imperator-type. (Daucus carota)

Days to maturity: 120-125 days

 

Ping Tung Long Eggplant – Suitable for NC, CC, SC

Easy-to-grow Asian eggplants are long and slender with tender magenta skin. This variety can yield up to 20 fruits per plant and is vigorous and stress-tolerant. Slim fruits average 1-2” wide; plants should be staked for straight fruit. Very tender skin does not need to be peeled. Productive • 12-18” fruit. (Solanum melongena)

Days to maturity: 70 days

 

Yukina Savoy Mustard Green – Suitable for NC, CC, SC

Heat-tolerant alternative to Tat Soi. Forest green, spoon-shaped leaves are cupped and heavily savoyed. Upright architecture for easy harvesting. Slow to bolt. Mild mustard flavor.  (B. rapa)

Days to maturity: 21 days baby, 45 full size

 

NEW! Olympic Red Kale – Suitable for NC, CC, SC (planted in fall)

Attractive frosty blue-green leaves overlaid with purple and contrasting magenta stems. Among the best in our trials with superior cold hardiness. Not as frilly as Redbor and lighter in color. Variable color and leaf type; up to 3.5% green off-types which can be removed in the transplant stage. Good Powdery Mildew tolerance. Tall, open habit. (B. oleracea)

Days to maturity: 55 days

 

Vivid Choi Pac Choy – Suitable for NC, CC, SC

Versatile mild Asian green with unique colorful stems. Serrated leaves and stems that range from pale to vivid pink and purple. Great for salad mixes, braising or stir-fry. Both cold-hardy and slow to bolt, allowing harvest long into summer. Developed by independent farmer/breeder Frank Morton of Wild Garden Seeds. (B. rapa)

Days to maturity: 21 days baby, 45 full size

 

NEW! Arroyo Lettuce – Suitable for NC, CC, SC

Tall, upright plants with distinctive vase-shaped heads. Heavily savoyed, crunchy leaves are slow to cup inwards. Best-suited to spring harvest in warm regions and summer harvest in cool regions. Good fresh market variety with tight v-shape excellent for hearts. Strong disease resistance package. Ideal for hearts • Disease resistant. (Lactuca sativa)

Days to maturity: 65 days
Disease Resistance: Downy Mildew (1-27, 29), Lettuce Mosaic Virus, Lettuce Necrotic Stunt Virus, MTO-30

 

Pirat Butterhead Lettuce – Suitable for NC, CC, SC (in fall/winter plantings)

Tender heads with notably superior flavor and texture, blanched hearts and red-tinged outer leaves. Bested every other variety for taste and texture in our lettuce trials and also rates as one of the best butterheads in combined resistance to Downy Mildew, White Mold, Tip Burn and Bacterial Head Rot. Heat tolerant. (Lactuca sativa)

Days to maturity: 55 days
Disease Resistance: Downy Mildew, Tip Burn, Lettuce Drop, Bottom Rot

 

Cabernet F1 Onion – Suitable for NC, CC

The earliest storage onion in our trials with lovely, uniform burgundy bulbs. Medium-sized bulbs with very nice internal color and attractive red rings. Widely adapted to Eastern and Western states for both size and earliness; in our 2013 Northeast onion trials it finished first by at least 10 days. Late intermediate day • Stores 4-6 months. (Allium cepa)

Days to maturity: 105 days

 

NEW! Valencia Onion - Suitable for NC, CC, SC

Versatile day-neutral sweet Spanish onion for all regions. Mild to sweet flavor. Excellent for bunching when young or for fresh market sales of large bulbs with warm golden-brown skin. Stores moderately well. Day neutral • 4-6” bulbs. (Allium cepa)

Days to maturity: 120 days

 

Gabriella F1 Onion – Suitable for SC

Fresh market globe onion for Southern growers. Bulbs have golden brown skin, attractive shape and are large and uniform. High yields of very mild to sweet onions. A mid-season variety suited to Southern growing regions. Resists bolting. Good general intermediate resistances against leaf diseases. Not suited to long storage. Short day • Grano-type. (Allium cepa)

Days to maturity: 100 days

 

Cascadia Snap Pea - Suitable for NC, CC

A must-have variety with heavy yields of juicy, thick walled pods. Bucketloads of plump pods with tiny, distinctively delicious peas on 3’ tall vines. Multiple disease resistances allow for spring and late season plantings. Spring or fall crop • 3” pods. (Pisum sativum)

Days to maturity: 60 days
Disease Resistance: Fusarium Wilt, Powdery Mildew, Pea Enation Mosiac Virus

 

Sprinter F1 Bell Pepper – Suitable for NC, CC

Speed and endurance; an early pepper that goes the distance with high yields over a long harvest window. Compact plants with big blocky, 4-lobed fruit larger than King of the North. Recommended for greenhouse culture but performs well outside, especially as green; sets fruit well under row cover. Resists blossom end rot and russetting. Field or greenhouse • Good leaf cover • 3.5” fruits. (Capsicum annuum)

Days to maturity: 62 days green, 82 red
Disease Resistance: Tobacco Mosiac Virus (races 0-3)

 

Milena F1 Bell Pepper – Suitable for CC, SC

Early orange bell with thick walls and uniformly 3-4 lobed fruit. Vigorous open habit with good yield and solid set, even under hot conditions. Plants are upright and sturdy. Works well in the greenhouse, unheated tunnels or open field. Strong resistance to virus. Heat-tolerant • 1/2 lb, 3×4” fruits. (Capsicum annuum)

Days to maturity: 65 days green, 83 orange
Disease Resistance: Potato Virus Y, Tobacco Mosiac Virus (races 0-3), Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus

 

Shishito Pepper – Suitable for NC, CC, SC

Small, mild Japanese pepper for roasting, pan-frying, and grilling. Pepper lore has it that the occasional fruit will display heat. Typically harvested and used green, but eventually turns orange with sweeter flavor. Thin walls blister and char easily when roasted or grilled, taking on rich flavor – delicious sprinkled with salt. Prolific! Spreading habit • 2-4” mild fruit. (Capsicum annuum)

Days to maturity: 60 days green, 75 red

 

NEW! Shelby F1 Spinach – Suitable for NC, CC, SC (for fall plantings)

Large oval medium green leaves with strong Downy Mildew resistance, ideal for transition seasons. High quality, uniformly sized leaves are reliable, offering great babyleaf consistency when growers need it most. Tolerant of wide temperature swings. Stood out with very good emergence in our spring 2014 trials. From our partners at Vitalis Organic Seeds. Spring/fall crop • Strong emergence. (Spinacia oleracea)

Days to maturity: 40 days
Disease Resistance: Downy Mildew (races 1-13)

 

Copia Beefsteak Tomato – Suitable for NC, CC, SC

Unique large gold fruits with a blend of orange/red and green/red striping. Sweet, juicy flesh is swirled with color throughout. Eye-catching variety for farmers’ markets. Stabilized by Jeff Dawson, this Green Zebra and Marvel Stripe cross is named for COPIA, the American Center of Food, Wine and the Arts in Napa, CA. Indeterminate • 12-16 oz.. (Lycopersicon esculentum)

Days to maturity: 85 days

 

Black Trifele Tomato – Suitable for NC, CC, SC

Striking, unique pear-shaped tomato with narrow green shoulders and purple-black color. A farmers’ market and garden favorite with smooth, meaty, velvety texture. Gourmet flavor is often described as dense, smoky, chocolatey. You may, for a moment, forget that you are merely tasting a tomato. Prolific, potato leaf plants. Indeterminate • Gourmet variety • Prolific • 4-6 oz.. (Lycopersicon esculentum)

Days to maturity: 80 days

 

NEW! Sunrise Bumblebee Tomato - Suitable for NC, CC, SC

All the colors of the sunrise in a sweet and tangy tomato! Lovely gold fruit marbled with pink stripes on the inside and out. Irresistible with Purple and Pink Bumblebees in mixed pints; exceptionally versatile in the kitchen. Bred by Fred Hempel in Sunol, CA. Indeterminate • Resists cracking • 1.5” fruit. (Lycopersicon esculentum)

Days to maturity: 70 days

 

Desert F1 Zucchini - Suitable for CC, SC

Gorgeous fruits with strong disease resistance and exceptional fruit set in hot weather. Dark green fruit with slight speckles, cylindrical and very attractive. Tall plants have a broad, open architecture which makes for easy picking. Impressive resistance to PM in our trials. Sister variety to Dunja. Drought-tolerant • Harvest at 7-8”. (Cucurbita pepo)

Days to maturity: 50 days
Disease Resistance: Powdery Mildew, Cucumber Mosiac Virux, Zucchini Yellow Mosiac Virus, Watermelon Mosiac Virus, Papaya Ringspot Virus

Posted in About High Mowing Organic Seeds, Beginner Gardeners' Guide, Commercial Growing, Growing Tips, Variety Highlights | 4 Comments

Top 5 Tomatoes for Containers

Whether you’re growing on a rooftop, porch, patio or fire escape, it’s essential to choose the right tomato varieties when growing in containers. The ideal varieties to choose are either determinate or semi-determinate, meaning that they have a more concentrated fruit set and compact habit (unlike the indeterminate varieties, which will easily grow vines 10 feet long). It’s also best to look for varieties that start producing early – so you can get the most out of your containers – and look for those described as productive, reliable and disease-resistant.

Make sure your containers are big enough – 3-5 gallons is the minimum – and that they have holes in the bottom to ensure good drainage. We like 5-gallon buckets, which give the plants plenty of space and have helpful handles. Also keep in mind that semi-determinate (and sometimes even determinate) varieties will probably need a cage, stake, or other method of providing support once the plants are about 24” tall and starting to produce fruit. The best time to install a trellising system is as soon as possible after planting, which avoids potential broken branches later. With regular watering and monthly fertilizing, you can grow a bumper crop of tomatoes just about anywhere that gets at least 6 hours of sun.

1. Glacier Tomatoes are a favorite in the North and beyond for their exceptionally early maturity and great tomato flavor. The 2-3” saladette-sized fruits consistently win our early-season taste tests. The potato-leaved plants start setting fruit at 24″ and are semi-determinate, meaning that they will produce an early, heavy flush of flowers and fruit, but will then continue to produce until the end of the season (unlike standard determinate varieties, which produce all of their fruit at once). Also ideal for smaller gardens and raised beds. 55 days

 

 

2. Moskvich is beloved for its impressively early yields of deep red, slightly flattened 4-6 oz fruits with rich, luscious flavor. This Russian heirloom tolerates cool conditions and produces high quality, crack-resistant fruits that rival hybrids. Also performs well in greenhouses. Excellent for fresh eating, sauce or canning. A semi-determinate variety that will produce an early, heavy crop of fruit and continue producing all season. 60 days

 

 

 

3. Gold Nugget produces beautiful bright yellow cherry tomatoes early and abundantly on compact plants. The one inch fruits are juicy, mild and sweet – excellent if you prefer a low-acid tomato – with marvelously thin yet crack-resistant skin. This determinate variety was developed at Oregon State University. An excellent choice for hanging baskets, upside-down planters and more! 60 days

 

 

4. Sunkist F1 produces perfect large orange slicing tomatoes. The slightly flattened 8-10 oz fruits are firm and unblemished – and just as sweet as red tomatoes! Superior crack-resistance; performs well in the greenhouse. A unique variety bred by Dr. Brent Loy of the University of New Hampshire, produced on the High Mowing seed farm and available exclusively from High Mowing. A semi-determinate variety that will produce an early, heavy crop of fruit and continue producing all season. Resistant to Fusarium Wilt and Verticillium Wilt. 78 days

 

5. Indigo Rose offers the best of both worlds – an exotic edible fruit that grows on a beautiful ornamental plant. Clusters of 6-8 firm 2 oz fruits ripen to jet black with red undersides and aromatic flavor. The sturdy plants are vigorous and disease-resistant with a compact habit and purple-tinged foliage that is absolutely stunning in ornamental plantings. Indigo tomatoes are rich in the antioxidant anthocyanin. A semi-determinate variety bred by Dr. Jim Myers in the high-flavonoid breeding program at Oregon State University. 75-80 days

Posted in About High Mowing Organic Seeds, Beginner Gardeners' Guide, Growing Tips, Variety Highlights | 3 Comments

Enter to Win your Dream Garden from High Mowing Seeds

Design Your Dream Garden, Enter to Win a $75 Gift Certificate!

This contest has closed. Thank you to everyone who entered and congratulations to Kate on your win!

Half the fun of having a garden is planning it during those long cold winter months when all is grey and dark outside. Looking at pictures of bright, beautiful vegetables, herbs and flowers in the seed catalogs can make any day better. Many customers tell us about their dog-eared, bookmarked, sticky-noted catalogs and how much they use them. (Need one? You can request a catalog here.)

Lately many people have also been using the website Pinterest to organize their garden ideas and wishes. We think this is an excellent idea as it provides a great visual representation of what you’d like to grow in your garden. The boards people create are beautiful to look at and fun to use.

We would love to see what YOUR dream garden looks like. We’re inviting you to create your dream garden by “pinning” varieties you’d like to grow onto a board, then sending us the link to your board. We’ll randomly choose one board, and the owner of the winning board will receive a $75 High Mowing Organic Seeds’ gift certificate to help make those garden dreams come true!

The rules are simple:

  • Create your own board called “My High Mowing Dream Garden“. Pin vegetable, herb and flower varieties you’d like to grow this year. You can pin varieties from the High Mowing Organic Seeds website or any other site. Be sure to pin High Mowing varieties with the hashtag #highmowingseeds in the pin description.
  • Come back to this post and leave us your Pinterest “Dream Garden” Board URL in the comments section below. Also make sure to leave us your e-mail address so we can contact you if you win!

Enter by Friday, January 30th, 2015 for a chance to win the $75 Gift Certificate! The winner will be announced on Monday, February 2nd.

Contest closes at midnight (EST) on January 30th, 2015. The fine print: High Mowing Organic Seeds is giving away one $75.00 gift certificate towards any of our products to one lucky winner! The contest runs from 1/15/15 through midnight (EST) 1/30/15. The winner will be selected using random.org. The winner will be notified via e-mail, so please ensure that your e-mail is accurate. Winners must respond within 96 hours of the e-mail announcing that they have one being sent. If the winner fails to respond within that time, High Mowing Organic Seeds will select another winner through random.org and will e-mail the next winner.

 

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Reaping the Benefits of Pelleted Lettuce


Pelleted lettuce seed (L), Raw lettuce seed (R)

Plants have been doing a pretty good job developing strategies to move seeds around for a few hundred million years. The ranges of sizes, shapes, and packaging have clearly suited them well. There are some, particularly the round ones, that are pretty easily adapted to modern agriculture. But what about the really small ones, or those that are irregularly shaped?

Pelleting: Benefits and Challenges

Pelleting is a process where seeds are coated with clay, increasing their size and creating a more uniform shape. It allows for easier, more precise seeding either mechanically or by hand. There are some seeders that require them, and practically speaking, using seeds in a precise way ultimately saves resources and money. For those gardeners and aspiring farmers who have small fingers and hands, using a pelleted seed can make the time in the cold frame, greenhouse or garden a lot more fun.


Germination Testing

Seed Suitability

Before a given lot of seed is sent to be pelleted, a suitability test is performed. This test allows us to see how the seed will germinate at a wider range of temperature and light conditions than a standard germ test. The vigor of the seed is also important, as it will often need an extra push to break through the clay coating. Sometimes, but not always, the seeds are primed before the pelleting, to ensure good emergence. All this extra testing is important because the seeds will be used in such an exacting way.

So, there must be a downside, right? There usually is. The introduction of the clay and water, and the occasional priming involved, effectively cuts the long term viability of the seeds. If one is buying pelleted seeds, be careful to buy what you need for that season, as their germ can drop off pretty quickly after one year. We package them in amounts that allow for careful planning and purchase. That said, I have used pelleted seeds for more than one season if I have to; sometimes it works, sometimes not.

New Packaging for Pelleted Seeds

One of the most exciting things about our pelleted seed offerings this year is how they are being delivered to our customers. After much searching, we found containers that will allow the seeds to safely reach their destination. Every size will be packaged in an appropriately sized plastic container, keeping them from being crushed in transport and use around the farm. When they are not being used, it’s important to keep this bottle closed, and in a cool, dark place to help maintain the viability of the seeds.


Paul grows a wide variety of greens, like this head of Vitamin Green, at his farm

Pelleted Lettuce

There are certain crops where I use pelleted seeds whenever I can. Lettuce is definitely a place where having a more uniform and larger seed is a great thing. For growers who are using a vacuum seeder to produce transplants, they are a must. Even when seeding by hand, the extra size and high visibility is really helpful. I seed all my lettuce by hand, and the speed and ease of using pelleted seeds is so much better than raw seed. High Mowing has been expanding its pelleted seed offering over the years, and has a great selection for any size lettuce grower. (In fact, I have been secretly pushing HMOS to offer all the varieties that I use on my farm.)

Regardless of whether you’re seeding a flat or a field, the challenges of handling raw lettuce seed make pelleting worth considering. And the more time you spend at it, the more worthwhile it becomes.

So without further ado, I’m happy to introduce several NEW pelleted lettuce varieties in our catalog this year:

Lovelock

A Batavian-type red leaf lettuce with superior heat-tolerance. Always a stand-out in our trials with its bright green leaves edged in deep burgundy; closes in late at maturity for a dense, crisp head. 48 days

Disease Resistance: Downy Mildew (races 1-27, 29), Lettuce Mosaic Virus, MTO-30

 

Pomegranate Crunch

A new stunning mini romaine with gorgeous deep purple coloring and smooth texture. Fast growth rate and an open habit ensure a uniquely foolproof, disease-resistant red romaine. Beautiful paired with Ansar. 50 days

Disease Resistance: Downy Mildew (races 1-27, 29), MTO-30

 

Rhazes

An eye-catching garnet Little Gem-type lettuce that forms dense, glossy heads with bright green hearts. Performed well in our winter high tunnels for early spring harvest of heart-winning heads. Pair with Spretnak for an eye-catching combination! 42 days

Disease Resistance: Downy Mildew (races 1, 4-6, 13, 15, 17), MTO-30

 

Spretnak

A green romaine that forms dense mini-rosettes of bright green leaves – a knockout in our trials! Smooth outer leaves and blanched hearts; very heat tolerant but tastes best in the cooler seasons. 45 days

Disease Resistance: Downy Mildew (1, 4-21, 23-26, 28-31), MTO-30

Other lettuces available pelleted: Bergam’s Green, Breen, Coastal Star, Green Star, Green Towers, Magenta, Nevada, New Red Fire, Optima, Roxy, and Waldmann’s

Posted in Articles by Farmer Paul Betz, Commercial Growing, Farmer Authors, Growing Tips, Variety Highlights | Leave a comment