Keep it Covered: A Guide to Fall Cover Crops

Yellow Sweet Clover growing in the Trials field

Planting cover crops is a powerful way to improve your soil. Cover crops perform a host of valuable functions like increasing soil organic matter, fixing nitrogen, breaking up compaction, suppressing weeds and preventing erosion. In this guide we’ll discuss your options for fall cover crops and the benefits of each, when and how to plant, and how to manage the crop once it’s established.

While commercial growers typically use a seed drill or mechanical broadcaster to plant cover crops (followed by mowing and tilling before the crop sets seed), home gardeners can grow cover crops too. For gardeners we recommend planting most cover crops by hand-broadcasting seed over freshly turned soil, then raking in lightly just before a rain.

Before the mature crop sets seed, it should be cut with a scythe or mower, then left as mulch for the rest of the season or turned under with a rototiller. Because of the nutrients bound up by the decomposing crop, it is recommended to wait 2-3 weeks after tilling before planting another crop into the area. At this point the cover crop residues will have mostly decomposed, making organic matter and nutrients available to the next crop.

Crimson CloverRe-seeding annual hardy to Zone 5

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

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

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

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

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

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


Field Peas - Annual

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

Uses: soil builder, edible tendrils, forage crop

When to sow: 6-8 weeks before first frost

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

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

Limitations: does not tolerate hot, dry conditions; growers in the South should use as fall/winter crop in areas where legumes have not been grown recently

TIP: Oats support weak pea stems and act as a “nurse” crop; sow 120 lbs of peas with 2 bushels of oats per acre


Hairy Vetch - Perennial

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

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

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

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

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

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


Improved White Clover - Perennial

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

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

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

Seeding rate and depth: ¼ lbs/1,000 sq ft, 5-9 lbs/acre drilled, 7-14 lbs/acre broadcast then rolled, raked or cultivated to ensure good soil contact

How to harvest: Chisel or moldboard plow to kill; regular mowing to maintain

Limitations: Slow to establish, not ideal for smothering weeds, prefers humid, cool, shady conditions for establishment

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


Medium Red CloverPerennial hardy to Zone 4

Benefits: fixes nitrogen, mines nutrients & conditions soil, tolerates shade, reduces compaction, attracts beneficial insects, tolerates poor/wet/acid soils, produces 2-4 tons dry matter/acre in 2nd year

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

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

Seeding rate and depth: Broadcast, drilled 1/2 lbs/1,000 sq ft or 10-15 lbs/acre, ¼-1/2” deep

How to harvest: Incorporate once blooming begins in spring of 2nd year by mowing and/or tilling under

Limitations: Slow to establish; not exceptionally heat-tolerant – growers in the South should plant in late summer/fall for overwintering


Oats – Annual

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

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

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

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

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

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


Annual Ryegrass - Annual

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

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

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

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

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

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


Winter Rye - Perennial

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tillage RadishAnnual

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

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

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

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

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

Limitations: Does not tolerate waterlogged soil


Yellow Sweet CloverBiennial

Benefits: nitrogen-fixer, mines nutrients from deep in soil, drought-tolerant, attracts beneficials, tolerates poor soil, adds up to 2.5 tons dry matter/acre in first year

Uses: excellent green manure, soil builder, subsoil aerator, and honey plant

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

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

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

Limitations: Does not tolerate waterlogged soil


Field Peas/Oats MixAnnual

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

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

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

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

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

Limitations: Peas do not tolerate very hot dry weather


Field Peas/Oats/Vetch Mix

Benefits: versatile, fixes nitrogen, suppresses weeds, spring residue decomposes quickly, edible pea tendrils, adds up to 8,000 lbs/acre of organic matter

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

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

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

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


Winter Rye/Hairy Vetch MixPerennial

Benefits: fixes nitrogen, suppresses weeds, adds organic matter

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

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

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

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


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

Lettuce Plan: Developing a Lettuce Program for your Region

Regal Oak Lettuce

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

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

Northern U.S.

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

Roxy Lettuce

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

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

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

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

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

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

Winter Density Lettuce

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

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

Southern U.S.

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

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

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

Nevada Lettuce

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pacific Northwest

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

Pomegranate Crunch Lettuce

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Outredgeous Lettuce

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

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

Preserving Value-Added Products for Winter Meals and CSAs

Katie Spring & Edge Fuentes hoeing at Good Heart Farmstead

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

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

Considerations When Adding Value

Sauerkraut is a great way to use up excess cabbage

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

Mixing Magic Soup Starter

Packaged Magic Soup Starter


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

Preparing pumpkin puree


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

Finished pumpkin puree ready for freezing

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

Posted in Ask The Expert, Commercial Growing, Farmer Authors, Recipes, Variety Highlights | 9 Comments

Top 5 Succession-Planted Crops for Extending the Harvest

When direct-seeding in the spring, it’s easy for your “eyes to get bigger than your stomach”. It takes only a few minutes to seed a row of cilantro 50 feet long, or pour all your arugula seed into one furrow. There’s another age-old saying that applies here – “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket”. Regardless of what proverb you lean toward, there’s a piece of garden wisdom at the heart of it, and that is: sow more than once.

It takes a little more time and definitely requires some reminding, but seeding several plantings, or “successions”, of short season crops is important for several reasons. First off, it reduces waste. For example, if you plant a 30-foot row of salad mix, you’ll probably get more than you can eat at once, and have to give away (or give up on) whatever you can’t eat before it bolts or turns bitter—and then you’ll have no more salad mix for the rest of the summer.

Succession Planting

On the other hand, if you planted 5 feet at a time, but did it every few weeks, you’d have a manageable amount of lettuce available continuously. Succession planting spreads the harvest out over a long period, rather than having a large amount of one thing for a short time (which can be great if you’re into canning). Succession planting is also a powerful way to find out which crops perform best at different times of year—you might find that cilantro does beautifully in spring plantings, but immediately bolts in summer, or that the tastiest baby kale is grown in fall successions. One thing is for sure—succession planting will make you a better grower.

Top Crops to Succession Plant

So the next question is, what crops should you succession plant? The truth is that succession planting works for most crops—you can certainly start multiple successions of tomatoes or peppers—but the easiest way to get started is to choose short-season crops that are sown directly in the ground. Since these have a short harvest window, tending to mature and go to seed quickly, they’ll give you the most “bang for your buck”.

1)      Greens such as salad mixes, baby lettuces, Asian greens and mustards should be sown every 1-3 weeks for a continuous harvest. Most varieties will “cut and come again”, meaning that you can harvest several times, cutting about 1” above the soil line and allowing the plants to regrow for several weeks after each harvest. Lettuces, however, can only be cut once or twice before they become bitter.

2)      Roots such as carrots, beets and turnips should be sown every three weeks for a continuous harvest. Roots planted in spring for summer harvest will last 2-3 weeks in the field, while roots planted in summer for fall harvest can be left in the field much longer and harvested for storage after a light frost.

3)      Scallions are a great crop to succession plant—but be aware that they take up to two weeks to germinate, and must be kept weeded while they’re getting established. Once they get going, however, the crop can hold in the ground almost indefinitely, and will easily overwinter even in northern regions. Sow scallions every 2-4 weeks for a continuous harvest, being careful not to sow too thickly as they require plenty of room to reach full size.

4)      Radishes are among the most satisfying crops to grow, germinating within just a few days, and producing full sized roots in under a month. They don’t hold very long in the field though, so plant every 10 days for a continuous harvest. You can also combine radish and carrot or beet seed—the radishes will be harvested long before the carrots or beets, and will help clearly mark the row in the meantime.

5)      Cilantro, if you’re a fan, is one of the few herbs that must be succession planted every 2-4 weeks for a continuous harvest. For those of us that like it, it’s a wonderfully versatile addition to Mexican and Asian dishes and will find its way into many summer meals. It can also be easily frozen in ice cube trays with a little water, then later tossed into winter bean dishes for some summer flavor. If the cilantro goes to seed, you can collect the seeds, called coriander, for use in a variety of ethnic dishes. If you like cilantro, it’s a must for succession planting—and if you don’t, you might just discover coriander as a new flavor to experiment with.

When to Stop?

If you live in an area that freezes in the winter, you’re probably wondering when you should stop succession planting, since at a certain point it becomes too cold for some crops to reach maturity. Your last succession should be planted outdoors about two months before your first frost (about August 1st here in Vermont, since our first frost is around the end of September). This may seem like a long time—but the shorter days and cooling temperatures of fall mean that your plants won’t reach maturity as quickly as in spring or summer.

Posted in Ask The Expert, Beginner Gardeners' Guide, Winter Growing | 4 Comments

Grow Year-Round: What to Plant for Fall & Winter Harvest, by Region

Arbason F1 Greenhouse Tomatoes

There’s no denying it: people across the country are jazzed about growing their own. But food self-sufficiency doesn’t have to be limited to the summer months, and taking advantage of the possibilities in fall, winter and spring can save a lot of money (and the resources needed to transport food from distant locales).

The secret to growing your own food year round (even in areas with cold winters) mainly has to do with variety selection, timing and season extension techniques–and these vary by where you grow. So we’ll look at the fall and winter crops you can grow and the last date they should be planted by for each region. For each crop, it is a good idea to try planting several successions a few weeks apart–this way you will learn which fall planting dates produce the best results for each crop in your area.


Northern U.S.

Mark your calendars! Growing food in the north is limited by both the number of frost-free days and the amount of daylight we receive. The frost issue can be handled by using season-extending row covers, low tunnels, coldframes or hoophouses, which protect plants from hard frosts, allowing them to continue growing much longer than they would outdoors. But the light issue is pretty unavoidable—once the day-length drops below 10 hours, plant growth essentially grinds to a halt. This means that it’s really important to get your timing right so that fall crops are basically mature before this date.


Southern U.S.

Southern growers typically have more flexibility when it comes to planting dates, since the first frost is much later and light levels remain higher throughout the winter. This means that a wider variety of crops can be grown—depending on the specific area, it can be more like a whole “second season” than an extension of the main growing season.


Pacific Northwest

Growers in the northwest have a unique climate characterized by relatively moderate temperatures all year round. This means that the area is exceptionally well-suited to multiple successions of fall and winter crops that wouldn’t survive exposed to the elements, but do just great with the protection of hoophouses or low tunnels.

To learn more about fall and winter growing, check out our other resources:


Posted in Beginner Gardeners' Guide, Commercial Growing, Greenhouses, Growing Tips, Variety Highlights, Winter Growing | 6 Comments

Enter to Win our Father’s Day GIVEAWAY!

In celebration of dads, fathers, pops or your old man, this month we’re giving a lucky one a sweet set of garden goodies, including:

  • our NEW Organic T-shirt
  • our NEW (and very spiffy) Eco-Trucker hat
  • our favorite garden tool, the Hori-Hori weeding knife from and
  • a gift certificate for $25 worth of his favorite High Mowing seeds!

If you’re a dad, or you know your father is just itching to get his hands dirty, enter to win! (You can enter and have the prize package sent to the dad of your choice in time for Father’s Day.)


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

Contest starts Thursday, June 11th and ends Wednesday, June 17th at 11pm EST. Good luck, have fun and Happy Father’s Day!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Posted in About High Mowing Organic Seeds | 123 Comments

Tools of the Trade: Our Staff Favorites

Sarah weeding the squash trials with a stirrup hoe

As soon as we starting asking our staff what their favorite tools were, we realized that everyone, without exception, loved something different. So we divided them into 5 categories to help you learn more about the best tools for each use, and choose just the right ones for your needs.

Cultivating Large Areas

“My husband introduced me to the stirrup hoe; it works wonders on weeds by hacking off the tops. While it doesn’t get to the root of the problem (hah!) it does save on the hands-and-knees weed pulling, which means I’m more likely to do it and not let the weeds win.”

- Carrie

Katie Spring weeding with a collinear hoe

“I really like my narrow collinear hoe. Developed by Eliot Coleman, it’s great for weeding between tightly-spaced rows like onions or salad greens. You do have to be careful and go slowly, as it’s easy to nick plants in tight spaces, but I like how you can stand up straight to use it. A much easier way to weed if you don’t like bending!”

- Sophia

“My swan neck hoe sings around evenly spaced plants. Its geometry fits me really well, and I find it to be non-fatiguing when held properly. It moves through soil easily, taking out weeds when they are silver threads, but it also has enough heft to go after heavier, larger weeds and drag them out of the beds.”

- Paul

5-Tined Hand Cultivator

“My nomination would be a 5-pronged cultivator I found in a thrift store after we moved to Vermont. It came in handy when we decided to plant a garden at our new place last summer. The plot we chose to plant was 20′ by 20′, overgrown with several years of weeds, much of it switchgrass. We had no equipment, and no hope of any. The plot needed a tractor and plow.  I had shovels, rakes, hoes, a garden fork. I tried them all with poor result. Finally, I tried this 5-pronged claw. And with it, I cleared the plot. It swung swiftly, reached deeply, pulled easily. Nothing resisted it. Now it is truly my favorite garden tool.”

- John

Cultivating Small Areas

Cobra Head Weeder

“My favorite tool is called a Cobra Head weeder, and it is my go-to hand tool in the garden (and on the farm I worked on for 4 seasons). It’s great for digging up long roots like dandelions as well as pulling out runner-type roots like the dreaded witchgrass. It has a double blade on the end, so you can hack at stuff if you can’t pull it out, and you can also run it along its side to scuff up the dirt crust and do a quick hand weed. In short, it’s deadly. To weeds. Plus, the blue handle makes it easy to find if you set it down to really tug at a root.”

- Genevieve

“I’m pretty attached to my EZ digger from Fedco. It’s the perfect tool for making furrows and then smoothing the bed afterward.  Also the sharp tip is excellent for punching holes in plastic.”

Hori Hori Weeding Knife

- Jodi

“The tool I use more often than any other is the hori hori Japanese weeding knife. It’s great for transplanting, digging out taprooted weeds, and dividing perennials. Best of all, it’s small enough to carry with me, and the full tang blade is strong enough to leverage out stubborn weeds without bending.”

- Elena


Digging & Edging

“It feels a little mundane, but I love my garden fork. Since having kids, my time and attention for my garden has plummeted and perennial weeds have taken a firm hold in my veggie garden and many of my perennial beds. My salvation is the digging fork to loosen the soil enough to get every last bit of the roots. Otherwise, I’m sunk. In better weed years, I love the stirrup hoe because I can get the weeds when they’re small and don’t have to resort to the fork. I’m afraid to say I think the fork will be my friend for a while yet…”

- Andrea

“The flat edge of my spade is great for creating clean edges around garden beds. An angled, well-defined edge makes the bed look tidy and makes it much more difficult for weeds to creep in.”

- Sophia

Seeding & Transplanting

Hoss Garden Seeder

“I recently tried a Hoss seeder and it is awesome! It cleans out easily, is super durable, American made, and it doubles as a wheel hoe.”

- Stephen

“A dibbler is really easy to build, costs very little and brings so much to the farm. It cuts down on waste of plant production, since I know exactly how many plants it takes to fill a row, and it promotes plant health by giving each plant the room it needs to thrive.”

- Paul

Jamie pruning tomatoes in the Trials Field


Felco pruners are a pleasure to hold and use. Such a clean cut, even if they are for a lefty and I’m a righty—using them is a pleasure and having to put a little thought into each cut (due to the lefty set up) makes me smile.”

- Tom F 

Posted in Ask The Expert, Beginner Gardeners' Guide, Commercial Growing, Farmer Authors, Growing Tips | 5 Comments

5 Simple Tricks for Preventing Pests & Disease

Plastic mulch can be used to suppress weeds, warm the soil, retain moisture, and more

1) Mulch. We’ve said it before; we’ll say it again: mulch everything you can. Whether you opt for black plastic, paper mulch, fabric, straw, leaves or newspaper, mulching well can prevent a lot of problems in the garden. To expound on its benefits, mulch

  • Decreases mobility for pests that transmit diseases like powdery mildew and bacterial wilt
  • Saves water by reducing evaporation from the soil, which in turn may help prevent problems related to water uptake, like blossom end rot
  • Smothers weeds that reduce air circulation, exacerbate fungal diseases, and can be hosts for pathogens
  • Straw mulch adds organic matter to the soil, lightening heavy soils and improving friability of sandy ones, ultimately improving soil health, biodiversity and resilience
  • Regulates soil temperature, black plastic warming the soil in the spring for heat-loving crops, while straw cools it, reducing heat stress that makes plants vulnerable to infection

If you are gardening in a wet area, mulching will make it take longer for the soil to dry out. Wait until the soil is sufficiently warm and dry for planting before applying mulch.

Space adequately for good yields and air circulation

2) Space. When laying out the garden or succession planting, try to visualize what it will look like when all the plants are full-grown, and space accordingly. Prioritize the plants that need the most space first, and only plant as many as can actually fit according to our planting chart. You won’t get higher yields by crowding your plants—you’ll just get stressed, shrunken ones that each produce less than they should. And by stressing your plants, you’re inviting enemies into the garden – practically waving a sign that says “Diseases Land Here!”

Part of good spacing is maintaining that space—if you take a “set it and forget it” approach to gardening, nature will take her course and quickly turn your plot into a jungle. Clean up weeds and diseased and dead leaves, prune tomato suckers by pinching them back as they appear, and be flexible—if it turns out there’s not enough room for a full-sized kale plant after the spring radishes come out, plant short-season lettuce instead. Keep the soil covered at all times by utilizing the space that’s available, and only plant what actually fits in the space when fully grown.

Interplanting helps use space efficiently, while retaining good air circulation and preventing diseases from spreading

3) Interplant. There’s a delicate balance between fully utilizing your space and crowding it. Basically, I advocate for a “vertical first” approach: plan your garden around the height of plants, filling in with the shortest (and fastest) ones at the end.

So for example, along the north side of a bed I’ll plant a row of trellised tomatoes, since they’ll get taller than everything else and I don’t want them to shade out other crops. I can simply walk along the back of the bed and weave the leaders through my trellis, pruning and harvesting tomatoes as they ripen. In front of the tomatoes I could plant a row of eggplants, peppers, or tall greens like kale. These don’t need much attention – just occasional harvesting – so it’s ok if they’re sandwiched in the middle of the bed. In the front of the bed I could plant carrots—they’ll need lots of weeding and attention throughout the season, so it’s good to ensure easy access. All around and throughout these “tall” crops, I can direct sow fast-growing crops like salad mix, radishes, dill and cilantro. If they get shaded by the taller plants, that’s ok—in summer it means a longer harvest, since they won’t bolt as quickly in the shade.

The whole bed is now filled, the soil completely covered (discouraging weeds), and because of the orientation with tallest plants on the north side, everybody gets the light they need. Air moves freely around the plants, since they’re not in tight rows of the same height, and the wide diversity of plant families in just this one bed means that diseases will have a harder time spreading.

Tomato trellis made with concrete reinforcing wire and cedar stakes

4) Trellis. Some people trellis cucumbers, squash, anything even slightly viney—but I have to draw the line at pumpkins and melons. Making little pantyhose hammocks for watermelons so they don’t slip off the vine? I’m just not going there. That being said, sturdy trellises are great for crops that really need them, like tomatoes and pole beans – you can check out my preferred trellising system here.

One of the biggest benefits of trellising is that it gets plant foliage off the ground, increasing air circulation and preventing fungal spores from taking hold. Trellises keep fruit off the ground too – which can be an advantage if you have poorly drained soil and find that melons or cukes tend to rot sitting on the ground. If you have a system that works for you, stick with it. But tomato cages and stakes never worked for me (and often collapsed, destroying magnificent plants). If you’re short on space and want to increase air circulation, growing vertically is the way to go—just invest in a system that is study enough to handle the weight.

Row covers protect plants from frost, wind, hail, sunburn and insect pests

5) Cover & Coat. Simple, affordable row covers can provide an impressive array benefits, and can be used over and over again if handled with care. Almost any crop that is susceptible to pest infestation (except potatoes) will benefit from being covered immediately after planting.

Row covers protect plants from frost, wind, hail and pests that carry diseases. Covering brassicas like broccoli and kale just after planting prevents infestations of flea beetles, cabbage worms, cabbage looper, and diamondback moth.

Cucurbit seedlings coated in kaolin clay are unappealing to cucumber beetles


Covering cucurbits like cucumbers and squash until they begin flowering keeps out cucumber beetles and squash bugs. It can be used to keep plantings of peppers and eggplants warmer, helping them grow and produce faster. For pest prevention, it’s essential that all the edges of the row cover are completely buried – even a small opening is enough to allow an army of flea beetles in.

Where you can’t cover, you can coat. Cucumber beetles and squash bugs can be deterred by dipping seedlings in kaolin-clay solution – but it must be reapplied after heavy rains to continue protecting the plants. Likewise, you can coat cucurbit plants with baking soda or milk solution to control powdery mildew, and use immune-boosting compost tea to prevent blight on tomatoes. You can learn more about these coatings in our Disease ID article.

Posted in Ask The Expert, Beginner Gardeners' Guide, Growing Tips | 5 Comments

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).

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