Growing with Kids: 6 Practical Ways to Engage Them on the Farm


Waylon (age 2) and Katie harvesting calendula flowers

This summer our son will turn 3, and over the past three years we’ve found many ways to engage him here at Good Heart Farmstead through our daily farm tasks. By doing so, we spend quality time with our son, avoid the expense of child care, and give him the opportunity to manage risks and experience farm life.

Here are some ways he participates that have worked well for us:

In the Greenhouse

Filling trays: Soil is fun to play with! Filling trays, whether they’re six-packs or 128s, can be a helpful way for kids to play with soil in the greenhouse. Depending on the child’s age and ability, the trays filled may be more for fun than for function, but this is a great hands-on activity you can do with your child, or have your child do while you are getting other work (like seeding) done nearby.


Waylon and his friend help with seeding

Seeding: Large-seeded crops (such as beets, squash, cucumbers, melons, corn, beans and peas) and pelleted seeds are easy for children to plant themselves. With supervision, our toddler can successfully place a specific number of pelleted seeds in each cell. Other crops easy for kids to seed include flowers such as calendula, sunflowers, and nasturtiums.

Hardening off: By gently brushing the seedlings with their hands, kids can help strengthen the plants by emulating the wind during the hardening off process. This helps the plants grow sturdier and can greatly reduce transplant shock. It’s a task our toddler loves to do; he calls it “giving love” to the plants.

 

In the Field

Transplanting: We always dip our transplants in a mix of water, kelp meal and humic acid, and our son likes to help make the mix and stir it. We lay out a 100 ft. measuring tape to help us quickly and accurately space the transplants, and older kids can help by placing each transplant at the correct spacing; younger kids can help by handing transplants to mom or dad.


Harvesting is a great task for kids to help with

Direct Seeding: Large-seeded crops like beets, squash, corn, beans, peas, garlic and potatoes are all great direct-seeded crops for kids to help plant. Laying down a tape measure ensures accurate spacing (and sneaks in a real-life math lesson in the field).

Harvest: Our toddler has shown us that easy crops for young children to harvest include peas, cherry tomatoes, beets, onions, carrots, and all sorts of flowers (when harvesting flowers with young children, don’t expect a long stem!) It can take some time for children to learn the right harvest size for each crop, which can turn into a lesson on the stages of plant growth. Cherry tomatoes are the easiest, though, as you can tell them the right color to harvest (no green ones!)

On days we have our son in the field with us, we assume that only one of us will be truly working, and anything that gets done beyond one person’s work is a benefit. Farming with a toddler is an exercise in balancing efficiency and playtime. Though efficiency is one of the most important things on a farm, playtime is also important in life, and kids will always help you find time for it.

Posted in Ask The Expert, Commercial Growing, Farm Ethics, Farmer Authors, Kids and Gardening | 5 Comments

Our Top 5 Flowers for Pollinators


Bees pollinating holy basil

If you’re like us, you’re worried about pollinators—we need them for production of about 35% of global crops by volume and over 85% of the world’s flowering plants, and many pollinator species are in decline or at risk of extinction. Four species of bumble bees native to America are in rapid decline; the rusty-patched bumble bee, for example, has disappeared from almost 90% of its historic range.

While controversy abounds about the root causes of the bee die-offs and disappearances, it’s becoming clear that human behavior, especially habitat loss, climate change and pesticide use are to blame. Regardless of the cause, it’s up to all of us to protect them, and the precious pollination services they provide, for generations to come. High Mowing is pleased to offer a variety of flowers that provide much-needed food for bees and butterflies, while making our own landscapes more beautiful, productive and ecologically diverse. By planting all 5 of these flowers, you’ll be providing food for all 11 types of native bees, plus honey bees!

1. Beeline Pollinator Mix

We specially formulated this mix just for native pollinators, and boy does it buzz when in bloom! Featuring purple-flowered Phacelia, sunflowers, cosmos, and a variety of herbs and other flowers, this mix provides a diverse mix of nectar and pollen sources over a long season.

Bee species supported: Bumble Bee, Digger Bee, Large Carpenter Bee, Small Carpenter Bee, Leafcutter Bee, Mason Bee, Sweat Bee, Plasterer Bee, Andrenid (Miner) Bee, Honey Bee

2. Sunflowers

Sunflowers are pollinator superheroes, for many reasons – they are tall and brightly colored for easy visibility from a distance; they produce abundant sources of both pollen and nectar; their broad, flat faces make it easy for butterflies and other large-winged insects to land on them (sort of like a helipad); and their lush foliage provides an excellent food source for butterfly caterpillars. There are, however, a few tips that can boost the benefits of planting sunflowers:

  • Plant in groups rather than scattering them all over; this way it is easier for pollinators to find them and gather food efficiently
  • Plant them in a place protected from wind; both the plants and pollinators enjoy a calm, protected area
  • Plant several different varieties to provide a continuous supply of flowers from late summer to fall; we recommend Evening Colors Blend, Velvet Queen, Mammoth, Soraya

Bee species supported: Bumble Bee, Digger Bee, Large Carpenter Bee, Small Carpenter Bee, Leafcutter Bee, Sweat Bee, Plasterer Bee, Andrenid (Miner) Bee, Honey Bee

3. Thyme

Diminutive and low-growing though it may be, thyme has wonderful properties for humans, as a culinary and medicinal herb, and for the bees that feed on it. There are lots of other advantages to planting thyme as well – it’s an easy, low-maintenance perennial, it’s drought-tolerant, it spreads over time (but not aggressively), and its white flowers and silvery foliage are attractive planted along rock walls, patios and herb gardens. It also provides important food for some of the picky eaters like Mason and Yellow-faced bees.

Bee species supported: Bumble Bee, Digger Bee, Mason Bee, Sweat Bee, Yellow-faced Bee

4. Catnip

Like all members of the mint or Lamiaceae family (which includes many bee favorites such as basil, lemon balm, oregano, sage and thyme) catnip is aromatic, flowers over a very long season, and is simply loaded with the characteristic red-orange pollen that bees love. It’s also a very hardy perennial, surviving the coldest of winters with ease, and has a more restrained growth habit than true mints for a lovely ornamental, medicinal, tea and insectary plant.

Bee species supported: Bumble Bee, Digger Bee, Mason Bee

5. Squash, Pumpkins & Gourds

In order to provide a meal for everyone, you’ll need to plant some cucurbits—squash, pumpkins, cucumbers or gourds. The small, abundant squash bees that pollinate virtually every single cucumber, zucchini or pumpkin (and are often found sleeping inside the large yellow flowers) depend exclusively on this family of plants for food, and as wild habitat is eliminated, wild sources also become more limited. And of course, planting cucurbits is also a great way to provide food for yourself as well.

Bee species supported: Large Carpenter Bee, Squash Bee

For more information, check out these great Ecoregional Planting Guides from the Pollinator Partnership.

Posted in About High Mowing Organic Seeds, Beginner Gardeners' Guide, Farm Ethics, Growing Tips, Variety Highlights | 12 Comments

Profitable Potatoes: Tips from Organic Farmer Becky Maden

Becky Maden is a vegetable farmer currently living in Orwell, VT, where she and her husband operate Singing Cedars Farmstead. Previously, Becky spent 10 years working as the Assistant Farm Manager at Intervale Community Farm, a thriving 500-member CSA farm in Burlington, VT. In her time spent away from the farm, Becky loves to travel, write, bike, run, ski, and cook bounteous meals with glorious produce.
 


Peruvian potato field

I need to begin this article honestly: potatoes have been a crop I whine about growing, especially on a commercial scale. But with the right inputs and equipment, potatoes can be great to grow, as well as eat. Years ago, traveling in Peru, I walked through fields of colorful flowering potatoes, marveling at the healthy plants and lack of diseases, pests and weeds. Although I never learned the techniques the Peruvians use to grow such gorgeous plants, there are a few critical practices that can help us grow organic potatoes successfully in our own corner of the world.


A buckwheat cover crop

Soil Fertility

Potatoes require specific soil nutrients, more than most vegetables, and the yield benefits justify the extra money and effort to provide them. Planting a cover crop in advance of your spuds will help suppress weeds, improve soil organic matter, and, if you grow a legume, provide nitrogen for the potatoes. The New England Vegetable Management Guide suggests 120-180 pounds of nitrogen per acre of potatoes, with 2/3 of your total N applied at planting time and 1/3 applied as a side-dressing just before your first hilling. Make sure you also provide the recommended phosphorus and potassium for your potatoes—do a soil test or contact your local cooperative extension to determine how much additional P and K your soil needs.

Variety Selection


Elba is an exceptionally leafhopper-resistant variety

One of the key elements to growing organic potatoes successfully is selecting varieties appropriate to your soils, pest and disease pressures, and markets. High Mowing has a great comparison chart that allows you to compare varieties by maturity, yield, and disease resistance, among other qualities. Perhaps what I’ve become most attuned to over the years is the varying disease and pest resistance among potato varieties. For instance, Potato leaf hopper is a serious problem for many growers in the northeast, and knowing which varieties are the least affected by it can be critical (see this Cornell study). If late blight is a persistent problem in your area, select a resistant variety such as Yukon Gem.

Irrigation

Potatoes require special attention to soil moisture, as they’ll suffer with too much or too little. In cold, saturated soils, potatoes can rot just after they are planted, and in rainy years they suffer from diseases attracted to their wet foliage. However, since potatoes are relatively shallow-rooted, their irrigation needs cannot be neglected, especially on sandy soils. Tuber initiation and development is a critical time for water (around 30 days after planting). As the tuber bulks up, water management can dictate the size and ultimate yields of your potatoes, and can help prevent Scab, brown scarring caused by too little soil moisture.

Equipment

Although many growers utilize a whole range of specialized equipment for growing potatoes, there really are just a few key equipment acquisitions. Hillers are critical for any significant plot of potatoes. Mechanical hillers can also do double duty by burying weeds in hard-to-cultivate places.


Potato digger harvesting the crop

Hillers can be easily cobbled together at home, and can fit any scale machine, including horses or BCS walk-behinds. Your first hilling should occur when the plants are 6-8” high, then again one or two more times until the plants are 10-12” high. It’s important to exercise care when hilling, since you can accidentally damage tubers or prune the roots if you get too close to the plants.

Another critical piece of equipment with potatoes is a sprayer. Regardless of your scale, you need to be prepared to spray for Colorado Potato Beetle (CPB), Potato leafhopper, and perhaps late blight. Be sure to scout potatoes thoroughly and regularly. Sprayers come in all sizes, from hand pump to battery powered backpack sprayers to tractor-mounted sprayers. Clearance can quickly become an issue for tractors driving through potatoes, so either make sure you have high clearance, or plan your fields with drive rows.

Potato diggers pay for themselves quickly once you grow any volume of potatoes. Again, these are available for all scales and are relatively easy to find used.

Even though I started out as a spud naysayer, I’ve learned that taking pleasure in growing potatoes simply means appreciating the techniques and the careful attention the plants require. I doubt I’ll ever grow potatoes as artfully as the Peruvians do, but it’s an honor to try.

Posted in Ask The Expert, Commercial Growing, Farmer Authors, Growing Tips, Plant Diseases, Plant Pests | 3 Comments

Crop Talk: Growing Bountiful Kale at Good Heart Farmstead


Katie Spring and Edge Fuentes with their son Waylon, at Good Heart Farmstead

I love kale. I love it for its ability to thrive in many zones (including our Zone 4 location), and for the way it keeps on giving all season long. At Good Heart Farmstead, we grow kale from May through December, and I’m a firm believer that everyone should “eat more kale.” With a little planning, you can eat (or sell) fresh kale all season long.

Growing for Full Size Plants

One of our goals is to have kale available for the CSA from June through December, and we make this happen with two different seeding times and a staggered harvest schedule.

Start kale seeds in either 1” soil blocks or 72-cell trays. Kale takes 4 weeks to reach transplant size, and at Good Heart we seed our first round on April 1st for an early May planting.


An early spring CSA share from Good Heart

When it’s time to plant out, we set out the seedlings at two different spacings: the first section is planted in three rows at 12” for an early harvest of mid-size leaves, and the second is planted in two rows at 18” spacing for a later full-size harvest (our beds are 30”). The different spacings provide a staggered harvest schedule with leaves of varying sizes, from tender mid-size leaves to full size bunches over a longer harvest window.

We start another succession in early to mid August for a robust fall harvest. While many home gardeners will find that one planting with more generous spacing will give them kale plants that last into the fall, our more aggressive harvests ask a lot from the plants, and starting with a new succession for the fall ensures heavy harvests to meet our CSA needs.


Good Heart’s fall salad mixes feature baby kale

Direct Seeding for Baby Kale

Baby kale is an excellent addition to salad mixes. Let it grow just past baby size and it becomes a great addition to a braising mix. We’ve tried spring and fall seedings for baby kale, and have found that fall successions are more successful, with a longer harvest window and higher potential for multiple cuts thanks to the cool weather that kale prefers.

In a 30” bed, direct seed baby kale in 12 rows at 1 ½” seed spacing, then cover with remay to hold in moisture and keep out potential pests. Like lettuce mix, baby kale can produce multiple harvests, making this a viable crop for salad growers.

Our hands-down favorite variety for baby kale is Red Russian. Its tenderness combined with the red stem make it delicious and beautiful, worthy of eating on it’s own or in a mix.


Red Russian kale is a favorite at Good Heart

Dealing with Pests

Prevention is the best pest control, and prevention starts with healthy plants. Healthy plants are better able to withstand pest pressure because they grow faster and are better able to “bounce back” from damage.

Our healthy plant regimen:

  • Start seedlings in a controlled space with good airflow and consistent heat and moisture to help them start off strong. If you see any signs of yellowing or stress, a foliar feed with liquid kelp can give them a boost.
  • Make sure you harden off before transplanting.
  • When transplanting, we dip all our trays in a mixture of water, kelp, and liquid humates. The kelp reduces transplant shock and the humates encourage better absorption of soil minerals. The two together encourage greater vigor from the start.

Spring planting has the greater potential for pest pressure on our farm, specifically from flea beetles. While we’ve seen flea beetle damage on the young tender leaves of transplants, the waxier full-size leaves seem to be less appetizing to the pests. To minimize pest damage of transplants, we cover them with remay supported by wire hoops for the first 2-3 weeks in the field.


Katie and Edge use row cover to keep pests off their spring kale

Spring

At Good Heart, our spring varieties are Red Russian and Westlander. We’ve found a demand from our CSA members for both the tender Red Russian and the thicker, curly-leaved Westlander, and at 50 DTM for each variety, their speed allows us to get harvests out quickly.

Summer

Red Russian and Westlander are both carried into the summer in our fields. Olympic Red (55 DTM) rounds out the summer harvest, and performs better on hot harvest days as its thicker leaves hold up better post-harvest compared to Red Russian.


Olympic Red kale offers exceptional frost tolerance for fall crops

Fall

While all kale loves the fall season, our favorite varieties are Olympic Red and Lacinato (60 days), both of which hold out long into the fall and early winter. CSA members look forward to the meatier leaves of Lacinato, perfect for hearty fall meals.

This year we’re excited to add in Nash’s Green, which reaches maturity 10 days faster than Ripbor F1 and is well-suited to fall and winter growing.

Posted in Ask The Expert, Beginner Gardeners' Guide, Commercial Growing, Growing Tips, Variety Highlights, Winter Growing | 5 Comments

Potato GrowBag GIVEAWAY!

You loved the Potato GrowBags from last month’s giveaway so much, we decided to give away more—so this month THREE lucky winners will each receive:

(Two winners will receive the standard-size potato GrowBag, and one winner will receive a Jumbo GrowBag).

GrowBags make it easy for beginners to grow potatoes for the first time, they’re perfect for patios and small spaces, and they make harvest a breeze – just dump the bag and collect a bountiful harvest of potatoes!

HOW TO ENTER
It’s easy: just click “Log In” below if you have a Facebook account (if you don’t have Facebook, just click “Use Your Email” to create a Rafflecopter account). Then click any of the dropdown options (below) to enter for more chances to win!

Occasionally certain browsers don’t play nice with Rafflecopter – if you have any trouble entering the giveaway, please email webmaster@highmowingseeds.com

Contest starts Wednesday, March 9th at 3pm and ends Wednesday, March 23rd at 11pm EST. Good luck & happy planting!

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Posted in Beginner Gardeners' Guide, Contests | 358 Comments

Crop Talk: Success with Brassicas at Sandiwood Farm


Sara Schlosser, Farmer & Commercial Grower Sales Rep

Here at Sandiwood Farm we’re tapping our maple trees and finishing our plans for the growing season ahead. This means reflecting on last season and what we, and our customers, loved most. Brassicas are an important crop for us, and I’ve learned a lot over my 27 years of growing them on our farm in Northern Vermont. Here are some highlights that may help with your own planning:

CABBAGE

I plant Kaboko F1 & Bilko F1 Napa cabbages really early in our high tunnel. They love the extra warmth and protection, producing beautiful full-size heads for spring markets.

Farao F1 is my favorite for a fresh market green cabbage. Even in our short season, I am able to get multiple successions, and with the way it holds in the early summer heat, it does well for both spring and fall plantings.

For 2016 I’m excited to try the open pollinated Golden Acre cabbage, which can be tightly planted and produces early, uniform heads in a more manageable size (that’s great for smaller families).


Sara harvesting Caraflex cabbages at Sandiwood

Caraflex F1 is one of my absolute favorites. They pack boxes so well, they make a heart shape when you open them, they’re great grilled, raw or cooked, and they’re very uniform so I can charge one price for all of them. People always stop and back up to ask about “the cones” at market. Processors and chefs love its big brother Murdoc F1 because of its larger size, and it also stores well.

Last season I tried Integro F1 for an early planting (even though it’s a late red cabbage) and I was really impressed. It’s a dependable variety that allowed me to offer a quality red cabbage early in the season.

For savoy, I’m a big fan of Famosa F1. With adequate spacing and fertility they can get huge, and with durable outer leaves, it’s a great cabbage to sell wholesale.

I grow Impala F1 for storage. It sits high on the plant for easy harvest and disease prevention, it’s rock hard and it holds well in the field for harvest through the fall.

I’ve fallen in love with Deadon F1. Bred for harvesting well into the winter, this variety gets sweeter and even more stunning after the first snow. We harvest it for winter markets without using cooler space, and it’s a real showstopper.


Sara harvesting Belstar F1 broccoli at Sandiwood

BROCCOLI

I had huge success with early Batavia F1 broccoli last year, and it’s now my choice for early crops. I used row cover to get steady rapid growth, and got beautiful plants with huge crowns that I sold by weight in June, with a two week window to harvest from one seeding.

I’ve always been a big fan of the Belstar F1, and I do a couple successions of it. It’s super nice in late summer and fall and holds really well in the field. It has quickly become a market standard, with uniform growth and dependability throughout late summer and fall.

I also grow some DeCicco because people love its tender, delicious florets and stems, which I sell bunched like broccoli raab. You can plant densely, and it’s great for plant sales. It’s even a gourmet delicacy when it’s starting to flower, as it stays tender and delicious without getting spicy.

KALE

I tried all our kales last year to see the differences. The Meadowlark is SO beautiful and graceful with its long leaves and tight curl, and people loved it. It does take a few more leaves to make a bunch, but the plants are tall and have more leaves, so you don’t need to plant more.


A staff member harvests kale at Sandiwood Farm

The other green curly type I really love is Westlander – it’s the most similar to the hybrid market standards with its uniform habit and large leaves.

Our Red Russian and White Russian grow so fast, and they’re tender and beautiful. It’s really nice to have a diverse mix of kale for your CSA, market display or even your wholesale accounts – I was selling to a lot of chefs last year and they LOVED the mixed boxes of kale and having the palette of colors and textures to work with.

Our Siberian (back in stock this year!) rocks in terms of size, tenderness and extremely fast growth.

The Lacinato is so beautiful and hardy, it’s super popular and it has lots of fun names. It takes a few more leaves to make a full size bunch, but it produces a lot throughout the season and well into the winter.


Sara and Bob Schlosser’s farm stand at the Stowe Farmers Market

BRUSSELS SPROUTS

I love Nautic F1 and have had great results keeping them covered, with plants three feet tall in June, and really early sprouts. They work well in pints—people like the trophy of the whole stalk, but that’s a lot of sprouts for just $5. You can get a lot more money if you sell them picked, and it’s a huge space saver. I usually bring just a few stalks to decorate the stand and show people how they grow.

TURNIPS

I love the early Hakurei-type turnips like Tokyo Market. Last year I did them in succession really early in the high tunnel and was able to get beautiful early bunches. They’re so sweet and versatile raw or cooked—everyone says they never knew they liked turnips until they tried these.

All of these professional-grade varieties offer real benefits to our farm, with both reliable performance for the grower and great quality for a variety of direct and wholesale customers. I hope you can benefit from our experience at Sandiwood, and as always, feel free to contact Sales if we can help with your planning.

Posted in About High Mowing Organic Seeds, Ask The Expert, Commercial Growing, Farmer Authors, Growing Tips, Variety Highlights | 7 Comments

The Sweetest Beet: Basics of Soil Nutrition

To grow well, beets need neutral to slightly alkaline soil and proper thinning (since in most cases, each beet seed is actually a capsule containing 2-4 seeds).

But beets are also a little pickier in how they absorb and utilize soil minerals, and they have a hard time producing if the ones they need aren’t available. To avoid common pitfalls and grow high quality, truly delicious beets, make sure they’re getting these specific minerals.

 


Beet cratered with black heart. Photo: pnwhandbooks.org

Boron deficiency, the most common beet problem, is known as black heart and is caused by a shortage of available boron. Boron is less available to plants in strongly alkaline and very fertile soils, which may need to be amended.

  • Symptoms include: Distorted young leaves, scorched-looking older leaves and black, corky spots on the roots.
  • To treat: Foliar feed with liquid seaweed fertilizer for immediate results or add 1 teaspoon Borax per gallon of water per 100 square feet.



Magnesium deficiency symptoms (chlorosis and necrosis around leaf margins) Photo: schaeden.rheinmedia.org

Magnesium strengthens cell walls, increases sweetness and yields, and improves uptake of other nutrients including nitrogen, phosphorus and sulfur. This can make magnesium-deficiency a little trickier to diagnose, since a shortage of magnesium may result in lack of available phosphorous, and appear to be a phosphorous deficiency.

  • Symptoms include: Stunted growth, flavorless roots, and leaf yellowing in the tissue between veins, progressing to dark spots on the leaf margins.
  • To treat: Water with 1 Tablespoon Epsom salts per gallon of water, or amend with dolomitic limestone or Sul-Po-Mag for a longer-term solution.



Potassium deficiency. Note the necrotic lesions along leaf margins and distortion of youngest leaves. Photo: IPNI

Potassium, one of the three macronutrients denoted by a “K” on most fertilizers, supports strong, vigorous growth, is essential to sugar production, and regulates transpiration, making the plants better able to tolerate heat, cold, shade and drought.

  • Symptoms include: lesions along midribs, older leaves wither and collapse around the plant, young leaves curl and turn yellow or brown along the edges, undersized roots, “off” flavor
  • To Treat: If a soil test indicates that the soil is acidic, foliar feed with fish emulsion or seaweed extract, mix one cup of wood ash per 100 square feet, or fertilize with cottonseed meal, greensand or poultry manure.


Calcium deficiency is quite distinctive – leaves curl into a hook shape and the growing point dies. Photo: sweetbeet.com

Calcium, while considered a micronutrient, is just as essential as N, P or K. It is a building block of plants’ cell walls, and also regulates acidity and magnesium uptake. It’s more common to find high levels of calcium than low ones, but in areas with acid soils calcium deficiency is common.

  • Symptoms include: Youngest leaves yellow and curl downwards at the ends, forming a hook shape, while older leaves wither.
  • To treat: Spread lime, bonemeal or wood ash on acid soils.
  • Keep in mind that high levels of calcium are more common, and inhibit magnesium uptake.
Posted in Beginner Gardeners' Guide, Commercial Growing, Growing Tips, Plant Diseases, Variety Highlights | 7 Comments

Crop Talk: A Year of Potatoes at High Ledge Farm


Paul Betz, Farmer and Commercial Grower Sales Rep

It’s that time again – I’m planning for this year’s potato crop and wanted to share some of my excitement for the season ahead. High Mowing has built a comprehensive collection of seed potatoes that brings value to the commercial grower (or gardener) over the whole harvest season.

We offer varieties for all the main seasonal slots that also have good yields, good flavor, and are reliably going to succeed on your farm. After growing potatoes at High Ledge Farm for 16 years, I know that it’s important to capture value with varieties that really work.

This is how a season works for me:

If the season is off to a cool, wet start (as it often is here in VT), I’ll get a head start by greensprouting my potatoes, transforming them into verdant transplants before planting. If it warms up early, I’ll usually plant unsprouted (dormant) seed potatoes.

I start the season with Dark Red Norland as a new potato, digging them early when the price is high and the eating quality is off the charts.


Purple Viking

This year I’ll be following them with Purple Viking, which is another great early variety that brings lots of color to the farmers market stand.

All Red is a real workhorse for me; it gets big early in the season, and they just glow as a new potato. The plant is also more compact, so it’s easier to get over it with the tractor, and you can keep the edges cleaner.

After that I move into German Butterball, which has exceptional flavor, especially as a new potato, and puts on production at an early stage. It’s great for potato salad or roasting, and my customers are always asking when I’ll have some at my stand.


Red Chieftain

Red Chieftain I like for a main season; it has a bigger yield potential for me than the Norlands, so I like to let that one go full season and not rob it for new potatoes. They store well, and I like the flavor of them.

Of the late fingerlings I like Russian Banana. It’s more approachable in its size uniformity, isn’t too knobby and you can harvest it mechanically without it getting banged up. It does spread outwards, so when you’re hilling you need to be attentive.


Elba

Elba is one of my storage workhorses. The disease resistance is nice and I like its pubescent leaves, since the potato beetles aren’t interested in eating them. The plants are super vigorous and make a lot of potatoes, they’re great for Thanksgiving mashed potatoes, and they store well so I’m able to supply my CSA with potatoes for the whole season.

That’s my potato season - I hope it gives you a sense of how our collection can meet your needs and engage your customers. For more information, check out our Potato Comparison Chart.

- Paul Betz, Farmer & Commercial Grower Sales Rep

Posted in About High Mowing Organic Seeds, Articles by Farmer Paul Betz, Commercial Growing, Growing Tips, Variety Highlights | 2 Comments

Potatoes 101: How to Get Great Yields with Successful Techniques


Sara harvesting early new potatoes from her hoophouse at Sandiwood Farm

Potatoes are a simple, fun crop to grow and can help you eat local year-round thanks to their impressive shelf life. In addition to choosing the right varieties for your needs, it’s also important to choose a successful growing method.

You can find information about all sorts of different techniques on the internet these days, from growing in stacked wooden boxes to wire cages filled with straw. But a lot of these methods just aren’t worth their salt and can result in disappointing yields, even with extra love and care. We’re all about helping you succeed, so in this article we’re just going to focus on methods that really work.


Monique hilling potatoes in the High Mowing Trials field

Hills. This is the traditional method that our parents and grandparents used, and it’s the most practical for large plantings. To succeed, you need to prepare an area by tilling or turning and raking the soil so that it’s soft and loose. If your soil hasn’t been amended recently, you’ll want to mix in some compost as well. Once the soil is prepared, dig long, straight trenches 3-5 feet apart (more space means more potatoes), then space your seed potato pieces about 12” apart in the trenches. Cover the seed potatoes with about 4” of soil, then water in well. When the potatoes have sprouted and grown foliage about 8” tall, you should begin “hilling” the plants by mounding the fluffy soil on either side of the trenches up around the stems of the plants. As long as there is some foliage sticking out they’ll keep growing, and the more you hill, the more potatoes you’ll get. It’s important to keep hilling throughout the season, since any tubers lying close to the soil surface will turn green if they become exposed to sunlight.

You can mulch your hills with straw if you like, which conserves water and makes it harder for potato beetles to move around, but it does get in the way when hilling. If you use straw, leave it in flakes rather than fluffing it up—this way it makes a solid weed barrier and can be gathered and stacked in a neat pile while you’re hilling.


Potatoes grown in raised beds produce the highest yields thanks to the large amount of soil held around the roots

Raised Beds. Growing potatoes in raised beds, whether they’re simply mounded or have actual frames, is one of the easiest and most productive methods. You don’t need to till every year, which is better for maintaining soil structure and health, and you can plant earlier since you don’t need to wait to till before planting. Since potatoes produce best in cool soil that is 40-60°F, most people will have better results with crops planted early in the season, though this is more flexible in cool climates.

To succeed, start by mixing some compost into the soil, then dig shallow trenches about 6” deep and 2-3 feet apart in your raised beds, plant your seed potatoes in the trenches about 10” apart, then cover with 4” of soil. Just like with planting in the ground, you should begin hilling the plants when they get about 8” tall, and continue hilling as the plants grow to give the tubers plenty of room to size up.

To harvest from hills or raised beds, wait until about one week after the plants have completely died back, then pull them up by the stems and remove any potatoes that are attached to the roots. Once the plants have been removed from the bed, you can use a spade or garden fork to dig up the rest of the potatoes. Alternatively, you’re less likely to accidentally spear your spuds if you invite some friends over to help you sift through the soil by hand. It’s a dirty job, but if you feed your helpers in return (or remind them that soil microbes are natural anti-depressants), they won’t mind so much.


Potatoes in GrowBags

Containers, Stacking Boxes or GrowBags.

One of the biggest advantages of growing in pots, boxes or bags is the ease of harvest – you just dump out the container and collect your potatoes. The yields from containers can be as good or better than from hills or raised beds, since there’s a large volume of soil held around the plants, and they grow vertically in this system, which also takes up less space. To succeed, select a large container (3-10+ gallons) with plenty of drainage holes, and add about 3” of potting soil. Place your seed potatoes in the bottom of the container, then cover with 4” more soil and water in. Add more soil to the container as the plants grow, until the soil is 1” below the top rim of the container. You can alternate “hilling” with potting soil and garden soil to keep cost down, just don’t use only garden soil (see below), and be sure to water your containers every morning that it isn’t raining.

Methods I Do Not Recommend Because They Stress the Plants & Reduce Yields:

  • Planting in straw (I find that the plants dry out, but this may work in high-rainfall areas)
  • Planting in wire cylinders full of straw, compost or soil (there is too much airflow so the plants dry out, resulting in undersized tubers)
  • Planting in plastic bags or other containers with poor drainage and airflow. Food-grade plastic tubs with drainage holes can be used, but clear and dark-colored tubs tend to heat the soil too much and can reduce yields
  • Planting upside down, grafted to tomato plants or other boutique methods that are more like fun science experiments than successful production techniques


It’s important to control Colorado Potato Beetle larvae as soon as you see them. Just drop them into a bucket of soapy water (or squash them).

5 Common Mistakes to Avoid:

Starting Too Late. If you’re located anywhere except the cool North or mountain states, there’s not much point in planting potatoes in June. The soil is already too warm and yields will be disappointing. However, you may still be able to produce a fall crop by planting in an area with afternoon shade, where the soil stays cooler, and fall crops may avoid the worst damage from Colorado Potato Beetles.

Letting Plants Dry Out. This is an issue in areas with sandy soil and in hot environments like containers, rooftops and urban heat islands. Water thoroughly every morning in these situations, and hire a plant-sitter if you’ll be going away. Plants that have wilted will have reduced yields.

Using the Wrong Soil. Generally potatoes grow best in deep, loose, loamy soil that is not too rich – 2 parts garden soil to 1 part compost is a good mix for hills and raised beds. If your soil is compacted or you till too shallowly, your plants won’t have enough soil to grow in and yields will be low. If you plant in containers, you need to use potting soil because garden soil hardens in pots, making it harder for tubers to form.

Not Enough Drainage. All potatoes prefer good drainage, so it’s best to choose a spot that doesn’t flood, even in rainy seasons. This is unavoidable in some years, but drainage ditches, raised beds, containers or aggressive hilling can keep the plants above water in extreme situations.

Too Many Seed Potatoes. The amount of loose soil you provide, not the number of seed potatoes you plant, is the main factor that will limit yields. Crowding the plants will generally result in lower yields, not higher ones, so give each potato piece the space and soil it needs to thrive.

Posted in Beginner Gardeners' Guide, Growing Tips | 15 Comments

The Perfect Potato GIVEAWAY!

You’ll love growing potatoes in GrowBags—they’ve made hilling and digging a thing of the past. Thanks to their sturdy handles these lightweight, reusable fabric bags can be moved even after they’re full of soil, and planting in them is easy:

Just plant your seed potatoes in the bottom, then add soil as the plants grow. When it comes time to harvest, all you need to do is dump out the bag and collect your potatoes.

This month we’re giving away a collection of goodies for growing potatoes – one lucky winner will receive:

HOW TO ENTER
It’s easy: just click “Log In” below if you have a Facebook account (if you don’t have Facebook, just click “Use Your Email” to create a Rafflecopter account). Then click any of the dropdown options (below) to enter for more chances to win!

Occasionally certain browsers don’t play nice with Rafflecopter – if you have any trouble entering the giveaway, please email webmaster@highmowingseeds.com

Contest starts Wednesday, February 10th at 3pm and ends Wednesday, February 24th at 11pm EST.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Posted in About High Mowing Organic Seeds, Contests | 351 Comments