Welcome to the March edition of the Seed Bin - High Mowing Seeds Online Newsletter!
As I write this, almost three feet of fluffy powder are piling up around our mountain home here in northern Vermont, much do the delight of skiers and snowshoers alike. It is a strange juxtaposition indeed, when I think of the new life starting to quicken below the snow and in propegation trays; the irreversible power of spring is awakening. Greenhouses across the country are beginning to fire up, and many plans are well underway to ensure a good season of bountiful produce and flowers ahead. This is a very important time for seeds, and so in this issue we have a conversation with Tom Stearns, Founder and President of High Mowing Seeds, about what makes organic seeds organic, and the industry that supplies them. This month's Pathology Report begins a series on the basics of pathology, starting with bacteria and fungi. As always, we present two recipes of the month; this month's theme ingredient is the illustrious onion. And, if you read through to the end, you'll learn about a new web-only discount and a new Seed Bin feature beginning next month.
Thanks for reading, and have a Happy Equinox!
In This Issue:
- Interview with Tom Stearns, President of High Mowing Seeds, on the Organic Seed Industry
- Pathology Report from HMS Plant Pathologist Dr. Jodi Lew-Smith
- Weekly Featured Products On Sale Now!
-New Feature in April: Ask the Grower
- Recipe of the month, and more!
Interview with Tom Stearns, President of High Mowing Seeds, on the Organic Seed Industry
The presence of organic seeds in the marketplace is growing each season. Those of you who are commercial organic growers are required to seek organic seed; many organic home gardeners grow organic seed by choice. But what are the differences between organic and conventional seed? Who is growing this seed, and why? And what should we expect in seasons to come? We ask Tom Stearns, President of High Mowing Seeds, to explain what's going on behind the packet.
: There is a lot of awareness at this point about the difference between vegetables grown organically and conventionally, in regards to pesticide and fertilizer use and soil health; what are the differences between organic and conventional seed?
: This is a great question. Many people donít realize how different conventional and organic seed can really be. In general, untreated conventional seed does not have pesticide residues actually on it, but you are supporting the use of those chemicals when you buy conventional seed. The main difference is that organic seed, being grown under organic conditions, is often more adapted to organic growing conditions. This isnít necessarily true, for example, if the organic production is only a few generations away from the conventional production and the crop hasnít been rigorously selected for the new organic conditions, it will likely be pretty close to what it was when it started. But if the seed is not just produced organically but is also selected and developed under those conditions, then the variety will indeed be better adapted to organic conditions. This means that it may do better under conditions such as greater weed pressure, higher disease pressure, low fertility and other situations specific to organics. On the flip side, growing seed organically can also lead to lower quality if you are not paying attention to what you are doing. Chemicals have a way of covering up problems on a farm. For example, herbicide applications cover up weed problems so conventional seed production doesnít have as many weed concerns as organic does. Fungicides cover up or get rid of some disease problems but under organic conditions you may need to control the disease in other ways. If you are not paying attention to these things, your organic seed can be worse than conventional, not better. We spend a lot of time at High Mowing on these type of issues to ensure the quality is exceptionally high.
: One of the biggest changes in the recently-implemented federal organic standards for organic agriculture is the provision requiring the use of organic seeds in organic food production. Why has the National Organic Program made this provision, and how has this affected the organic seed industry?
: The consumer expects that organic produce will be grown using organic seeds and one of the aspects of the National Rule is to support the development of new organic markets such as the organic seed industry. The vegetable seed industry in the U.S. is mostly waiting to see if the rules will get any more teeth in them before they invest in organic seed research and production. There are several seed companies that have begun to get into organics but it is only a very small part of what they do. Most companies are still waiting to see if the regs will force farmers to use organic seed Ė which would obviously create a huge market for organic seed producers and distributors. Our approach at High Mowing is to lead the way and make these seeds available and work with farmers and certifiers building good relationships rather than work hard for legislation to drive it down their throats. That approach is not the best way to support organic farmers.
: Many people donít think too closely about the source of their seed; give us a glimpse into the seed industry, and where the seeds in our packets really comes from.
: The seeds at High Mowing come from a wide range of sources. We grow a lot of seed here on our farm in Wolcott, Vermont. Every year the number is a bit different, but in 2005 we grew about 40% of the seed that we sold. We also have a network of organic seed growers both small and large, in 10 other states as well as locally here in VT. We also get seed from several production seed companies who grow for the wider industry as well as for us. We are not as involved with those operations as we are with our network of farmers. We visit them all almost every year in order to make sure that the quality is high and to develop a closer working relationship. There are other medium to large seed production companies both in the U.S. and overseas that are becoming more involved with organics and we are seeking out relationships with them as well.
: It seems that some of the bigger players in the seed business are starting to put out organic lines, in addition to the smaller organic seed companies; In this era of globalization, the seed business, like many other sectors of the economy, also seem to be growing more international. In light of these larger changes in the business world, how is this changing the organic seed industry?
: In Europe there is more support for organics and several seed companies over there have responded by producing organic seed for that market. Right now they are mostly selling only in the EU but they are interested in branching out. The organic seed industry, like the conventional seed industry is going to be international. There is plenty of room for small seed companies interested in local production and distribution but the industry as a whole will no doubt become increasingly international.
: Looking into your crystal ball, as the owner of one of the fastest-growing organic seed companies in the nation, where do you see the future of the organic seed industry heading? What predictions do you have for the future of the seed industry as a whole?
: I think that it will grow. Right now less that 2% of the U.S. organic vegetable acreage is planted with organic seeds and in Europe it is only about 4%. As more organic seed is available both of these numbers will go up and whoever has large quantities of high quality organic seed at a reasonable price will capture the market. It is a diverse market though, with small and large and very large growers, fresh market growers and processors, different regions and many other niches. All of these markets will need to be served and it will take a number of seed companies in the U.S. and the world to do that.
Pathology Report for March 2006
by HMS Plant Pathologist Dr. Jodi Lew-Smith
Basics of Plant Pathology: Bacteria and Fungi
Being yet in the depths of winter, this is a good time to revisit some biology basics that get rusty for many of us who donít have to think about these issues all year round. But we do all grow plants (most of us at least), and thus we have good use for a working understanding of the different types of pathogens that can rain on our green parade.
Excluding insects, there are three basic types of plant pathogens: bacteria, fungi, and viruses. This month Iím going to discuss bacteria and fungi, which are similar in more regards than either one is to viruses, at least in terms of what they mean for plants.
Bacteria are single-celled organisms lacking cell walls. Each single-celled bacterium has its own DNA, although it is not in a membrane-bound nucleus, and metabolizes a given set of food sources into energy for additional replication, which is pretty much the goal of bacterial existence. Bacteria are distinguished from one another largely by the kinds of food sources they can utilize, as well as by physical properties such as color, sliminess, and colony shapes. Thereís a surprising range of variation among them. In general, though, bacteria are slimy and wet.
In contrast to bacteria, fungi are multi-celled organisms with much more complex cells containing multiple membrane-bound organelles Ė more like ours in fact. Unlike bacteria, which generally perform simple replication by cell division, fungi can undergo both sexual and asexual reproduction, and often exhibit complex life cycles. For our purposes in telling them apart, though, when fungi are found on plants they are often more dry and fuzzy rather than wet and slimy. Like bacteria, however, most fungi do need moisture to replicate and spread, so both bacterial and fungal diseases tend to be much worse in wetter seasons. Fungi are often distinguished from one another initially by color, with common pathogens of leaves and fruit tending to be either gray (i.e. gray molds), white (i.e. white molds), or pinkish-orange (Fusarium molds). Many soil-borne fungi, however, are colorless and do not grow well in culture, and are thus more commonly distinguished by either the symptoms they cause or their appearance within the interior of the plant. The other key character for distinguishing fungi is spore shape, with several classes of pathogenic fungi having extremely distinctive spore types.
In terms of looking at a plant and trying to say whether a disease is caused by a bacterium or a fungus, this is not easy at first, unless there is fuzzy mold that clearly says fungus all over it. Certain types of diseases, such as leaf spots or various rots, can be caused by either a bacterium or a fungus. However, if you were to take a leaf with spots on it and isolate a spot to grow on a Petri plate, youíd either see a slimy, wet bacterial growth or a fuzzy, dry fungal growth. For the purposes of identification in the field, then, you must learn over time what the spots typically look like for the different diseases on a given plant, and narrow it down from there. In general, though, bacterial diseases are much LESS common than fungal diseases. But, when they do appear, they are often much more devastating.
Next time Iíll talk about viruses, and also about general control measures for the three types of plant pathogens. And if you donít already have Diseases and Pests of Vegetable Crops in Canada, this is by far the best basic book for vegetable pathology. (I just wish someone would write one as good specifically for the U.S.!)
Weekly Featured Products On Sale Now!
Every Wednesday, we unveil a new batch of three featured products that we offer to you at a discount. Maybe we have extra supply of seed, or maybe we want to show off a particular variety. Whatever the reason, you can enjoy 20% off our featured varieties
when you order your seeds online at www.highmowingseeds.com
! Just add the varieties to your cart, and your discount will be applied automatically when you checkout. And yes, all sizes of the featured products are on sale, so the more you buy, the more you save! But remember, the products are only good for a week, so buy now before the sale ends.
Recipe of the Month
By March, some of the only things left in storage are onions. This allium is a ubiquitous ingredient, featured in cuisines across the globe. Whether a yellow onion minced and cooked down for a stew base, or a red onion grated fresh onto salad, onions are there. We shine the spotlight on onions this March with two great recipies!
French Onion Soup
A real French Onion Soup recipe adapted from Chef Emeril; it is worth the time it takes to prepare. [Editorís Note: the better the stock, the better the soup]
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 lbs yellow onions, thinly sliced
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1/3 cup cognac
8 cups beef stock or broth
4 sprigs fresh thyme, tied into a bundle with kitchen string
1/2 loaf French bread, cut into 1/2-inch thick slices
1 lb gruyere cheese, coarsely grated
2 egg yolks (optional)
1/2 cup port wine (optional)
finely chopped parsley, garnish
6 servings; 1 hour 25 minutes, 25 mins prep
1. In a Dutch oven or other large, heavy pot, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the onions, salt and pepper, and cook, stirring, until golden brown, 15 to 18 minutes.
2. Remove the pan from the heat and carefully add the cognac.
3. Return the pan to the heat and cook until the alcohol has evaporated. Be careful as the cognac may ignite.
4. Add the beef stock and thyme sprigs and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook the soup for 45 minutes.
5. While the soup is simmering, toast the bread slices until light golden brown. Remove from the oven.
6. Preheat the broiler.
7. When the soup is ready, divide 1/2 of the toasted bread slices between 6 individual oven proof serving bowls or crocks and top with 1/2 of the grated cheese.
8. Ladle some of the soup among the bowls and top with the remaining toasts.
9. Ladle the remaining soup among the bowls and top with the remaining cheese.
10. Place the bowls on a baking sheet and place under the broiler until the cheese is melted, golden brown and bubbly, about 5 minutes. Remove from the oven.
11. In a small bowl combine the egg yolks and Port and whisk to thoroughly combine. Pour some of the mixture evenly among the soup bowls, stirring in around the edges so that it is incorporated into the soup. (The heat of the soup will cook the egg yolk and this will thicken and enrich the soup.)
12. Garnish the top with chopped parsley and serve hot.
Caramelized onions are a great tool in the cookís toolbox; they are a fundamental ingredient in many dishes, and can transform many others into really special meals. It is a simple approach, but involves patience and a watchful eye.
1-2 tablespoons olive oil or butter
3 medium yellow cooking, Vidalia, or other yellow or white onions, sliced in ľ inch thin half-moons
ľ cup red wine, balsamic vinegar, or water
Salt and pepper, to taste
1. Heat oil or butter in a heavy-bottomed pan (preferably a well-seasoned cast-iron pan) on medium-low heat until oil is glassy or butter has foamed.
2. Add onions and stir until coated. Stir occasionally for 5 minutes until onions begin to soften and release liquid. Reduce heat to low.
3. Season with salt and pepper. Stir occasionally over low heat, taking great care not to let onions burn. If the pan gets dry and the onions start to stick, splash with wine, vinegar, or water, and gently scrape bottom of pan (unless the onions have begun to burn, in which case remove the onions from the pan, clean pan, and repeat step one to continue cooking).
4. Continue cooking until onions are deep brown. They will reduce in size and the flavor will increase in sweetness the longer they are cooked. Top on pizza or pasta, cook in quiche or frittata, spread on toast or garnish in salad.
Time: 10 minutes prep, 20 minutes cooking
New Feature: Ask The Grower
Have a burning gardening question? A pesky path problem? A vexing marketing quandry? Send us your questions, and we'll get you answers!
Beginning in the April edition of the Seed Bin, we will publish one of your questions, with an answer given by one of the experienced growers on our staff.
Send your questions to
, and please write "Ask the Grower" in the subject line.
Read a Previous Seed Bin Issue
Looking for an old article or recipe? You can read old issues of the Seed Bin here
. Please note that Sale items listed in these archival issues are no longer valid.
Let's Make it Better
This is your newsletter, not ours - we just write it. Just as your comments, questions, concerns, and field experience have helped to guide our business in every way, from variety selection to customer service, we rely on your feedback to guide the creation of a publication that is informative, inspirational, entertaining, and enjoyable to read. What would you like to see more or less of? Technical advice? Seed saving tips? Tools and techniques? Information about High Mowing Seeds? We want to give you what you want, so please let us hear from you! Write to firstname.lastname@example.org
with your comments, critiques, and questions.
Thanks for reading - and responding!
Jacob Racusin - General Editor
Jodi Lew-Smith - Technical, Pathology Editor