Successful Vegetables: Our Top 10 Crops for Beginner Gardeners

There’s a lot of information on the back of seed packets that can help you get started with your first garden season, but it won’t tell you which crops to grow as a beginner, and comparing all the options can still be bewildering. Don’t worry, you’re in good company—gardening is on the rise, and there are lots of folks out there just like you, asking themselves the same thing: What should I grow?

My first piece of advice is, grow what you like to eat. Not a fan of broccoli? Don’t grow it. Crazy about fresh salads? Start with lettuce. Never grown a leaf in your life? Try the crops on this list, omitting any that you don’t have space for or don’t like to eat.

My second tip is to keep it simple. It might seem ideal to have a huge variety of vegetables and something new to try every night, but each crop has its own preferences and needs, and it’s easy to become overwhelmed trying to keep track of it all. To avoid this scenario, keep it simple: Start with just 4, 5 or 6 crops you really dig, learn as much as you can about how to grow them well, write important dates on the calendar, and keep notes along the way. By next season you’ll have some real data to work with, and will have a much better sense of what to grow and how much garden you can handle. Ready to get started? Make a grid like the one below to plan what, when and where to sow, then check out our 10 best crops for beginners.

 

1) Peas & Pole Beans are very simple to grow, and can be great fun for kids. Simply install your trellis (like a teepee of bamboo canes or a piece of chicken wire), plant your seeds and keep watered till you see them pop out of the ground. Once they’re producing, harvest daily to lengthen the harvest. Peas should be planted as early as possible in the spring, while beans shouldn’t be planted until the soil has warmed to 60 degrees. Try Cascadia snap peas and Blue Coco, Rattlesnake or Kentucky Wonder beans.

 


Rainbow Chard

2) Chard & Kale are great, easy-to-grow sources of cooking and salad greens. You can direct sow them in the ground in the spring, or start transplants 4 weeks before planting out about 2 weeks before your last frost date. When the plants are about 1 foot tall, you can start harvesting the outer (older) leaves, and continue harvesting long into the fall! You can even grow these in spots that have partial shade (with only 4-6 hours of sun per day). All are equally easy to grow—try large Lacinato kale for soups and salads, Vates for a compact curly leaf and Red Russian for a tender steaming green.

 

3) Radishes are one of the most gratifying garden crops because they germinate and grow so rapidly. Simply direct sow any time of year, water well, and harvest in 30 days! Want to grow carrots? Mix some radish seed with your carrot seed when you sow – the radishes will mark where the slower-growing carrots were planted, and will help with thinning when you harvest them. Radishes also act like the “canary in the coal mine” of soil health—if you find your radishes are growing thin and spindly roots without forming radishes, your soil is nutrient-deficient. Pull them up, add a balanced compost or seaweed fertilizer, and sow again. Try classic red Cherry Belle or gourmet favorite D’Avignon.

 


Salad Greens

4) Baby Lettuce and Salad Mixes are another satisfying garden crop. Just direct sow seeds in a 2-3” wide band, water well, and harvest in 30-40 days. To harvest, take a sharp knife or scissors and cut the leaves about 1” above the soil line (you might even be able to harvest a second cut off the row if the weather is cool and you allow the plants to re-grow.)

 

5) Basil is an easy and delicious herb to grow. Simply direct sow in containers, or in the garden once the soil has warmed to 60 degrees. Allow the plants to grow to about 8” tall before harvesting individual leaves starting from the bottom up. Once the plants are about a foot tall, you can clip the tops of the plants for bigger harvests and to encourage a bushier growth habit. Try compact Genovese, larger Aroma 2 or Sweet Thai for a pretty and exotic treat.

 


Evergreen Hardy Bunching Onion

6) Scallions are wonderfully easy to grow – just direct sow (but not too thickly – they’ll grow thin and spindly), water well, and begin harvesting in around 60 days. Use a garden fork to loosen the soil and harvest whole clumps at a time. They store exceptionally well in the fridge, and can be left to grow in the garden for months, even years at a time, especially varieties like Evergreen Hardy.

 

7) Summer Squash often ends up the butt of garden jokes because it’s almost too easy to grow—many gardeners have accidentally ended up with squash the size of baseball bats and had to bring their over-abundant harvests to the neighbors (this is probably how zucchini bread was invented). Simply direct sow 2-3 seeds in a mound with plenty of compost, keep well watered, and check the plants daily for ripe fruit (the fruit can grow to enormous sizes in just one or two days, so harvest early and often!) Tip: To moderate the harvest, pick unopened zucchini flowers, stuff with ricotta & parmesan and deep fry whole for a gourmet treat known in Italy as fiori di zucca.

 


Ping Tung Long Eggplant

8) Eggplant is surprisingly easy to grow, either in the garden or in large containers. The key is plenty of sun and choosing varieties that are earlier with smaller-sized fruit—we recommend Snowy, Little Finger, and Ping Tung Long for beginners. They’re convenient to cook, as well, since the non-bitter flesh can be quickly sliced for Middle Eastern dishes and Italian favorites like eggplant parmesan. We recommend starting these inside at least 6 weeks before planting out (which can start anytime after your last frost date).

 

9) Peppers are also quite easy, requiring little in the way of fertility or care, and they have almost no pests that bother them. The array of choices is huge—but it’s generally easier to ripen Italian-type sweet peppers and hot peppers than the bigger Bell peppers. Some of the earliest, easiest varieties to grow are Purple Beauty, Sweet Chocolate, Oranos F1 and Stocky Red Roaster. Hot peppers, like Ring-O-Fire, Hungarian Hot Wax, and Early Jalapeno are also very productive and easy to grow. We recommend starting peppers inside at least 6 weeks before planting out (which can start anytime after your last frost date).

 


Merlot F1 Tomato

10) Tomatoes come with a caveat—they can be very easy, if you choose varieties and methods that are easy. The simplest varieties to grow are disease-resistant and determinate, which means they grow to a particular height, produce a bunch of fruit, and then stop. They don’t require pruning, and can make do with just a stake or tomato cage for support. In this category choose Merlot F1, Gold Nugget, Bellstar or Iron Lady F1. For a bigger, longer harvest, choose cherries like Esterina F1, Black Cherry or Bing, and salad-sized varieties like Glacier, Moskvich and Crimson Sprinter. For these semi-determinate and indeterminate varieties, try the World’s Best Tomato Trellis. We recommend starting tomatoes inside at least 6 weeks before planting out (which can start anytime after your last frost date).

Have a question, comment or idea? We’re here to help! Ask away by posting a comment below, or get in touch with us on Facebook.

Posted in Ask The Expert, Beginner Gardeners' Guide, Growing Tips, Kids and Gardening, Variety Highlights | 1 Comment

How to Grow Your Own Organic, Non-GMO Chicken Feed!

Keeping a flock of laying hens is a fun way to provide a homegrown protein source, put kitchen scraps to good use, and produce far more beautiful and nutritious eggs than those found in supermarket chains. But raising chickens – especially on 100% organic feed – can get expensive. And in much of the country, the free range experience that gives chickens such a nutritious diet in the summertime almost completely goes away once the ground is covered with snow. The more limited diet can also affect how well chickens weather the cold, both physically and psychologically – their body temperature is higher when they receive a more well-rounded diet, and they’ll be happier with more interesting food. So we’ll talk about three easy ways to save money on feed and supplement the grain your layers need with a healthy diet of greens, grains, veggies and seeds all year round.

Sprouted Grains & Seeds


Wheatgrass

In fall, winter, and spring in particular, chickens can benefit hugely from some fresh greens—and this is when sprouts come to the rescue! Sprouting helps unlock protein and nutrients in dry grains and seeds, and makes them much more digestible for chickens. It’s also economical – just 1 tablespoon of some varieties can turn into a quart or more of sprouts. There’s no soil, and the chickens will eat the entire plant, root and seed, so there’s no waste. And lastly, it’s super easy—just soak, rinse, and feed the finished crop to your chickens in 3-6 days. Our favorite choices for sprouted chicken feed are:

Wheatgrass, sunflower seeds, corn, peas, soybeans and oats can be soaked in a bowl, then spread into a tray or container with drainage holes and rinsed daily until sprouts are 4” tall. Then simply dump out the tray and watch your chickens feast!

Alfalfa, red clover, and mung beans are grown similarly, but usually in a quart jar using a sprouting lid.

Leafy Greens


Amaranth

Chickens love leafy greens – especially tender ones like chard, frost-bitten kale, spinach, and the leaves of many specialty greens like amaranth, spreen and orach. Some of these plants do double-duty – you can harvest greens for the chickens during summer, then allow annuals like amaranth and orach to produce their hefty seedheads in the fall, and save the seeds for a winter feed supplement.

Storage Grains & Seeds

Many crops can be grown expressly for a winter feed supplement in the form of sprouted seeds or grain.

Mammoth sunflowers, amaranth, orach and corn are great choices if you don’t have a combine or other method of threshing the seed. Once the seedheads are dry, seeds from these crops can be easily harvested by hand.

If you have a thresher, or are willing to try threshing by hand, you could try growing wheat, buckwheat, oats or rye for winter sprouting grain.


Winter Squash

Storage Vegetables

Both pumpkins and winter squash provide an excellent source of delicious, nutritious food for chickens all through the winter. Plus, eating pumpkin or squash will help your chickens produce exceptionally deep orange yolks. You can grow these on the side of a compost pile or a corner of the yard covered with cardboard for an easy, low-budget way to grow a lot of chicken food. Just be sure to cure your crop properly before storing in a cool place with moderate humidity for the winter.

Posted in Ask The Expert, Beginner Gardeners' Guide, Growing Tips, Health and Wellness, Variety Highlights | 3 Comments

Growing Partners: Desde mi Huerto

This article is part of Growing Partners, our new series of articles focusing on the farmers, gardeners, seed growers, breeders, vendors, donation recipients and non-profits we work with who are making waves in sustainable agriculture. Together they form a revolution of environmental stewardship and positive change working its way over the global landscape. We’re so invigorated by their trail-blazing work every day, we want to share it with the world–and inspire the food movement leaders of tomorrow to follow in their footsteps.


Raul and his wife (center) and the crew at Desde mi Huerto

Desde mi Huerto is an organic farm in Puerto Rico operated by Raul Rosado and his family. Raul visited us at High Mowing last year to learn more about our seed production techniques and how we run our business, and we were really inspired by what he’s doing and his commitment to organic principles. So we asked him to share his story, in his own words.

HMOS: First off, please tell us about Desde mi Huerto, including location, crops grown, land area in producton, and how product is distributed.

RR: Desde mi Huerto is a family business, farm and educational project. We have several projects running all at the same time.

The first and most important is our farm where we produce our products.

The farm is a 3 acre, flat piece of land that we bought 3-4 years ago in the countryside in the small town of Patillas. Our farm is located next to the Patillas River that brings fresh water from the Carite Tropical Rainforest. It’s a special place between the mountains, and here we have our tropical seed production.


Papaya grown by Desde mi Huerto

We produce local varieties of seeds such as eggplant, tomatoes, seasoning peppers, melons and pumpkins, as well as tropical fruits like papaya, passion fruit, guava, starfruit and cacao. We also produce local grains and beans, and local herbs such as “Recao” (long leaf coriander), and many others. The seed production has become our main business—we sell online, have racks in several supermarkets in PR, and we are trying to use the whole 3 acres for this purpose every day, trying to stretch to every inch of the farm to use it all.

We use the pulp of some fruits and veggies for preserves, pickles and other products.

Here on the farm we also do monthly workshops for kids, to connect them with the experience of harvesting and organic farming, and with mother earth. We also do workshops for people who want to start doing organic farming or home gardens.

We have a greenhouse for plants to be used in service to home, school, and restaurant gardens.

Desde Mi Huerto also plants gardens for people in their homes, restaurants, schools or communities, and we provide a monthly maintenance service.


A farming workshop at Desde mi Huerto

HMOS: What is the mission of Desde mi Huerto? What makes it unique?

RR: We are a family business established in 2005 in “Finca Ecologica Rio Patillas” in the town of Patillas, Puerto Rico. We produce organically grown vegetables, plants and seeds, and we educate to share the knowledge of this way of farming and gardening.

Our mission is to provide organic products and services for a better quality of life in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. Examples include freshly harvested vegetables and materials for home and community vegetable gardens (plants, seeds, compost and other fertilizers). We want to help grow the organic farming movement to ensure a better and healthier future for all.

Our vision is to work so that Puerto Rico has the knowledge and the tools to reach food security.  We work to keep alive and in sustainable development our tropical native heirloom seeds and the traditional organic farming knowledge, and pass it to the next generation.

HMOS: What is the relationship between Desde mi Huerto and your local/regional community? How do you foster this relationship?

RR: When we first moved to this land, people could see what we were doing and they loved it. This is a community with a lot of unemployment and unmotivated people, but with a lot of potential and a beautiful setting. When people saw that we were planting all these vegetables in this grassy field they got inspired, and you started seeing all these gardens and farms being planted all of a sudden. The neighbors started coming to ask for suggestions and to buy plants and they came to buy seeds and give us some of their seeds. All our workers live in the same community and people respect what we do on our property. We’ve never had anything go missing from the land even though we don’t have gates or security in any tool storage, green house, etc.


Desde mi Huerto seed packets

HMOS: How old is Desde mi Huerto? How would you describe its growth/expansion?

RR: Desde Mi Huerto started around 2004 is now about 11 years old. We started by doing gardening services and plant propagation for gardens and organic markets. 1 or 2 years later we got set up in a rented farm and we started doing educational workshops—we wanted people to understand that it is possible to plant anything in PR, in any part of the island, any part of the year because farming has been a taboo in our culture and that is horrible. In 2008 we started propagating seeds but selling only in organic markets. In 2012 we started distributing our seeds in many supermarkets, and today we are in more than 75 stores around the island. We provide services for about 30 home and restaurant gardens every month and participate in 4 organic markets each month.

HMOS: What are some advantages of the area in which you are located? What are some disadvantages?

RR: The advantages are clean air and fresh river water, humble people, and the weather is nice to farm the whole year. Some disadvantages are the travel time to markets, tropical weather is sometimes unexpected and harsh, no freezing makes it more difficult to fight pests and mold, and since we are hidden in the mountains it takes about an hour to get to some clients.

HMOS: What is a major challenge you have faced as a business, and how did you overcome it?

RR: Investing and re-investing money to have all you need to keep going and expanding makes it a difficult time for our business earnings. Also, we only recently got internet access at the farm, about 6 months ago.

HMOS: What resources have been important to your success? What advice would you give to someone just starting out?

RR: Having a web page is super helpful, also getting to know the needs of the clients. And like they say, “Dont put all your eggs in one basket”—we have different ways to earn money, so during the year we can survive even if sales go down in one season.


A field at Desde mi Huerto

HMOS: What High Mowing varieties perform best in your area? (And tell us why if you know). Are there any special techniques you use?

RR: Marketmore 76 cucumbers, Provider bush beans, and Santo cilantro are three of my favorites, as well as Copenhagen cabbage and Mild Mustard Mix. I think we don’t have any special techniques—we just fertilize well with manure compost, use plastic mulch and have good helping hands.

HMOS: What High Mowing varieties are you hoping to try?

RR: I hope to try some of the big bell peppers like King of the North, and some varieties of onions and herbs.

HMOS: What are your goals for the future of Desde mi Huerto?

RR: We hope to expand our seed distribution to other tropical climate areas, and keep on educating and making Puerto Rico a more sustainable place.

To learn more about Desde mi Huerto, visit them on the web at www.desdemihuerto.com or on Facebook.

Posted in Commercial Growing, Farmer Authors, Growing Tips, Kids and Gardening, Philosophy, Trials, Variety Highlights | 2 Comments

GIVEAWAY! A Treat for Mother’s Day

Without mothers, not one of us would be here.

For the thousands of cuddles, reluctant wake-up calls, shoulders to lean on, patient driving lessons and coaxed garden chores, we want to say THANK YOU to moms – because we wouldn’t be who we are without you.

One lucky mom will win:

  • a beautiful harvest basket handmade in Vermont by Blue Frog Basketry
  • our favorite garden gloves and snip-style pruners and
  • a $25 gift certificate for seeds of her choice

If you’re a mom, enter our giveaway! And if you’re not – we bet you know one (you can enter and have it sent to a mom of your choice in time for Mother’s Day if you win).

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 Friday, April 17th and ends Friday, April 24th at midnight EST. Good luck, have fun and happy gardening!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Posted in About High Mowing Organic Seeds | 248 Comments

High Mowing’s Permanent Home: Our New Farm Property


The future home of High Mowing Organic Seeds

We are pleased to announce that High Mowing has purchased a farm property! The land we’ve purchased is in Hyde Park, Vermont, and will serve as our permanent home. High Mowing has relied primarily on leased land and buildings in the Wolcott, Vermont area over the past twenty years, and that has allowed us a measure of flexibility as our business has grown.

The new property presents exciting potential for a permanent headquarters, allows for expanded production of organic seeds, and gives us the freedom to customize with a view to the longer-term needs of the company. High Mowing has been conducting an exhaustive search for a suitable “home base” for several years, and finalizing the sale represents both the end of that process and the beginning of many new ones.

The property High Mowing has acquired is a 250-acre parcel that has been owned by our friends and neighbors the Clark family for over 50 years. The family has been operating a certified organic livestock business, Applecheek Farm, on the property and will continue to graze their animals on the farm and their adjacent land for the foreseeable future. High Mowing is pleased to work with the Clark family to support the success of both businesses, and is grateful for the opportunity to build a permanent home in a location with such tremendous resources in terms of agricultural land and natural beauty. The Clarks have been excellent stewards of the property, using only inputs suitable for certified organic production and focusing on farming techniques that maintain soil health. The farm also satisfies the other essential qualification of being near our existing warehouse, facilities and employees, ensuring that a smooth transition can take place over the next few years.

High Mowing is committed to taking a slow and thoughtful approach to our move and use of this farm. In the meantime High Mowing will continue to utilize most of the land and buildings that have served us so well for several years to come. The site offers two tremendously valuable attributes for seed production – its relative isolation from other farms makes it excellent for preserving genetic integrity, while the steady breeze discourages plant diseases, one of the biggest challenges of growing seed in this climate. During our transition we are extremely grateful to the Clarks, our customers, and our community for supporting us as we grow and move forward.


Fall foliage over the farm barn


For more information please read our press release at: http://www.highmowingseeds.com/HMOS_Farm_Announcement.html

 

Posted in About High Mowing Organic Seeds, Commercial Growing, Events, Philosophy, Seed Saving and Production | 11 Comments

Kinder Garden: Creating Functional Theme Gardens for Kids

Giving a child a garden is a wonderful way to spark interest in the natural world and offers built-in lessons in ecology and personal responsibility. And at the end of the day, it’s something beautiful and rewarding that they can take pride in, knowing that they did it themselves. Parents will appreciate having some time to get things done in the garden, since the kids will be occupied with their own space. Just don’t forget that this space belongs to them, and will be more gratifying if you take a “hands off” approach. Try to choose a spot where you won’t be worried if it doesn’t look perfect, and where it’s ok if a few weeds or garden plants drop seeds – that’s all part of the experience.

When it comes to choosing a theme garden, the options are pretty much limitless, and it can be tough to choose just one when you have limited space. Here are some of our favorite creative ideas for theme gardens that will delight your child all summer long.

 

Bee and Butterfly Garden

Plant a garden for pollinators, then sit back and watch them feast! As added bonuses, you can harvest beautiful bouquets and your insect-pollinated garden veggies will thank you by producing extra-heavy yields. Creating a little path through it using flat stones surrounded by White Clover or Thyme will allow your child to enjoy the garden and observe all its flying visitors. We recommend:

Ornamental Blend Sunflowers

County Fair Blend Zinnias

Maayan Orange Calendula

Thyme

Sacred Basil

Catnip

 


Mammoth Sunflowers

Sunflower House

Use tall sunflowers to create a secret hiding place. Sow the hiding place with White Clover to make a comfy spot to sit, then surround it with alternating tall and medium-height sunflowers like:

Goldy Double

Lemon Queen

Ornamental Blend

Mammoth

For more info on flower houses visit: http://www.kidsgardening.org/activity/secret-hideaways-and-fun-structures

 


German Chamomile Flowers

Tea Party Garden

Design the garden as a tea party space, using recycled materials like boards and logs to make a mini table. Upended logs make cute chairs, and some yard sale tea cups will complete the set. Sow the tea area with White Clover for a cozy groundcover and surround it with herbal tea plants such as:

Sacred Basil

Chamomile

Catnip

Lemon Balm

Medium Red Clover

 


A Rainbow of Carrots

Strangebow Garden

Choose vegetables in every color of the rainbow – but look for ones that aren’t their usual colors. This is a great opportunity to learn about the different nutrients associated with different colors – like lycopene in purple carrots and anthocyanin in blue tomatoes. We recommend:

Red Swan Bush Beans or Pomegranate Crunch Lettuce

Toronjina F1 Tomatoes or Golden Midget Watermelons

Yellowstone Carrots or Boothby Blonde Cucumbers


Tipoff F1 Romanesco

Tipoff F1 Romanesco Cauliflower or Green Tiger Tomatoes

Blue Coco Pole Beans or Indigo Cherry Drops Tomatoes

Azur Star Kohlrabi or Dragon Carrots

Dakota Black Popcorn or Purple Beauty Peppers

Snowy Eggplant or White Satin Carrots

And try rainbow-colored Iko Iko Bell Peppers!

 


Kale growing under snow

Winter Garden

Focus on a year-round food supply with a garden that will provide all winter. Plant frost-tolerant crops like spinach and kale, storage crops like squash, potatoes and carrots, and heat-loving crops for easy, kid-friendly summer preserving projects like freezing herbs, tomatoes and peppers. We recommend:

Giant Winter Spinach

Lacinato Kale

Olympic Red Kale

Danvers 126 Carrots

Sugar Dumpling F1 Winter Squash

Stocky Red Roaster Peppers


Merlot F1 Tomatoes

Red Chieftain Potatoes

Katahdin Potatoes

Merlot F1 Tomatoes

Genovese Basil

 

 

Have a great idea for a “kinder garden”? Have your kids designed gardens of their own? Share your creative ideas in a comment below!

Posted in Beginner Gardeners' Guide, Growing Tips, Kids and Gardening, Variety Highlights, Winter Growing | 2 Comments

Why Seed Matters: An Interview with Matt Dillon


Matt Dillon (left) examines a wheat trial with Seed Matters’ first Graduate Fellow, Brook Brouwer at the High Mowing Trials field. Brook is researching low-input grain crops for organic systems at Washington State University

Seed Matters is an initiative created by the Clif Bar Family Foundation to improve the viability and availability of organic seeds. Their goal is to ensure healthy, nutritious and productive crops by conserving the genetic diversity of food crops, promoting farmer participation in seed stewardship, and supporting public seed research and education. The initiative came about as a response to the lack of organically-bred seed appropriate for organic farmers. Seed Matters is working to put breeding back in the hands of farmers, gardeners, and public seed breeders, to conserve and grow the diversity of seeds developed over the past 12,000 years of human history.

Matt Dillon first got involved with organic seed issues after working on an organic farm in the 90s. He quickly found his passion for seed saving and breeding, and wound up volunteering at the Abundant Life Seed Foundation in Port Townsend, Washington. He worked for Abundant Life until a catastrophic fire in 2003 destroyed its entire collection of over 3,000 varieties. Like a phoenix, Matt rose from its ashes and co-founded a new organization, the Organic Seed Alliance. He was its Founding Director from 2003-2010, helped launch the Organic Seed Growers Conference, and started numerous other seed programs including the first participatory organic breeding project in the U.S. Matt has been working to expand these programs ever since, and now plays a key role in their development as the Director of Seed Matters.


Shannon Carmody, the 14th Graduate Fellow with Seed Matters

HMOS: What is Seed Matters working on right now in terms of projects, and what impact do you hope to have?

MD: Seed Matters supports the improvement of organic seed through an array of programs designed to create positive seed solutions for gardeners, farmers, and eaters.

We continue to provide Community Seed Resources for gardeners and organizers that want to create local seed swaps, libraries and seed conservation gardens – and also launched a new partnership with the Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC) to provide these community projects with legal guidance in the wake of several states shutting down seed libraries. A petition to educate and encourage state regulators to work with seed savers to find solutions is hosted on our web site.

In February we brought in our 14th Seed Matters graduate fellow, Shannon Carmody, our first fellowship recipient not studying plant breeding. Shannon is working with Dr. Lindsey DuToit at Washington State University in the field of organic seed pathology, an important area of research for organic seed companies and farmers.

In February 2016 we will also see the release of the second State of Organic Seed report, authored by our partners at Organic Seed Alliance. Clif Bar Family Foundation helped fund the first report, and believe this second iteration will give seed companies, policy makers, and the organic industry a better picture of where we all need to invest in organic seed solutions.

Finally, this year we are launching a SeedFarmTable public outreach campaign. We believe this a first of its kind attempt to educate the public on why organic seed improvement is essential in improving the sustainability of our farms and the quality of food on our tables. We are working with organic food retailers, Seed Matters brand partners, and nationally renowned chefs to raise awareness that seed is a solution.

We want people to get beyond the idea of “Heirlooms are good and GMO seed is bad” and instead be inspired by the potential we have in organic plant breeding to improve the nutritional quality, season availability, and flavor in our food as well as increase yields and decrease the ecological footprint of farming. People can check out our website and enter the sweepstakes to win an organic gardening kit, sign Save Seed Sharing petitions, fund one of our new regional seed projects, attend one of our SeedFarmTable dinners or sow their own organic seed and host their own dinner.

HMOS: Why did you decide to invest in Fellowships? Why was this so important?

MD: Historically our public agricultural schools served the needs of regional farming and food systems. Public plant breeders developed crops for local markets and climates, and helped train the next generation of agricultural educators, researchers and entrepreneurs. Unfortunately in the last 30-40 years we’ve seen a drastic decrease in public plant breeders as well as a reduction in their areas of research focus, primarily serving larger industrial cropping systems that can provide the universities with royalty returns on their research efforts. A handful of schools have shown a commitment to organic research, but again, they remain seriously underfunded.


Claire Luby is a PhD Fellow from the University of Wisconsin-Madison studying the effect of intellectual property rights on access to and sharing of plant diversity using carrot as a model crop

Clif Bar Family Foundation decided that if we really want to transform seed systems to serve the needs of regional and organic food systems we had to bring change to these public agricultural schools. The Seed Matters Fellowships give graduate students stable funding for organic seed research. These student researchers are not only improving crop genetics for organic farmers, they are also drawing attention to their administrations that organic is not a fad or a niche, and that organic farmers and consumers want science-based innovation to make organic even more competitive with conventional-chemical agriculture. We know we can increase organic yields without losing our quality or sustainability, but we have to invest in research, and our public institutions are key partners in innovation with the private sector.

HMOS: What is your relationship to High Mowing? How do you see us in the context of organic seed breeding?

MD: The private seed sector has become increasingly consolidated, with a primary focus on breeding and producing seed for high-input conventional agriculture. We need more companies like High Mowing that are committed to improving the quality of organic seed and serving the needs of a more diversified farming system. High Mowing was one of Seed Matters’ early funding partners, and recently hired Adrienne Shelton, one of our post-doc Fellows and one of the breeders of Who Gets Kissed? sweet corn. It’s been great to watch High Mowing grow from a small regional seed company to a national leader in the organic seed movement. High Mowing understands the value of public-private partnership in plant breeding. We need more companies willing to invest and commit resources to improving the quality of organic seed.

HMOS: What’s on the horizon for Seed Matters? What do you hope to do next?

MD: 2015 is a big year. We are funding our first private plant breeder, Frank Morton of Wild Garden Seed – a man who has helped define the ethos of the organic seed movement by releasing his new varieties in the public domain without restriction. We also have new partnerships with Cornell and a group of farmer-breeders in the Dakotas working on improving ancient grains. And we will have a big announcement in the summer of 2015, what we think is a game-changer in the future of organic seed research. I hate to end with a cliff hanger, but come back to us in a few months for some really good news.


ENTER to WIN the Organic Seed & Garden Kit! Seed Matters is kicking off their SeedFarmTable campaign with this great giveaway – just click to enter.

 

Posted in About High Mowing Organic Seeds, Ask The Expert, Breeding / Research Program, Commercial Growing, Farm Ethics, Philosophy, Seed Saving and Production | 1 Comment

The Sweeter Side of Farming: Grow Your Own Candy Bars


Paul preparing to cut up candy bars for seed

One of the things I like the most about farming is access to some amazing food. Even if I don’t grow a particular crop, my network of producer friends allows me to trade around and cover most of my food needs. The wrinkle is that producing food can be exhausting. I hear a lot of stories about growers who, at the completion of a CSA pick up or farmer’s market day, go home to leftovers or noodles before they fall asleep.

Ask any vegetable farmer and they’ll probably agree; one of their secrets is that lots of organic farms run on three main ingredients: coffee, beer, and candy. I know mine does. Coffee isn’t really suited to New England production, but lots of growers make their own beer. That leaves the candy… We’ve been growing our own for years. It’s fun, really easy, and it saves us money as well.


Candy bar seed pieces ready for planting. Note the distribution of fillings in each piece.

 

Step 1: Start with the Best

It’s important to start with good stock seed. I always buy new seed every year, mainly because the temptation of our harvest overcomes me, and we have consumed all of our bounty. When cutting your seed pieces, I like to make sure there is a good distribution of fillings in each piece.

 


Seed far enough apart to produce large bars.

Step 2: Planting

I cut a trench about 6”deep and gently place the seed pieces about 8” apart in the row. It’s possible to control the size of the finished bars by changing your spacing; more room between the plants will give you a “king size” bar, tighter spacing will give you more of a “fun size”. I have found that 8” gives a nice range for me and my farm’s needs. I just barely cover the seed pieces so that they can feel the warmth of the sun and emerge from the soil quickly.

 

 


Once the candy bars have developed lush foliage, it’s time to amend with sugar and cocoa, then hill for best yields.

Step 3: Amending for Yield

In about 5 weeks, the plants should be lush green and about 18- 24” tall. At this point there are a few operations that are really important and will contribute to the success of the set. This crop is a heavy feeder, so I side-dress with a good amount of organic sugar and cocoa. My experience is that most soils are pretty deficient in these elements, and many agricultural soil testing services don’t even screen for them. I typically band a 350’ bed with about 100 lbs of a 2:1 mix of sugar to cocoa. I then use a set of hilling discs on a tool bar to get a good hill to cover the plants. When I am done I end up with about 5” of stems above the soil level. This hill covers the developing bars and keeps them out of the direct sun, keeping them cool. We’re all aware of what happens when chocolate is in the sun. Keeping the bars cooler also keeps them cleaner when it comes time to harvest.

 

 


Harvesting candy bars is made easy using a candy digger from Hershey, PA

Step 4: Harvest

The last step is the harvest. I cut the tops off the plants 2-3 weeks before I want to dig them. This sends a signal to the bars to set the chocolate, also known as tempering. It gives the chocolate a nice glaze, and makes cleaning post harvest much easier. It also lowers the incidence of bruising if one harvests mechanically, allowing the crop to store almost indefinitely.


Charlotte harvesting candy bars by hand

 

 

I use an old mechanical candy digger that I bought in Hershey, PA. It does a great job of gently lifting the bars out of the soil and making them easy to find. It’s one of my favorite single purpose tools.

If you don’t have access to this kind of an implement, it also works well to dig them by hand.

 

Step 5: Post-Harvest Handling & Storage

Once the bars are harvested, we brush them lightly before we eat them to get any lingering soil off the surface, and then enjoy (or store them in a cool, dark place).

Every time I have one of these pieces of candy, I am reminded of the sweet times behind us and the sweeter times ahead. I hope the upcoming season brings you and your farm everything that you need.


A bumper crop of freshly harvested candy

 

Happy April Fool’s from High Mowing Organic Seeds!

Posted in Articles by Farmer Paul Betz, Ask The Expert, Beginner Gardeners' Guide, Commercial Growing, Farmer Authors, Growing Tips, Philosophy, Variety Highlights | 5 Comments

A Guide to Planting Spring Cover Crops

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 spring 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. When the cover crop is in flower, just before it sets seed, it should be cut with a scythe or mower, then left as a living 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.

BMR Sorghum-Sudangrass F1

Life cycle: Annual

Benefits: fast growing, tolerates drought, builds biomass, smothers and discourages weeds, penetrates compact soil. Can grow to 12’ tall with 4,000-5,000 lbs of dry matter produced per acre, easier to grow than corn (for silage)

Uses: soil building, silage or green forage when 24-30” tall (not suitable for horses)

When to sow: Late May to early July depending on location, or when soil reaches 60ºF

Days to maturity: 90-100

Seeding rate and depth: 35 lbs/acre drilled or 40-50 lbs/acre broadcast, .5” deep in heavy soil, 1.5” deep in sandy soil

How to harvest: Mow when crop reaches 36-40” tall for silage

Limitations: soil temperature must reach 65ºF at least two months before first fall frost. Performs poorly in waterlogged soils

Learn more about Sorghum-Sudangrass for silage here

 

Common Buckwheat

Life cycle: Annual

Benefits: a rapid grower widely used for smothering weeds, lightening heavy soils, holding nutrients for the next crop and attracting pollinators

Uses: as a green manure in rotation with vegetable crops, for grain

When to sow: late May through July or when soil is at least 50ºF, at least 3 months before first frost for grain

Days to maturity: 35-42 bloom, 70-84 grain

Seeding rate and depth: 2-3 lbs/1000 sq ft or 35-135 lbs/acre

How to harvest: for green manure mow or harrow before seeds mature, about one month after planting. For grain cut when 80-90% of seeds have turned brown, after killing frost

Limitations: does not tolerate waterlogged soils or very hot, dry weather (later planting is recommended for Southern growers to avoid the hottest part of the summer)

Learn more about Buckwheat for grain production here

 

Medium Red Clover

Life cycle: Perennial

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: Spring to summer when soil is above 41ºF

Days to maturity: 14 months when spring sown

Seeding rate and depth: Broadcast, drilled or frostseeded 1/2 lb/1,000 sq ft or 5-15 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: not exceptionally heat-tolerant; growers in the South should plant in late summer/fall for overwintering

TIP: “Frostseeding” can be effective at least a month before last frost; sow in early morning when soil is still frost-covered

 

Field Peas

Life cycle: Annual

Benefits: fixes nitrogen, builds soil, moderate weed suppression, biomass decomposes quickly, edible tops

Uses: soil builder, edible tendrils, forage crop

When to sow: Early spring as soon as soil can be worked

Days to maturity: 52-75

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

How to harvest: Till 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

 

Improved White Clover

Life cycle: Perennial

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

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

When to sow: Anytime, preferably before a rain

Days to maturity: 60-70

Seeding rate and depth: ¼ lb/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.

TIP: Combine with Annual Ryegrass to increase soil benefits. “Frostseeding” can be effective a month before last frost; sow in early morning when soil is still frost-covered

 

Oats

Life cycle: Annual

Benefits: fast grower, prevents erosion, suppresses weeds, scavenges nutrients, builds biomass with up to 8,000 lbs/acre dry matter from spring stands

Uses: soil builder, nurse crop for legumes, green manure, grain, hay

When to sow: Early spring to summer, when soil is at least 38ºF

Days to maturity: 100-120 for grain

Seeding rate and depth: Broadcast or drill 4 lbs/1,000 sq ft or 100-140 lbs/acre 1” deep

How to harvest: Till in when seedheads are just forming, or cut grain when seeds harden

Limitations: performs poorly in hot, dry weather; Southern growers should plant in fall

 

Annual Ryegrass

Life cycle: Annual

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

Uses: soil builder, nurse crop, emergency forage

When to sow: Anytime soil is at least 40ºF

Days to maturity: 50-70

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

How to harvest: Disk, till or plow under as soon as flowers form

Limitations: occasionally some plants overwinter and become weedy

 

Yellow Sweet Clover

Life cycle: Biennial

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: Spring to summer when soil is at least 42ºF

Days to maturity: 60-70 to bloom

Seeding rate and depth: Broadcast ½ lb/1,000 sq ft or 15-20 lbs/acre, drill 8-15 lbs/acre

How to harvest: Kill early in 2nd year by mowing or tilling when stalks are 6-10” tall

Limitations: does not tolerate waterlogged soil; recommended for fall in the South

TIP: Best grown with 2 bushels of oats as a nurse crop

 

Field Peas/Oats Mix

Life cycle: Annual

Benefits: versatile, fixes nitrogen, builds soil, suppresses weeds, decomposes quickly, edible pea tendrils

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

When to sow: Early spring when soil is at least 38ºF

Days to maturity: varies

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

How to harvest: till under or otherwise incorporate before seeds are set

Limitations: peas do not tolerate very hot dry weather; may be grown as a fall crop in the South

 

Field Peas/Oats/Vetch Mix

Life cycle: Annual

Benefits: versatile, fixes nitrogen, suppresses weeds, 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: Early spring when soil is at least 38ºF

Days to maturity: varies

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

How to harvest: till under or otherwise incorporate before seeds are set

Limitations: peas do not tolerate very hot dry weather; may be grown as a fall crop in the South

 

Posted in Beginner Gardeners' Guide, Commercial Growing, Growing Tips, Soil Health, Variety Highlights | 4 Comments

The Perfect Potato: How to Choose Varieties

Ever since potatoes in the grocery store came to be known simply as “red”, “white” or “russet”, knowledge of potato cookery has gone into decline. While potatoes are fantastically versatile, there are significant differences in the varieties that make them well suited for particular purposes. The simple spud, as it turns out, isn’t so simple after all. But with just a bit of knowledge you can transform your cooking using this delicious and nutritious tuber. We’ve broken down the different types of potatoes by the cooking methods you prefer to help you make the most of your potatoes. We also included a comparison chart below to help you compare other characteristics such as storage qualities and disease resistance to help you select the right varieties for your garden.


Dark Red Norland

I like my potatoes new

For these tender early treats, boil whole and toss with butter – they can be any variety but we especially recommend Dark Red Norland, Red Chieftain and Purple Viking

 

I like my potatoes baked, mashed, as French fries, hashbrowns or latkes

Choose Burbank Russet potatoes – their fluffy texture is ideal and holds together well when fried – also try All BluePurple Viking and German Butterball

 


Yukon Gold

I like my potatoes in chowder, soup, scalloped, boiled, or in potato salad

Choose waxy potatoes like Yukon Gold, Yukon Gem and Katahdin or firm, moist potatoes such as Red Chieftain, Dark Red Norland, All Blue, All Red or Purple Viking

 

I like my potatoes roasted

You can’t beat the moist, buttery spuds Russian Banana Fingerling and German Butterball

 


All Blue

I like my potatoes sauteed or pan fried

Choose All Blue, All RedDark Red Norland or German Butterball

 

2015 Seed Potato Comparison Chart

 

Please note: Yukon Gold, Rose Finn Apple Fingerling, Red Norland, Russet Burbank and Yukon Gem are now SOLD OUT for 2015

 

Posted in Beginner Gardeners' Guide, Growing Tips, Recipes, Variety Highlights | 1 Comment