Direct Sow Like a Pro: How to Get Strong Germination Outdoors


Moxie planting peas in her garden

It’s easy to assume that growing food from seed in the garden is a piece of cake. There are no lights or heat mats, no germination domes or pots or potting soil to worry about. Just make a hole, stick a seed in the ground, and water, right? Well….sort of. While some plants are as straightforward as that, others may need a bit more coaxing to germinate in a nice uniform stand. So next we’ll talk about 5 ways you can improve the germination rate of direct-sown crops.

1) Follow the directions. As a kid I’d often try to make cookies or cakes, then complain to my mother when they weren’t coming out right. Inevitably her first question would be, “Did you follow the recipe?” and inevitably I would look away and admit that I’d made some adjustments – maybe I didn’t have brown sugar, so replaced it with white, or swapped baking soda for baking powder. “It’s chemistry!” she’d always admonish. And gardening is much the same.

Use good ingredients (seeds, soil, compost), follow the directions on the packet, and the plants will largely take care of themselves. This is especially true as regards planting depth. Large seeds need to be planted deeply to ensure good seed-to-soil contact, darkness, and adequate moisture. Small seeds often need to be planted shallowly because light is part of their trigger to germinate. For small seeds like onions, some growers cover them with just a light sprinkling of sand to ensure they are covered but still have access to light.

Timing is important too. If the packet says to direct sow seeds after all danger of frost has passed, wait until that date. Many gardeners have been tricked by unseasonably warm springs, only to feel intense dismay upon hearing of a frost advisory just after planting. Spring is fickle, and a week in the eighties is no guarantee that it will stay that way. Remember that the warmest, clearest, sunniest days are the ones most likely to be followed by frost. Even the hardiest varieties are vulnerable just after germinating, and should be protected with row cover in the event of frost.


Flat, smooth seed beds support strong germination at Pete’s Greens

2) Ensure constant moisture. Just like transplants started indoors, the soil must never dry out while seeds are germinating. This can be challenging outdoors, as an ordinary day might begin calm, but then be ferociously windy by noon, and calm again by dusk. It’s not uncommon to arrive home from work to find parched seedlings even when it wasn’t a particularly hot day. The wind is just as drying, if not more so, than the sun—so it’s best to check the weather every morning, and if it’s forecast to be warm or windy, water thoroughly before you head out for the day.

But there’s another side to this coin – keeping the soil wet won’t do much good unless you also make sure the seeds are making good contact with the moist soil. Before sowing, rake out the bed so that it forms a relatively smooth and stone-free surface. You don’t need to pulverize the clumps of soil (that will make crusting worse) but creating a flat surface will make it easier to form furrows that are the correct depth, while providing fine-textured soil that will make good contact with the seed.


Large-seeded crops, like peas, need more moisture to germinate

3) Water proportionally. What do I mean? I mean that in order to germinate, different seeds need different amounts of water. It’s always a good idea to make sure the top few inches of soil are thoroughly soaked after planting. But large seeds, like peas, beans, nasturtiums, and squash need a LOT of water to germinate—enough that their entire seed coat can absorb it like a sponge, double in size, and have enough left over to feed the growing roots and shoots. So make sure those large-seeded crops are watered thoroughly and deeply every day that it doesn’t rain during germination.

4) Keep it covered. Smaller, more delicate seeds like carrots and lettuce will germinate poorly if any crust forms on the soil surface. One thing I’ve learned by now is that crust in baking is good, but crust in gardening is bad news. Crusting usually happens when you water heavily initially (which compacts the soil surface), and then it gets hot or windy and this dense layer dries out, with your seeds suspended somewhere inside, unable to break through the hardened soil.


Seedlings under row covers are protected from frost, sunburn, drying winds, pests and more

To prevent this scenario, lay a piece of lightweight row cover over the bed right after planting. The row cover will help reduce evaporation from the soil surface, retaining moisture and preventing a crust from forming. As soon as the seeds have germinated, remove or raise the row cover to give them room to grow.

Alternatively, mulch. A bale of straw mulch goes a long way, and will dramatically reduce the time spent weeding on hands and knees. Before direct sowing, mulch to a depth of at least 4”, then make furrows in the mulch and soil below, plant your seeds, and water well. The mulch will serve many useful purposes—preventing a crust from forming over the germinating seeds, keeping roots cool and moist, discouraging weeds, and adding organic matter to your soil.

If you’re planting a cool-season crop like lettuce, kale, spinach, or peas in warm soil, as often happens when planting in midsummer for fall crops, you can use a little trick to cool down the soil before planting. Simply cover the bed with cardboard for a week prior to planting. The cardboard cools the soil by shading it and reducing evaporation. After planting, replace the cardboard over the bed to keep the soil cool during germination, lifting it daily to water and check for seedlings popping up. Be sure to remove the cardboard as soon as the seeds have germinated.


Thinning carrots is a time and labor-intensive task that can be eliminated with careful seeding.

5) Don’t sow too thickly. Many gardeners, even experienced ones, are guilty of sowing too much seed for the available space. It might seem like “crop insurance” – maybe the seed was a few years old, or the conditions seem challenging – so you think “What the heck, it can’t hurt.” Well I’m here to tell you otherwise–sowing too thickly can turn into a major headache.


Carrots must be properly spaced for good yields

Thinning is a time consuming task and must be done when seedlings are still very small – think wispy 1” tall carrots that must be distinguished from grass, horsetail, and any other weeds, then carefully culled so that they’re no closer than 1” apart. Proper spacing of carrots and beets is essential for good yields–each root needs room to develop, and foliage needs room to grow thick and lush to support root growth.

But by the time you’ve finished thinning a 20-foot bed with three rows in it, your back, knees, eyes and fingers will be complaining. So why don’t people avoid this whole situation and simply plant the seeds 1” apart from each other? That part is still a mystery to me. My guess is that it’s simply easier to sow seeds thickly. But given the additional work this makes later, I think precision seeding is a better way to go. The lesson is, mulch, take your time and seed like a minimalist—it’s more economical and a lot easier than the alternative.

Posted in Ask The Expert, Beginner Gardeners' Guide, Growing Tips | 10 Comments

Enter to WIN our Kid’s Garden GIVEAWAY!

Enter to WIN! This month we’re giving away a selection of goodies to help your kid have a great garden season, including:

Looking for some garden projects to try with your child? A theme garden is a wonderful way to share the magic of nature with them and will keep them occupied while you’re working in the garden. Check out our recent blog article, Kinder Garden: Creating Functional Theme Gardens for Kids, for fun & functional theme garden ideas!

If you’ve got kids, grandkids, or know a little one that can’t wait to get their hands dirty, enter to win! (You can enter and have it sent to a child of your choice).

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, May 15th and ends Friday, May 22nd at midnight EST. Good luck, have fun and happy gardening!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Posted in Beginner Gardeners' Guide, Kids and Gardening | 203 Comments

Feed the Bees with a Halloween Pumpkin Patch

If you’ve ever grown cucurbits (the family that includes squash, cucumbers, pumpkins and melons), you’ve probably noticed that bees are crazy about them. On a dewy summer morning, it’s not uncommon to find several bees dozing in each flower, or flying industriously from one to the next coated so completely in the yellow pollen that they look like flying yellow fuzzballs.


Male Peponapis pruinosa in a squash blossom. Photo courtesy of USDA-ARS Bee Biology and Systematics Lab.

The Squash Bees

Squash need bees, too—most varieties won’t set fruit without being hand- or bee-pollinated. Cucurbits are native to the Americas, and have a symbiotic relationship with two types of native bees from the genera Peponapis and Xenoglossa, aka the “squash bees”. The ground-nesting squash bees are found in almost all parts of the Americas, and are specialists—they only visit flowers from cucurbits.

They’ve also been shown to be excellent pollinators, rising earlier and pollinating cucurbits more efficiently than honeybees. They can be visually distinguished because they cover their bodies in dry pollen, unlike honeybees that use a bit of honey to pack it into “pollen baskets” on their hind legs. Squash bees often cozy up for the night inside a wilted squash blossom, chewing their way out the next morning to forage and mate.

This year you can give the squash bees a helping a hand and have fun with pumpkins too! Growing your own Halloween Jack O’Lanterns, pie pumpkins, and decorative gourds is easy and economical, and you’ll get lots of enjoyment from the porch decorations and pies that result. Next we’ll talk about how, where and when to start your pumpkin patch.


These semi-bush Cider Jacks need less room to grow than standard vining varieties, and offer powdery mildew resistance that makes them easier to ripen.

Where to Site your Pumpkin Patch

Pumpkins are generally big, rambling plants, so it’s a good idea to choose a spot with good drainage where they’ll get full sun (at least 8 hours a day) and have plenty of room to spread out without getting in the way. Make sure you can access the area with a watering can or hose, since the plants need regular watering while they’re getting established and in periods of dry weather.

Lay Out your Mulch

We recommend covering the entire area of the pumpkin patch with a thick layer of straw or cardboard mulch before planting. The mulch keeps the soil covered, suppresses weeds, holds in moisture, discourages pests, and ultimately breaks down, adding organic matter to the soil. The other advantage of this method is that you can site your patch on existing lawn or sod, whereas otherwise you’d need to till the whole area first. Tip: if you use cardboard, lay it out like overlapping shingles starting on the eastern side of the bed, so that the prevailing wind (usually from the west) doesn’t toss it around while your plants are getting established. You can also use bricks, rocks, or bags of soil to hold it down if you’re in a very windy spot.


Casper’s smooth white face is great for painting

Plant your Pumpkins

Cut or make openings in the mulch in a grid so that the openings are at least 3 feet apart from each other. Dig a hole at least 6” across in each opening, refilling it with the loosened soil you dug up but discarding any plants or roots. Add about a quart of finished compost to this soil, then plant your seeds or transplants in the hole, label the variety, and water in well.

If cucumber beetles are severe in your area, cover the plants with row cover until flowers form. Pinch back the end of the first vine when it reaches 5’ long to encourage more fruit-producing side shoots. You can do this to all the vines once enough fruit has formed and you want the plant to focus on ripening. About a month after planting, fertilize each plant with another quart of compost.

Timing is Everything


Some varieties, like heirloom Musque de Provence, take up to 125 days to mature – so plant early!

With Halloween pumpkins, it’s all about timing. If we want our pumpkins to be ready by October 20th (allowing a week for curing) and they take about 100 frost-free days (minus two weeks if transplanting) that means we should plant them out between the beginning of June and the middle of July. Here in Vermont we generally start our cucurbit crops as transplants about 3 weeks before setting out– I started mine this past weekend for planting around June 8th, since our first fall frost is around September 15th, and this way I still have 100 frost-free growing days. But if I had planted pumpkins this past weekend and I lived in the south, they would be ready to harvest when the weather was still warm, and almost two months before carving time. Jack O’Lanterns don’t store as well as winter squash, especially in warm weather, and they’d be getting soft by Halloween.


Unusual colors, like our bright yellow Owl’s Eye, make a statement on porches

So here’s a rule of thumb:

  • In far Northern climates, with first frosts in September, we recommend transplanting in early June
  • In warmer climates, with first frosts starting in October, we recommend transplanting in mid-June
  • In hot climates, where growth is rapid and the first frost is in November or December, seeds should be planted in early July, and transplants set out by mid July at the latest

Harvesting

As your pumpkins are ripening, turn them very gently once in a while to help create an even shape. Stray vines can be carefully lifted and re-routed in a different direction if they’re getting in the way. Pumpkins are ready to harvest when they are a solid color (usually orange), sound hollow when tapped, and the rind feels hard and resists puncture when you press your fingernail into it.


Kids love Jack Be Little miniature pumpkins, and they make great table decorations too.

To harvest, cut the pumpkin from the vine with pruners, leaving at least 4 inches of stem attached (all squash degrade rapidly if you remove their stems). Allow to cure in the sun for about a week, covering the fruit if frost threatens, then carve and display or store in a cool, dry place around 55 degrees F.

And don’t forget when carving that pumpkin seeds make a tasty treat! Just rinse them, toss with melted butter or oil and salt (and spices if you wish), then spread on a baking sheet and bake for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally until golden.

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

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 | 4 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