How to Graft Tomatoes

Ever thought of grafting your own tomatoes? Grafted tomatoes combine rootstock that is bred for disease resistance and vigor with the top of another tomato variety that has excellent flavor and productivity. Grafting tomatoes allows you to create a tomato plant that will work the best for your specific needs.

At High Mowing we work with grafted tomatoes often, and we’ve produced a video to help walk you through the process. Grafting tomatoes takes a bit more time and effort, but the (very tasty) benefits are worth it!

Looking for organic rootstock? We carry Estamino, the first tomato rootstock bred for organic growing conditions and available as organic seed.

 

Posted in Commercial Growing, Greenhouses, Growing Tips | Leave a comment

Inequity, Creativity, and Resiliency: Farming in a Changing Climate

Becky Maden is the Assistant Farm Manager at Intervale Community Farm (ICF), a thriving member-owned CSA farm in its 21st season of growing organic produce in Burlington, Vermont. Becky has worked on several diverse vegetable farms throughout the country and around the world. At ICF, Becky is either found in the greenhouse, on a tractor, or jogging between the two.  In her time spent away from the farm, Becky loves to travel, write, bike, run, ski, and cook bounteous meals with glorious produce.

For most of my socially conscious life, climate change has been the bar of doomsday fear against which I measure my life decisions. Is my career choice doing anything to solve this problem? Should I be more political in my actions, work, or day-to-day decisions? Should I become a vegan? Should I never fly again? Should I forgo an automobile? Should I push our farm business to stop burning propane and using black plastic? And perhaps most importantly, would I ever want to raise children in this messy, uncertain time?

These questions have been the wall I bang my head against when things aren’t going well. A frustrating day at work leads me to tell people that I want to quit farming and go lobby on Capitol Hill for stricter emissions controls. A day spent with a friend’s screaming toddler leads me to declare that I can’t bear the thought of raising my own children in these uncertain times. And when I leave my little Vermont bubble and witness where the priorities of most Americans are – on consuming, not conserving – the wall in front of me feels impossibly thick.

And then the rains came…2008

In the summer of 2008, it rained steadily for a week, so much so that we began to watch the National Weather Service hydrograph for flooding predictions. All of our farm fields are in the flood plain of the Winooski River, and it’s not unusual for us to have seasonal flooding. Typically, these floods happen in the springtime with snowmelt. Only rarely had there been floods on our fields when crops are in the ground.

During those rainy summer days, time crunched in around us as the hydrograph predictions rose and we made a hasty decision to harvest any semi-mature crops that would be impacted by the predictions. Over the course of a couple of hours, we frantically harvested thousands of pounds of carrots and beets. However, when the flood came later that afternoon, I was strangely disappointed to see that it didn’t even come close to our fields. We took a gamble, which left us with thousands of pounds of immature crops to wash, process, and store. I began to think that in the future, I wouldn’t quite believe the severity of flood predictions.

2010-2013

But just two years later, in October of 2010, we faced the same situation in the fall, and this time, the flood exceeded the predictions. We lost $30,000 of beautiful brassicas. The following year, two severe floods greeted our newly planted fields in April, and then Tropical Storm Irene gushed over everything, including our cooler and barn, in August. Each time, the hydrograph predictions were soberingly accurate. And each time, the losses felt devastating on both a financial and emotional level. Finally, last spring, we once again paddled a canoe over our crops during two floods. For the first time in my fifteen years of farming, I felt a deep hopelessness for our farm, for our neighboring farms, and for colleagues all around the state. Flooding and excessive summer rainfall are indicators of—or rather, they are–climate change in Vermont, and it doesn’t bode well for local agriculture.

Lost Land

One of the most profound realizations for me after these years of flooding is that seemingly small variances in land distribution had a major impact on the ability of individual farms to survive floods. This seemed to me like a microcosm of how climate change is inequitably affecting the world, ranging from Pacific Islands that are getting swallowed by the sea, to Native communities in Alaska, to neighborhoods of New Orleans.

Our community of several organic farms within Burlington’s Intervale was struck in a smaller way by this reality, as the farms with the most struggles were located on lower lying fields that flooded more frequently and stayed wet for longer stretches. In contrast, our farm has much of our production fields on well-drained sandy fields that are some of the last to flood. Only during Irene did one hundred percent of our fields go under water. It seemed like a lucky accident that our farm was one of the first farms to establish in the Intervale, and as a result, held lease rights to the driest, safest land.

The Creativity Buffer

The second insight that has settled into my consciousness after these dramatic years is that creative energy is the only way to recover from big losses. Furthermore, it seems like this creative energy needs to be immediate. Within days of each of our more recent floods, we’ve thrown ourselves into replanting, cleaning up, harnessing the goodwill of the community, and assessing our financial situation to know how to move ahead. All of this feels simultaneously draining and energizing. Some of our efforts have been fruitless; last year we tried to direct seed onions in July when we lost our ½ acre of onions in a flood; in 2010 we hand cut beds and beds of flooded cooking greens with hopes of re-growth from the plants for a future harvest; and right after Irene we tried to reseed anything we could, only to learn about new rules regarding replanting wait periods for flooded land. Each of these efforts cost us time, energy, and money, with no payoff. But other efforts had tremendous payoffs.

For instance, last spring we lost our storage cabbage plantings twice with the last flood on July 5. We quickly regrouped and decided to gamble on seeding some shorter season storage cabbage. We ended up with a glorious, warm, dry fall, and the cabbage matured into the most disease-free crop we’ve had in years. We ended up with a bumper crop, and sold every last head. The temptation to lament all of the time and money lost on those two earlier plantings might have overwhelmed our option to reseed cabbage in July. But we had creative energy working in our favor and as a result, we still (in April of the following year) have a few cabbages for ourselves to eat.

Shared Risk

The third insight from the saddening floods and rainy stretches of the past few years is how an alternative business structure and supportive community have saved our farm from disaster and despair. Our farm is a consumer cooperative business model and we sell most of our vegetables through a CSA. This model of shared risk has helped us move with emotional and financial strength through the past few years. Not only do we thrive on the good will and positive personal energy from interacting with our CSA members, we’ve also spread the financial risk associated with coping with our losses through a member loan program as well as by harnessing other loans offered through various organizations after Irene.

Planning for Change

Finally, the fourth shift our farm has experienced in response to increased flooding and climate risk has been a radical shift in our focus and crop planning.  First and foremost, immediately following Irene, we made plans to build ½ an acre of hoophouses on the only swath of land that didn’t flood during Irene. This is a huge investment on our part, but we were convinced by the flooding and rainfall trends that we need this resiliency as a buffer for our farm business. Furthermore, we have shifted our crop plans to accommodate the risks of our lower lying fields (we currently lease about 25 acres of the aforementioned high dry land, and another 30 or so of very marginal, wet, flood-prone land). Whereas previously we were using the lower fields for some of our longer season crops, we’ve decided the risk is too great. Our new plans include quick succession crops (like greens), crops that might require a long season but don’t require a lot of labor or other inputs (like grains or winter squash), or crops that aren’t cornerstones of our CSA or are even experimental (like popcorn). With this strategy, we can still make use of some of this quite fertile, productive land without too much loss involved.

Resilience

We know that our farm is fortunate in many unquantifiable ways. We farm on flat, fertile, stone-free land with easy access to irrigation water. We farm only a few miles from the biggest population center of Vermont. We are supported and loved by many hundreds of people in our community. We have an extended network of support through the farming and food community. We have assessed all of these positive factors in deciding to continue our business on land that is increasingly risky as the climate changes. More than anything, the events of the past few years have sobered me in a global sense.

Vermont is a resilient, creative, and energized state. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else now that the doomsday future is suddenly the very stark present. But we are not insulated nor are we guiltless from the faults of the world. I still feel myself banging my head against the wall of fear that plagued my young adulthood, only now on the other side of the wall I can hear some good mixed with the bad, the voices of sweet CSA members, the knife swath and squeak of bounteous cabbage harvests, and the voices of farmers all over the world who are creatively figuring out how to keep growing food despite the intimidating changes now upon us.

 

Posted in Commercial Growing, Farmer Authors, Philosophy | 7 Comments

Software Review – AgSquared for Organic Farmers

Diversified organic farmers must contend with many unique challenges – rapidly changing markets, unpredictable weather events, and the complexity of working with rather than against ecology, to name just a few. But of all the difficulties organic farmers face, one of the most daunting might just be…paperwork. Record-keeping, while almost as essential to successful farming as seeds and tools are, is usually time consuming and, frankly, a pain. And when organic certification inspection time comes, many farmers end up wishing they had done a better job of it. Being able to account for all the inputs used on the farm is just one component of a remarkable new tool developed specifically for organic farmers – AgSquared.

AgSquared is a new software program to help organic farmers with everything from farm planning to everyday operations to record-keeping to the organic certification process. It features attractive, user-friendly interfaces for desktop computers and tablets, with smartphone features coming soon.  The software is cloud-based, so all your records go where you do, and if your office floods or your computer gets stolen, all of your carefully gathered data remains safe.

Testing AgSquared at Primrose Valley Farm

Longtime High Mowing customers David and Jamie Baker of Primrose Valley Farm in Wisconsin were among the first beta-testers of the software, and have been using it to keep their farm organized ever since. Primrose Valley Farm is an 83 acre certified organic farm located in the “Driftless region” of South Central Wisconsin. The Bakers grow about 75 varieties of fruits and vegetables each year and market their produce to restaurants, through their farm stand and to CSA customers in Madison and Chicago. David and Jamie talked to us about how they use AgSquared and how it has been working for them.


David and Jamie Baker of Primrose Valley Farm

Like most farmers, David and Jamie were initially using spreadsheets to manage their data. However, they soon realized they needed a database to keep track of details from year to year. Since they had both worked in the technology industry, they thought about building their own, but shortly afterward learned about AgSquared. David met Jeff Gordon (a plant breeder) and Giulia Stellari (a plant biologist), the founders of AgSquared, while working at the University of Wisconsin. Part of the reason they decided to try the software is because it’s built specifically for small and mid-sized farms like theirs. They told us, “[Jeff and Giulia] don’t assume what farmers need, they actively engage farmers to determine their needs and how they can best provide the desired functions and features, and it’s not just one farmer’s perspective. They look to many farms of various sizes and types of operations for their input. It’s because of this holistic approach in the product development stage that results in the rich functionality of the software and makes it so notable.”

Crop Database & Calendar

Since AgSquared builds a database from the information you put into it, you can start using it any time. According to David and Jamie, “We began experimenting with the software during the tail end of a season becoming familiar with its capabilities.  After becoming familiar with the product and how we wanted to implement it on our farm we then spent the off-season winter months populating it with our data and entering our plans for the upcoming season. You can begin using AgSquared at any time and enter your information as you go. You can start with one area and then build on over time.”

Essentially, the software operates much like a calendar. You can schedule tasks, such as seeding carrots, and assign those tasks to particular employees as well as particular fields on a map of your farm. You can print out a schedule of all the tasks that need to be done in a day, and enter the amount of time they took once they’re done. One of the biggest perks is that you can use dependencies to keep your schedule organized. So for your carrot bed, you can schedule a thinning task that takes place 3 weeks after sowing. Now let’s say there’s a flooding event, and carrot seeding has to be put off for two weeks – all the tasks that are dependent on the first task, sowing carrots, get moved down two weeks automatically when you change the sowing date. You can enter notes like “don’t seed early carrots in the floodplain!” anywhere in the software, and every task, input, and harvest quantity is saved as a searchable record that you can reference when making your crop plans next year.

AgSquared for Organic Certification

AgSquared has many features that can help with maintaining your organic certification. For example, your crops can be linked to a map of your farm so you know what, when, and how much was planted, but where it was planted as well. This makes planning your crop rotations (and showing them to an inspector) a piece of cake.  And when you have 75 different crops growing at different times throughout the season, as David and Jamie do, determining optimal crop rotations for minimizing pest and disease pressure can feel like solving a Rubik’s cube. Remembering how much of various inputs were used where and when can be a major challenge too – but with AgSquared, as long as you make a to-do list at the beginning of each day, that information is safely stored until inspection time comes.

According to David and Jamie, “Organic certification requires tracking and reporting of a great deal of information. Through the use of AgSquared we are able to provide full traceability and all the history related to crop production.  From the lot number of the seed stock used, seeding data, transplant data, cultivation, inputs used, harvest and pack house data, field location as well as related crewmember activity and ultimately distribution data inclusive of lot numbers.  At each of our certification inspections the certifier is always impressed with the completeness and the ease with which we are able to provide them with the requested information.”

Cost Tracking & Profitability

The app can also help you track long and short-term profitability and manage time by recording how many people it took to do each activity, and how long each project took. For example, with AgSquared’s new cost tracking features you can keep track of how many cases of eggplant were sold and for what price, and you can quickly and easily determine that with all the costs of laying black plastic, transplanting, weeding, irrigating, fertilizing, and harvesting – eggplant is actually not a profitable crop for you. According to David and Jamie, “AgSquared Plus contains extraordinary capabilities related to resource management and cost tracking tools. This new feature set will provide us the ability to track crop specific profitability and better manage the farms inventories.” AgSquared makes one of the historical challenges to farmers – knowing what is profitable to grow – a thing of the past.

And now down to the brass tacks: as every successful farmer knows, you don’t want to go out and buy every shiny new tool that hits the market, and the same goes for software. However, this is one tool that can make the others work more effectively. According to David and Jamie, “I would definitely recommend and have recommended the software to other farmers.  In my research I didn’t find any software that was comparable to AgSquared in accomplishing the goals that we had in managing our farm and the associated data.”


AgSquared Founders Jeff Gordon and Giulia Stellari

Win a Copy of AgSquared!

Since Jeff Gordon and Giulia Stellari care deeply about the success of America’s farms, they provide AgSquared to users at a fair price. The software is free to use for the first 30 days, or forever with less than 10 crop plantings, and no credit card is required at sign up.

They’re offering a 10% discount to you just for reading this – use offer code 2014HMSPROMO, good through 5/31/14, at checkout on their website.

Finally, they’ve partnered with High Mowing to give away a one year AgSquared Basic subscription to a lucky winner! Just go to this specific Facebook post and “like” it to be entered to win. Winner will be chosen at random on June 6th, 2014. (This contest is now over.)

Official Contest Rules:

**One entry per Facebook user. Winner will be selected randomly. Contest ends June 6th, 2014 at 1pm. This contest is not associated with Facebook in any way.*

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Seeding Beets and Carrots with Success

Beets and carrots are a weekly selection at most farm stands for good reason. There are varieties to meet the needs of almost any seasonal slot, and they taste amazing regardless of whether they’re fresh out of the ground or have spent months in storage. I really love the point in the season when they are around to stay, and I work a little harder to make sure we get there as soon as possible. We seed early and often to have a good supply across the entire season, and seed both of these crops as early as the ground can be worked. I have also transplanted beets with good success.

Consistent Moisture

Consistent moisture is one of the keys in getting good germination. I try to time my seedings so that the seeds are watered in soon after they go in the ground. If your soil is quick to dry out, using drip irrigation is a good way to give the bed the moisture it needs.

I cover the soil on those first plantings with row cover, putting it right on the ground without any hoops. It helps to warm the soil, hold in moisture, and it also buffers the impact of a heavy rain event. Depending on your soil type, drying out between rain or watering events can create a crust that makes it really hard for the seedlings to emerge once they have germinated. The row cover will also help slow the formation of this crust.

Soil Prep

Good soil prep will make a huge difference in the quality of carrots that you harvest. We use a chisel plow to loosen the soil before we make our beds. It rips through the soil, deepening the bed and making it easier for the carrots to grow long and straight. If you don’t have access to a chisel, depending on the size of your plot, using a broadfork or similar tool to work the soil will be worth the effort.

I have been using an Earthway seeder with a custom plate I had made for pelleted carrot seed. Pelleted seeds have a clay coating that builds up the size and shape of the seed to something more uniform and easily run through the seeder. Often times beet seeds are the same size to run through this plate as well.  I use tape to cover over a little of the hole on that same plate to reduce the amount of raw seed that the planter puts out. I find I get better results with this than the typical carrot plate that comes with the seeder. It puts out too much seed, which I then have to go back and thin out.

I seed heavier and shallower in the spring than I do in the summer and fall. The market for early carrots and baby beets is such that I can harvest them when they are smaller, so I don’t mind over seeding them. I plant my early seedings shallow so they will be warmed by the sun and germinate faster. As the season progresses, I increase the depth that I plant to keep the seeds out of the hotter zone near the surface of the soil. The wrinkle is making sure that they are getting the moisture that they need. Managing any crusting of the soil becomes really important as the summer goes on, as the hot sun can make this crust really hard to penetrate. Again, using a lightweight row cover can help.

Beet Varieties

Early Wonder Tall Top is really fast to come out of the ground and puts on a heavy top growth of delicious greens. They will make a nice eating beet if you let them go long enough, but I typically move on to another variety for bunching beets. I really like Red Ace Beet through the summer, and I switch to Boro or Rhonda for storage. These three varieties have a more refined shape, with a small area of leaf attachment that makes them easier to clean for sale or storage. Their eating quality doesn’t diminish if they get large in size, and all will store well. Rhonda is a slower grower than the Red Ace, but it was bred to store for longer periods of time, and will come out of the cooler in great shape.

Carrot Varieties

I like to start the carrot season with Jeanette and Napoli. The Jeanette has a good sweetness and small core with nice tops for bunching. The Napoli is a little firmer carrot, with good flavor and healthy tops. It also holds its eating quality when grown to a larger size. I like planting the Yaya for the heat of the summer season. The tops are smaller, but still make good bunches. I am excited about trying the Miami this year in a main season slot. I use the Negovia as a storage carrot, and am harvesting from the cooler in mid March with really good flavor and quality. I also use it as a late fall bunched carrot before I harvest for storage. The tops’ attachment is really nice and strong, so I don’t have to worry about them falling off when customers are grabbing a bunch from my display.

Best of luck with your season of seeding,

Paul

For more information on growing carrots, check out our “Carrot Growing Tips” video:

Posted in Articles by Farmer Paul Betz, Commercial Growing, Growing Tips, Variety Highlights | 1 Comment

City Farmer: Weighing the Benefits and Challenges of Urban Agriculture

Each morning, I ride my bike less than ten minutes from my home in the densely populated Old North End neighborhood in Burlington, Vermont to my farm, weaving my bike through a break in the stream of morning traffic and down a steep hill. To my right is a Shell gas station, straight ahead is Dunkin Donuts, and to my left is a gritty business that services tractor trailers (and, conveniently, has replacement parts for busted hydraulics on a tractor). I swerve around potholes going down the hill, bump over the train tracks, and as the road levels out, I wiggle my fingers to fight off the morning cold-induced numbness.  A gray-bearded man with an old external frame backpack walks towards me, heading up into town from his sleeping spot near our farm, yanking on the leash of a dog that lurches towards my bike. The man curses at the dog, ignores me, and continues to shuffle up the hill.

The term “agriculture” is strongly associated with Vermont, but “urban” is usually not. However, our neighborhood of farms is one of the few areas in the state to which both terms apply. Located in what is known as “The Intervale” (“between the hills”), we are within easy walking distance of Vermont’s densest population center, and are inside Burlington city limits. The prime agricultural soils of our farm were never built on–and can never be—because we are located in a floodplain. Native Americans farmed and hunted on this land as early as 3000 BC; evidence of early corn cultivation is present from 1450 AD.  Early white settlers also farmed the land with dairy cows, corn, and hogs. But in the midst of an urban boom in the 1980’s, the land became an informal dumping area full of unsavory characters. Even today, couches and electronics appear regularly in our fields (just last week, a TV and couch sprang up overnight near our hoophouses), and there is a constant effort to keep the land clear of unwanted junk. Today, the responsibility is in our hands; a community of enthusiastic, idealistic, energetic farmers strives to reap the rewards of farming in close proximity to a supportive customer base while we simultaneously fend off the bizarre frustrations of farming in an urban environment.

Our farm grows over 25 acres of vegetables, but we don’t own a delivery vehicle. In fact, I rarely leave the farm during the day, and when I do, it’s often just an excuse to go buy pastries for our staff. As we harvest our vegetables, they are washed and packed into reusable containers, which travel less than fifty feet between the cooler and our CSA distribution area. Each Monday and Thursday afternoon during the summer season, we stand in the shade and greet hundreds of customers as they arrive to gather their produce and harvest from the four acres of pick-your-own crops that we grow as part of their share. A broad spectrum of people arrive at the farm on any given day– some are in business suits, smelling of airy colognes, with tiny, pale creases under their eyes from staring at a screen all day. Young children arrive with their hair tousled and wet, their mothers in sundresses slung over bathing suits, their faces a mix of baffled amusement that they just spent another day in the strange harried world of parenthood. Then the young hipsters arrive, leaning their fixed-gear bikes against the barn, filling their panniers with vegetables like fennel and poblano peppers. A few older couples shuffle through the barn, leaning a cane against the tables to reach into bins for carrots or potatoes as they ask us when the string beans will be ready. In my favorite moments of a CSA pick-up, arms wrap around me as my dear friends arrive for their vegetables, and their children grin with delight when I hand them carrots. We don’t have time to catch up on our lives during these intersecting moments, but by coming to the farm, they know what I have been doing all day, and I know exactly what they will be eating for dinner.

Farming so close to the city allows our farm to provide food for a wide array of people, including those who might not otherwise be able to access it. We are one mile away from a busy emergency food shelf that is always thrilled to see a truck full of veggies roll up. Two elementary schools with primarily low-income populations are within walking distance of the farm and make regular visits to help harvest carrots in the fall. Many of our CSA members use their EBT cards to pay for veggies or apply for our internal supported share program. Although our farm still struggles with reaching the populations that are desperately in need of healthy food, we are fortunate to have a location that makes that gap a little less difficult to bridge.

Urban farming also shapes the personal life of a farmer in pronounced ways. I don’t own the land I farm, I don’t own any equipment I use, and I live a mile away. My home is on a busy street in a gritty neighborhood, and for a couple of years, I didn’t own a car. Sometimes, evenings involve a quick shedding of farm clothes, a hasty shower, and a walk to music in town in a very different outfit. Life has a funny duality, one that is sometimes confusing and sometimes a relief. There are times when I want nothing more than to own the place that I farm and to live in a small, quiet home there. Other times, I love biking up the hill at the end of the day and having closure to my farm day. I am energized and refreshed by the diversity of urban farming.

In the Intervale, rural life bumps hard into urban life; as I drive the tractor with a wide implement down the road, it’s not uncommon that I encounter runners, bikers, and dog walkers, who seem irritatingly leisurely on their summer strolls while I am hurrying along. Pickup trucks belonging to hunters park at the edge of our fields, their owners illegally hoping for deer. Inspection stickers rarely last more than a few months before they are stolen off of our trucks (although we’ve learned to slash them with a razor blade), catalytic converters disappear, and this season, the thieves hit a new low by stealing our old Farmall cultivators and hefty aluminum irrigation fittings.

The vandalism and theft inherent in urban farming is intensely demoralizing. It speaks of a larger problem that plagues Burlington and much of the country; it is desperation for money, often driven by addiction, that sparks this infuriating creativity. Even though what is stolen from us doesn’t hold much street value, the thieves still go to great effort to steal an odd array of things. In the middle of the summer, noticing suddenly that important irrigation fittings are missing is costly to our operation in ways that far exceed the simple replacement value of the part. Even more frustrating is my own lack of confidence when night falls and I am alone on this farm that has been my grounding place for ten seasons; I know the texture of the soil, the shapes of the fields, the wind of the river, and the way the light hits the land, but if I am alone past dark at the farm, I take little comfort in my solitude in this beautiful place.

I fell in love with farming because I love nature. Urban farming offers little in the way of the beauty that shakes me to my core, but it moves me in a different way. It provides an intersection of worlds that is hard to come by; people wandering through during lunchtime or bumping into me while I’m washing greens, who ask a few questions and soon enough join the farm themselves. Or kids who only know the urban life of Burlington, but can still come to the farm to wander through the strawberries and flowers. There is tremendous comfort and gratitude inspired by this piece of land, so close to a city, but emblematic of so much more. It embodies the full arc of agricultural history, from the Native Americans and early white settlers who farmed here, to us, the most recent wave of farmers, who plant vegetables and invite people to take part in this land that belongs to all of us.

Posted in Farmer Authors, Philosophy | 3 Comments

A Basil For Every Occasion

Originally native to India, basil has earned itself a seat at many a dinner table around the world. Most commonly found in Italian cuisine and a main ingredient in the popular condiment pesto, basil is also used in many Southeast Asian dishes as well. This delicious aromatic mint-relative has many wonderful properties and a multitude of uses around the world in ethnic dishes, drinks, desserts, ornamental gardens and cut flower arrangements, as a great pollinator plant, and even in medicine.

The Many Faces of Basil

Genovese

The classic Italian basils are known for their strong, sweet flavor and are used extensively in Mediterranean cooking. A traditional favorite is caprese salad, made by layering these leaves with slices of tomato and fresh mozzarella and drizzling with balsamic reduction (see recipe below). These varieties are also preferred for making pesto because of their large, abundant leaves, sweet flavor, and high essential oil content. They grow well when given lots of space for each plant and are best harvested by clipping the tops of the plants rather than harvesting individual leaves. This type of harvesting helps Italian basil plants grow large, robust, and bushy, producing many leaves over a long season.

  • Sweet, 65 days – traditional Italian variety for pestos and vinegars, high yielding
  • Genovese,  68 days – the classic variety for pesto, with large spoon-shaped leaves
  • Aroma F1, 70 days – vigorous plant with slight anise flavor, Fusarium resistance
  • Aroma 2 F1, 70 days – vigorous with large 3” long leaves, resists bolting and Fusarium resistant
  • Italian Large Leaf, 78 days – very large plants with 4” long leaves, bolt resistance. Perfect for pesto!

Purple

A wonderful multi-purpose plant, purple basil is so pretty that even the strictest Homeowners Associations aren’t likely to complain! Try planting it with gold-colored flowers like California poppies, zinnias, or calendula for a stunning display – the shiny, deep purple leaves and beautiful lavender flowers are gorgeous in bouquets as well as on your plate. Purple basil tends to be a little smaller than Italian types and may not be quite as vigorous in the heat of summer. However, purple basil is a great plant for the early part of the season when overcast days and heavy spring rains dominate – the dark purple color of the leaves absorbs heat from the sun more readily than green basil, and the plants may thrive at times when green basil doesn’t.

  • Rosie, 65 days – Aromatic, mild flavor appeal, upright and uniform
  • Purple Dark Opal, 65 days – A beautiful garnish, strong flavor excellent for vinegar infusions, and an ornamental suitable for growing in pots

Flavored

These days basils may feature a wide variety of flavors, textures, and appearances. They may have traditional uses, like Thai basil, or simply offer an unusual twist on the classic basil flavor. They are excellent in salads and vinegars, where their flavor profiles are allowed to shine.

  • Lemon, 60 days – narrow leaves on smaller plants, excellent addition to fish, seafood, salads, and dressings; flowers have lemony fragrance
  • Sweet Thai, 63 days – Clove and licorice flavors are delectable in Thai cuisine, gorgeous purple stems and flowers contrast with green leaves
  • Cinnamon, 65 days – strong aroma and mild cinnamon flavor, medium green leaves with attractive purple stems and veining, pink flowers

Container

While many basils can be successful in containers, the larger varieties usually do not grow quite as robust and bushy as they do in the ground. Container basils have many advantages – they are excellent for keeping on a patio or near the kitchen, where they can be quickly picked and added to a variety of dishes. They also play nice in mixed herb containers, which are adored by cooks (particularly where no garden space is available!) Their topiary-like appearance makes them popular centerpieces (and party favors) for weddings.

  • Fino Verde, 63 days – compact, bushy little plant with tiny leaves, attractive rounded habit; sweet, spicy flavor makes a little go a long way!

 

Medicinal

Sacred basil, 63 days, is also known as Holy or Tulsi basil and is often found as an ingredient in herbal teas. It is a holy plant in India, where Hindis worship the plant as Tulasi, an incarnation of the goddess. While it has a similar appearance to culinary basil, its sweet, pungent flavor and aroma are distinctly different, and it is touted for having many medicinal properties.  It has been used as an adaptagen, expectorant, diaphoretic, antidote to poison, anti-inflammatory, liver protector, stomach ulcer preventative, immune stimulator, air purifier, oxygenator of the brain, and is believed to reduce the damaging effects of the sun and radiation exposure.

 

Nutritional Benefits

Aside from the medicinal properties of Sacred basil, culinary basil is also packed full of nutritional goodness.  Basil is super high in vitamin K (a co-worker of vitamin D), an often overlooked but important factor in blood clotting, strong bones, and the prevention of heart disease.  The flavonoids, orientin and vicenin, provide DNA protection by protecting cell structures and chromosomes from radiation and oxidation.  Its volatile oils have been shown to be effective in reducing the growth of certain bacteria, like Listeria monocytogenes, Staphylococcus aureus, and E. coli, and have anti-inflammatory properties as well.  It also contains beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant, and magnesium, which promotes cardiovascular health.

 

A Few Tricks of the Trade

  • Tip #1- There is some debate on the best way to store basil once harvested.  Many sources say to refrigerate after harvest.  However, in my experience, basil can quickly develop black spots or edging from cold damage.  I store mine in a vase of water immediately after harvest at room temperature.  In warmer weather, you can even loosely place a clear plastic bag over the leaves to hold in the moisture.
  • Tip #2- Basil can lose a considerable amount of flavor after it has been dried.  For best storage and maintaining the most flavor, quickly blanch the leaves, then chop or puree and freeze in ice cube trays.  Once frozen, transfer your frozen basil cubes to a freezer bag or storage container.  You can even add olive oil and onions to the puree for an excellent addition to winter soup stocks.
  • Tip #3- When cooking with fresh basil, add it to your meal near the end of cooking to preserve its essence and flavor.

 

A Treat for a Hot Summer Day

Kick back with this refreshing summer beverage after a long day in the garden!

Cucumber and Lime Herbal Soda

3 basil leaves

4 mint leaves

4 slices of cucumber

1 Tbsp lime juice

Maple Syrup to taste

Soda water

In a pint glass, add basil, mint, cucumber, and lime and mash to release the juices of each (you can also coarsely chop the herbs first to help the process along).  Add ice to your liking, fill with soda water, and sweeten with maple syrup to suit your sweet tooth.  And don’t be shy, play with the ratios to find the flavor balance that really speaks to you.  For an adult variation, add a bit of rum to turn this delicious mock-tail into a cocktail.  Find a comfy spot outside in the shade and enjoy!

 

Another Seasonal Favorite

This simple, yet delicious, treat really speaks of summer.

Tomato and Basil with Mozzarella

1-2 medium to large slicing tomatoes of your choice

Fresh Mozzarella Cheese

Fresh basil leaves, enough to place one or two on each tomato slice

1/8 – ¼ Cup balsamic reduction

1-2 cloves of garlic, crushed and coarsely chopped (optional)

Salt and Pepper

First, make your balsamic reduction by using ¼ to ½ cup balsamic vinegar (depending on how many tomatoes you use) and cook on medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the vinegar has reduced in volume by half.  Remove from the heat and let cool.  For a variation of this simple reduction, add 1-2 cloves of crushed, chopped garlic to the vinegar while cooking and strain out when cooking is complete.

Once cool, slice the tomatoes to your desired thickness.  Next slice the mozzarella cheese, enough to place a slice on each tomato.  Then top each tomato and cheese with one or two fresh basil leaves and drizzle with balsamic reduction to your liking.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Posted in Articles by Megen Hall, Variety Highlights | 4 Comments

Jumpstarting Spring: How to Greensprout Potatoes

Spring is getting off to a late start here in Vermont, and in many other parts of the country as well. As a result our customers have been asking us what they should do with their potatoes while they wait for the snow to melt and the ground to thaw. One method you can try is called greensprouting, or “chitting” potatoes, which takes advantage of the extra time available to transform your potatoes from starchy spuds into verdant transplants.

Why Greensprout?

Getting potatoes into and out of the ground quickly in the spring is really important. Cool, wet soil can lead to rot, and the longer the potato spends in the ground “waking up”, the more susceptible it is to attack by fungal diseases. One of the keys to successful organic farming is getting plants off to a healthy start when they are transplanted into the field. Transplant shock, or the adjustment to being outdoors in the big wide world, can set back schedules as well as yields, both of which affect a farm’s bottom line. The hardening-off process, of getting transplants ready to make the leap, is something people do regularly, so why put your potatoes into the ground without the same care?

I have been greensprouting or “chitting” my potatoes for years, and while it’s a little extra work, the results are totally worth it. The potatoes are ready to harvest about two weeks earlier and tolerate cool, wet spring soils much better. Plus, they can be planted later, and the time they spend sprouting inside is time they aren’t vulnerable to pests, diseases, and cold temperatures in the field. Rather than dropping seed potatoes in the row, as is traditionally done, I am really transplanting my potatoes as if they were seedlings.

Step One: Break Dormancy

The process is simple. The first step is to break the dormancy of the potatoes by keeping them warm and dark. I arrange them a few layers deep in a black crate and put them in a room that I keep at 70-75 degrees F. You could also place them on top of a seedling heat mat, on top of the fridge, or any other warm (not hot!) surface. The elevated temperature breaks the dormancy of the potatoes, and encourages them to produce multiple eyes. How long this takes can vary; some potatoes may have been stored better than others and will be slower to sprout, however you should ideally start seeing white shoots appearing in a week or two.

Step Two: Grow Out

Once the sprouts have emerged to about ¼”, the temperature should be lowered to 50-60 degrees F, and the potatoes should be exposed to natural or artificial light. I just use shop lights that I put right on top of the crates. This is the step that slows the growth of the sprouts, and allows them to undergo the really beautiful part of this process. The sprouts turn greenish purple, and the strength of the sprout attachment increases, making them less likely to get broken off during planting. However, even if the sprouts do break off, research shows that greensprouted potatoes still send up new shoots much more quickly than unsprouted potatoes. The greensprouting process also encourages seed potatoes to develop more shoots, resulting in plants that produce more tubers.

Step Three: Transplant

If you wait long enough, the sprouting potato forms true leaves. That’s the part that I really get excited about. I plant my potatoes by hand, and orient the seed potatoes with their new shoots and leaves up. If the potatoes just have sprouts and no leaves, plant them so they are just barely covered, and they will send up shoots very quickly. If they do have leaves, plant so that just the leaves are sticking out of the soil. Most growers find that they shave 10-14 days off of the potato growing season by greensprouting, and are able to plant longer-season varieties than they would normally be able to grow successfully.

Potatoes are one of my favorite vegetables. Just think — when you dig them, you are the first person ever to have held this amazing food, and that same tuber holds life for the next season’s crop. The greensprouted tubers are a sight to behold in the early days of spring, and the lush mature plants are likewise beautiful. When they are all in bloom, with their rows of different colored flowers, you couldn’t find a prettier place on earth.

 

Posted in Articles by Farmer Paul Betz, Growing Tips | 16 Comments

Paper Pot Transplanter

As a small-scale organic grower, transplanting can be one of those back-breaking, knee-scabbing tasks that makes you grudgingly buckle down to get those onions, brassicas, lettuces in the ground. There have been a number of innovations to try and make the job simpler and save your fingers, back and knees, but unless you buy a direct or water wheel transplanter for your tractor, you’ll likely spend onion-planting time on your knees.

However, there is another tool out there, and it is one of the most efficient and intelligently-designed transplanters I’ve seen: the Japanese paper pot transplanter. Pulled by hand, with no motor, it’s a Japanese tool that was developed for the sugar beet industry. An organic farmer from Wisconsin, John Hendrickson, learned about the tool while visiting Japan. He started Small Farm Works, LLC so he could import the tool to North America, and it has been gaining popularity on small farms ever since.

What is a Paper Pot Transplanter?

The paper pot transplanter works similarly to a direct seeder in design. There is a furrower in the front that makes a trough, the plants are fed through a channel to drop into the trough, and there are two wings that push the soil back around the plants. Two wheels at the tail end lightly compact the soil around the plants. Instead of a seed hopper, there is a large tray space for the tray of transplants to feed out of. The key part, and namesake, of this design is the paper pot tray that the seeds are planted into. These little paper “pots” are actually loops of paper attached into a chain that looks similar to a honeycomb. The paper pots unchain as you move the transplanter, feeding themselves through the transplanter.

How the Paper Pots Work

The paper pots come in flats, and are spread apart with two metal tongs, then stretched onto a metal frame. The paper pots and metal frame are flipped into your transplant tray, and then the pots are gently filled with dirt. The tray is dibbled with a plastic dibbler you can purchase, or with your fingers. You can then seed by hand or buy the tray seeder, also sold through Small Farm Works. Finally a light layer of dirt is sprinkled over the seeds, the metal frame can then be removed, and your seeding is complete.

Here’s a great video showing the process of seeding a paper pot “flat”:

When you are ready to plant, minimal preparation is needed, though some folks prefer to rake the bed smooth. You bring your transplanter to the top of a row and place a tray of plants on the transplanter. On one end of the paper pot chain there is a white piece of paper that you pull loose to start the unchaining action of the pots. After feeding the chain of pots through the trough, the tail end and first transplant are anchored down into the ground with a screwdriver or ground staple. Then you simply start walking backwards down your row, pulling the transplanter with you, watching the pots chain out and keeping an eye on the straightness of your line. The pots chain out and drop into the trough, are gently covered with soil and lightly tamped down with the tail end of the transplanter implement.

Troubleshooting

Occasionally a chain will break or detritus will get stuck under your furrower and slow you down. For the most part, however, your time is spent setting up the transplanter and walking back to get another tray. Using the transplanter, one tray can be planted out by one person in less then a minute.

The Paper Pot Transplanter in Action

In action, the paper pot transplanter is incredible to watch. You can feasibly plant over 200 transplants in the time it takes to walk 150’, less then a minute. My first experience with the paper pot transplanter was at Hurricane Flats. Geo Honigford, owner and farmer, first found out about the paper pot transplanter and decided to make the investment in 2011. Hurricane Flats farms about 9 acres, with just Geo and one other employee. Getting a tractor transplanter doesn’t make sense for him, since he doesn’t have enough bodies to make it work. And planting by hand can be grueling, time consuming work. The paper pot transplanter afforded him a new method of transplanting that would be quicker, less harsh on the body and could easily be operated by just one or two people. Conceivably, it goes faster with two people – one running the paper pot transplanter, the other running new transplants trays, screwdrivers, and watering the transplants in as you go.

Check out this video to see the transplanter in action:

Limitations of the Transplanter

One spring day Geo left me alone in the field with a daunting number of onion trays. It was an intimidating task, but with the transplanter, I was able to get more than 5,000 row feet of onions transplanted by myself in one day. It was incredible to witness when the transplanter was working smoothly. The paper pot transplanter works best in loose soil that doesn’t have too many rocks or detritus, and as Hurricane Flats is a river bottom farm, there isn’t too much to get hung up on. However, because Hurricane Flats had been flooded the previous year by Tropical Storm Irene, a good amount of our popcorn and sweet corn had been tilled in, and whole cobs remained in the soil. These got caught up in the furrower and slowed the transplanting process. In areas with no detritus, it was all smooth sailing and I quickly worked my way through the trays of transplants. Geo loaned the paper pot transplanter to another farmer in the area who was up higher on the hill and had a lot more rocks in his soil. The transplanter was not as smooth for him, but still quicker then transplanting by hand. Certainly, the advantages of a paper pot transplanter are offset if your soil is not well-suited to the furrower.

A Versatile Tool

One of the really neat things about the paper pot transplanter is that you can use it for many different crops. The paper chain pots are available in 2, 4 or 6 inch in-row spacing. The length of in-row spacing is determined by the amount of paper chain between each cell. Each paper pot tray has 264 cells. You can also figure out your seeding rates in the cells, and further space out your seeds to more ideally suit your crops.  The transplanter was originally created in Japan for sugar beet production, but is popularly used for onions, leeks, scallions and shallots. We’ve also used it for broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, early plantings of sweet corn, basil, lettuce, and herbs. The paper is allowed in certified organic production, holds up well until transplanting, then decomposes once in the ground. We’ve had varying success with the dryness of the paper pots when you plant- if they are soggy and wet, they don’t chain out as well.

Is the Paper Pot Transplanter Right For You?

A paper pot transplanter is a significant investment, as you need to purchase the trays, the paper pots, and the transplanter itself. Before trying out this system, you need to assess whether your farm would be well-suited, in soil, labor and types of transplantable crops, to make the jump and buy a paper pot transplanter. It is also worth considering the size of your operation – the transplanter does not make as much sense if you are doing short row lengths and have to move it around often. It works best when your row lengths are several hundred feet. But if you are looking for an easy-to-maintain, fuel-free, low impact transplanter that will save your knees and back when it comes to transplanting time, this might just be your new favorite tool.

For photos, videos, and more troubleshooting and advice, check out John Hendrickson’s website, http://www.smallfarmworks.com/.

photos in the article courtesy of Small Farm Works, LLC

Posted in Commercial Growing, Growing Tips | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Seed Grower Profile – Frank Morton: An Agent of Change

Frank Morton is a plant breeder and founder of Wild Garden Seed in Oregon. He and his family supply many of the unique varieties in the High Mowing catalog.

On a spring day in the early 1980’s, a curious young salad grower found himself looking at one red lettuce seedling in a sea of flats filled with tender green oakleaf. A novice seed saver at the time, Frank Morton left this plant for seed, hoping to reproduce this unique cross of red romaine and green oakleaf. As he recounts this first experience with breeding, he recalls that what came up when these seeds were planted the following season was “just as varied as the rainbow.” The outcome was seemingly a random combination of all traits of the parent varieties, twenty-three kinds of lettuce in all. Frank Morton was taken by the evidence of what had previously been missing in his work, and that first experiment launched a lifetime of creativity in classical breeding.

Wild Garden Seed Bears Fruit

Frank and Karen Morton are the dynamic duo behind Wild Garden Seed, one of the finest producers of regionally-adapted, open-pollinated organic seeds. Situated along the winding Mary’s River outside of Philomath, Oregon, Wild Garden Seed has partnered with Gathering Together Farm, a neighboring vegetable operation that has joined in providing space and people power for Frank’s growing seed production. In total, this collaborative effort tends over 50 acres of fresh market vegetables and seed crops. During the heart of the growing season, 65 employees (aka the Agents of Change) still enjoy a work-day tradition of group meals crafted with their own produce. Frank and Karen, along with their sons Taj and Kit, coordinate all aspects of seed production, harvest, cleaning, and marketing.

Since his auspicious first encounter with seed breeding, Frank has gone on to breed hundreds of named varieties, available directly from Wild Garden Seeds and through a limited number of lucky seed companies like High Mowing Organic Seeds. For over two decades, Frank and Karen balanced time between their salad business and seed breeding and production. Lettuce breeding became a way to make new products available for their commercial salad sales. As Frank puts it, “right away the goal was to create something beautiful that tasted good.” His breeding generated such interest in these unique varieties that Karen and Frank published their first seed catalog on a typewriter in 1994. By 2001, this hardworking family was ready to focus full time on seed breeding and production.

A Continuing Evolution

In over thirty years of seed production, Frank’s breeding goals have developed a comprehensive depth rarely seen in even the highest ranking academic circles. Frank and Karen’s home has been described to me as having “a breeding project every square foot.” With his experience as a grower, Frank spent his early years focusing on the qualities of lettuce, studying the tastes, shapes, thickness, heft, and colors that worked for his market. He quickly realized the value of season extension in his northern climate and began selecting varieties that performed well in the early and late parts of the growing season. Slowly Frank started to think about disease, launching extensive disease trials in order to select for resistance traits in his production. All of this is part of Frank’s devotion to his mission of fostering regional adaptation in seed breeding.

These days Frank likes to say he’s breeding for nutrition. With variety names like Flashy Trout Back and Hyper Red Rumple Waved, one can quickly see the emphasis on colors. Frank tells me he’s “always had an intuitive sense that all those colors were good for you.” New research has confirmed just that. “By selecting for intense pigmentation, you’re also selecting for antioxidant content.”

Never one to stagnate, Frank is embarking on what he views as a decisive step forward in seed breeding. Envisioning the development of what he calls “an ecological sophistication to our adaptation work,” Frank hopes to bring forth a new effort in selecting for “underground traits and the corresponding interaction with microbial communities, with the intent being disease and pest resistance and efficient nutrient scavenging.”

For example, Frank describes to me his consideration of root hair length in seedlings as an attractant for beneficial soil life. He’d like to take this concept further by studying – and ultimately selecting for – the qualities in plants that affect interactions with pests, disease, and soil microbial life. Frank is the first to admit the limitations of his field work. “If I had the tools to do this, I would. The next generation will have the tools.” Given this challenge, Frank stresses the importance of collaboration between different facets of the plant and soil science community – we need to become involved in different fields to get the big picture, “like a microbiologist doing plant breeding work.”

 

Standing Together

Of course there’s more to the story about Frank Morton. Well known for his spirited essays espousing the importance of open-source germplasm, the dangers of genetic engineering, and the value of regionally-adapted genetics, Frank is a man committed to his values with dynamic enthusiasm to match. His writing takes the form of a cogent narrative with the balanced approach of a veteran to this noble cause. Along with the Center for Food Safety, the Organic Seed Alliance, the Sierra Club, and your friends at High Mowing Organic Seeds, Frank is an active participant in the continuing legal battle with Monsanto and the USDA regulatory agency APHIS for failure to follow federal law when it deregulated genetically modified sugar beets in 2005. Frank also stands with us as a founding member of the Open Source Seed Initiative (OSSI), an organization seeking to revitalize public plant breeding and regain seed rights for the commons.

Frank’s first red lettuce seedling has taken its place in his comprehensive catalog; these days it is named Oaky Red Splash, and is available by mail order only. Frank’s wife and children have played their respective roles in the story, and continue to be both the foundation and inspiration for his work. And Frank Morton’s curiosity is alive and well. As the threats of biotechnology, changing climates, and plant patents loom, Frank’s innovative work seems more relevant than ever.

Below are the varieties that we have gotten from Frank and Wild Garden Seeds over the years:

Photos courtesy of Wild Garden Seed and High Mowing Organic Seeds

Posted in Farmer Authors, Seed Saving and Production | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Budget Seed Starting on a Small Farm

Late winter brings farmers out of the seed catalogs and into seed houses.  As greenhouses are heated, potting soil spread into trays, and seeds placed in each cell, excitement mounts for the coming season and all its possibilities.  For many farmers, especially new farmers, this is also a time of year when budgeting is crucial—money is going out, but not necessarily coming in yet, and so it’s important to be aware of your seed starting costs and take advantage of ways to keep those costs to a minimum.  Here are a few tips that have helped us stay on a budget at Good Heart Farmstead.

Seed House Construction: Building a Versatile Space

If you don’t have a greenhouse and are looking for an economical option for a seed starting space, begin by looking at your existing buildings.  Is there a south-facing wall not being utilized?  At GHF, we built a seed house off the side of our barn using 18’ hemlock planks and greenhouse plastic.  By using an existing wall, one side of your seed house is already complete before you’ve even started building.  We also dug out the floor of the seed house so it is a few feet below the floor of the barn.  With rocks from an old stone wall on the perimeter of our property, we built a rock wall along the dug-out southern edge of the seed house. The wall is attractive and acts as a passive solar heat source – it absorbs excess heat during the day, then releases it slowly during the cold nights.  For more heat, we bought and installed a used wood stove.  Our seed house was constructed with the help of many friends – if you are ready to start building but need more hands, organize a work party, invite your friends, and make sure to feed them plenty of good food and drink!

As the seed-starting season waned last year, we transitioned the seed house into a mini-greenhouse for tomatoes, peppers and eggplants.  In the fall we used this space to cure our winter squash; it can also be used to hang dry beans and corn that need the last bit of moisture sucked out.  Just before the winter took hold, we transplanted kale to over-winter inside.  By building a versatile space, you can increase its value in relation to your operation.

Eventually, we’d like to replace the greenhouse plastic with rigid plastic to keep more heat in, and we may someday replace the woodstove with one that doesn’t require as much night-time stoking, but for now they do the job at very low cost.

 

Sourcing Supplies

Taking advantage of bulk buying options for potting soil and compost is another way to stay on budget during seed starting time.  Through the NOFA-VT bulk order, Vermont farmers are able to get potting soil at a discounted rate – your local organic farming association may offer something similar. Here in Worcester we are lucky enough to live 20 minutes from the Vermont Compost Company, so we have also saved by picking up yards of potting soil in our own truck; alternatively, we have ordered 20 yards of compost for delivery to our farm.   Just like seeds, the more you buy, the better the price break is.  Look for similar bulk buying options in your area to help keep costs down.

Another choice to make is whether to go with plastic trays or soil blocks.  In our first year we used old plastic trays from High Mowing (when the seed production and trials crews bought new trays and rotated the older ones out, offering them up to employees).  While this was the cheapest option at the time, the older trays were already compromised with cracks, and by the end of spring we had weeded out half of them out as they broke on the trip between seedhouse and field.  This year we are transitioning to soil blocks, which we like for multiple reasons: plants grown in soil blocks avoid getting root bound, as the presence of oxygen slows root growth once the roots reach the edge of the block; also, after making the initial investment in the soil block makers, we won’t have to buy new plastic trays and pots every few years.

 

Choose cost-effective varieties

Generally, open-pollinated varieties cost less than hybrids, but before shunning hybrid seed, take note of your methods of sale and your customer base.  Are you holding a plant sale?  If so, try to get a good feel for what your home garden customers are searching for.  Tomatoes are one of the most popular home garden crops, and many gardeners have that rich heirloom flavor foremost in their minds, so stock plenty of tried and true heirlooms that are familiar to customers, such as Brandywine and Pruden’s Purple.  If you are growing for production–wholesale, farmers market, or CSA–keep in mind that many hybrids offer higher yields than similar OPs.  For example, in our cherry tomato trials, hybrid varieties like Suzanne F1 and Sakura F1 yielded almost twice as many tomatoes as comparable OP varieties, so even though the seed is more expensive, the harvest is much heavier and makes up for the initial cost. In addition, you can grow fewer plants to produce the same yield, saving valuable bed space for other crops.

It’s also important to plan for your climate and disease pressure – as you read through variety descriptions, make note of what varieties are particularly well-suited to cool spring and fall weather vs. summer heat, and which ones can stand up best to the diseases in your area.  By matching varieties to your region as best as possible, you will set yourself up for a more successful season.

Happy Growing in 2014!

Posted in Commercial Growing, Farmer Authors, Growing Tips, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments