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Notes From Tom
While winter held on for a long time this year, we seemed to have actually skipped spring all together. Sunny skies and warm temperatures feel like summer and to top it off we have not had one frost since April 16. Most of us know our typical yearly schedules but with weather like this we have gone from feeling behind and snowed in, to feeling ahead and prepared, and now to feeling behind again. A glance at last year’s calendar is a good reminder that it is still early and the spring weather that we all know (rain, cold, late frosts) may just as likely return. In some ways we all must proceed with one eye on the sky and the other on the calendar as we negotiate our way through our changing climate.
I am keeping an open-mind and letting the warm temperatures encourage me to experiment and be resilient in the face of change. For the risk takers in the audience like myself who are starting seeds early in hope of an early season, I wish you luck.
Thanks for all the seed
Notes from the Field -
I just returned from the fields and am very excited about this year’s season! I was unsure when I saw the snow still falling those first few weeks of
April. But the past week and a half have been wonderfully warm and fields are dry and ready for compost and then cultivating and transplanting of our early season seed crops and trial varieties. We are aiming to direct seed our first seed crops on May 1 as well as peas and spinach for trials.
We have a lot of new projects happening on the farm this year: a new unheated high tunnel for tomato and cucumber variety trials, isolation cages for seed crops, as well as a handful of new summer help and interns all with different backgrounds and personality to add to our summer experience on the farm.
This past winter in
Wolcott we had incredible amounts of snow. So much snow, that our greenhouse collapsed and needed to be replaced. We are now up and running and have a new cold frame that is sectioned of for different crop types that may require cooler hardening off temps.
Our new unheated high tunnel is due to be ready at the end of May and we will be planting for late summer crops right away.
We lost one of our isolation fields this past year to housing development, and with no land ready for use we have invested in building isolation cages. The cages are made out of steel posts and a special fabric that sits like a tent over them. The fabric is specially designed to not affect temperature or air flow as much as possible but will keep all native insects out. To pollinate the crops within the cage we will be bringing in our own special pollinators to do the job. Each crop type has an optimal pollinator and we are making final decisions about which to use now, but it seems as though the house fly is the easiest and best to use. We will see!
Almost every year we invest in one new piece of equipment and this year we bought a bed former and mulch layer. We have been borrowing this item for past years and realized everyone else wants to borrow it the same exact week, which has been a set back many times. While the bed former/mulch layer only gets used a short amount of time each season it has been difficult to persuade ourselves to purchase one, and it will be much appreciated by all. With the fantastic weather and spring excitement it feels like we are headed toward another great season!
The greenhouse is half full and the cold frame is packed with all of our early season specialty greens. We have a handful of new crops this year including Hon Tsai Tai, Purple Mizuna, Yukina
Savoy, and Golden Frill mustard. Most of these Brassica crops require a cool start to vernalize the plant (trick it into thinking it has gone through a winter) so that it will flower in one season. By nature the varieties may bolt, but too late in the season to acquire a quality seed crop. We are still pursuing a broccoli crop for a few hard to find favorites that are no longer being sold.
We started plants in February and now are in 4” pots and in the cold frame. Everyone knows broccoli will flower in the summer, but the formation of seed requires a very long season. May 1 we will be direct seeding radish crops. Tomatoes, peppers and long season pumpkins are seeded and next in line are the rest of the cucurbits we specialize in. With the increasing popularity in heirloom tomatoes we have a number of new crops for varieties like Cherokee Purple, Brown Cherry, and Copia, as well as specialty pumpkins and hot peppers.
This year we are adding a
Garden to our trial grounds. In the past we have always had our variety trials, breeding projects and flower and herb display gardens, but by popular demand we have decided to showcase some of our best, newest, and upcoming varieties to be ready for harvest at our two field day events.
Showcase varieties will be grown out in large plantings and are scheduled to be mature on field day events for evaluation and tasting.
This year in our variety trials we have a running list of 776 varieties with a few more in the works. Our breeding projects this year include de-hybridizing some very popular hybrid tomatoes as well as Septoria resistant tomato lines, bell peppers, zucchini, pumpkins and winter squash.
We are once again partnering with UVM to be a site for their continued research into edible soybean varieties.
We hope that you will have some time to come out and see what we are up to. The trial grounds are always open for a self guided tour, or plan to come to one of our Field Days on July 30 or September 17 for a guided tour, fun, and food
I Love What I do!
Tips to Making a Living at the Farmer’s Market
I am the one who makes the decisions of what, when, and how to make my farm work. I struggle with the gazillion variables over which I have no control.
Seeing those variables actually come together brings a sense of satisfaction that leaves me filled with joy. Of course, there’s always a hitch. Loving what you do does not always pay the bills. If you can not sell what you produce, you can not afford to farm for very long.
Kate and I are farming three acres of vegetables for a farmers market and a small
CSA. We made the choice when we started that direct marketing was the way we could afford the lifestyle we wanted on the acreage we had available. We receive a better price for our produce than we would in the wholesale market, and are able to separate ourselves from the commodity field. When our customers come to us at the market, they are choosing to spend their dollars with us because we can offer them something different than they can find elsewhere. We can tell them how their food was produced, when it was harvested, why I choose the varieties we grow, and how to prepare the vegetables as well. It all sounds pretty basic, but getting to know your customers is a big step to marketing yourself better.
Before you can get to know your customers, you need to get them to stop at your booth. Arriving at a market and throwing your wares on a table does not cut it anymore. You only get a few seconds to make a positive impression. In a market filled with many vendors, there are a few things you can do to stand out. Some are obvious, some are more subtle.
Our market takes place in a parking lot on the asphalt. The first thing I do when I arrive is sweep out our spot, including the area in front where people are walking. It only takes a few minutes, but it makes a huge difference in how our stand looks. It is important to remember you are selling food, and a dirty floor with cigarette butts and grit can be a real turn off. I also arrive each morning with two shirts. One shirt always gets dirty unloading the van and setting everything up. Once the booth is ready to go, and before the crowds get there, I am changed, clean, and ready to go. Did I forget to mention that I am in my “going to town” pants?
While you have the few seconds to set an impression be engaging, and let your customers know you are happy to help them. If someone’s hands are full, offer to bag for them. If you have a shady out of the way spot, allow customers to leave what they have bought and pick it up later if they are going to do more shopping. And most important…do not sit down! The first impression is that you are not excited about your products and to top it off in order to help someone, you have to stand up. Sounds basic right? But what it means to a customer is that you have to stand up for them and they are being an inconvenience to you.
Most people realize that vegetables are grown in soil. That does not mean they want to see the dirt on them. We spend a lot of time getting our produce looking good; greens are healthy, roots are clean. How you arrange your produce is also important. There’s a saying “Pile it high and kiss it goodbye,” and it’s true. Abundance will stop people and bring them to you. If we are short on something, we use false bottoms that fit into our baskets that allow a smaller amount to rise above the rim.
Bringing more than you think you can sell hurts at first, but it is important that there always be a choice for your customers. No one wants to buy the last one of anything. It’s important that every customer gets to choose. Granted, there are always some items that we run out of. But we try hard to always have something at the end of a busy day. As our produce disappears, we are busy tightening up the display, making our overall stand smaller, but still trying to appear full. A smaller stand that is neat will always be more inviting than a big stand that looks picked over.
As I am setting up my booth, I am always conscious of how far the average customer can reach. I am careful that everything I am selling is easy to pick up. For items that are loose, like beans and peas, I put them closer to the customers, so there is less fumbling with a bag. Heavier items are also closer, lighter ones farther back.
Signage is also very important.
We have a sign on everything. I list varieties, what method of preparation might be best suited for that vegetable, and what I like about the variety. Every sign has a price. I think our prices are a reflection of the cost of production and the quality of the produce I bring, and I do not hide them. I began using the computer to make my signs because my handwriting is hard even for a pharmacist to read. They all have a uniform format, and when they start to look worn out, I print out new ones.
My final suggestion would be to stand outside your booth during market time and watch how the traffic flows through it. Where does it get congested? Can people find what they are looking for? Also take the time to admire the work that has gone into getting everything to market. The market season is intense, and sometimes you need a lift. Market day is a very tangible reward for all your sweat and long days.
I hope this season brings lots of success, and the continuing chance to live your dream!
Pathology Report -
Breeding for Resistance to Septoria in Tomato: Part I
Hello seed friends. In this issue I will talk about the beginning of a multi-year breeding project that seeks to find stable resistance to Septoria lycopersici, one of the pathogens contributing to early blight of tomatoes in the northeast.
First a few notes about early blight.
For those of us growing field tomatoes in the northeast, early blight is almost certainly the single-most problematic disease. It’s those brown spots on the older tomato leaves that slowly move up the plant over the season, eventually defoliating the whole thing.
There are actually two pathogens contributing to early blight, one is Septoria lycopersici, the other is an Alternaria species. The Alternaria species is generally held to be Alternaria solani, but in my hands here at the High Mowing seed farm, the Alternaria species we see, based on the morphology of the fungal spores, is almost exclusively Alternaria alternata, a ubiquitous, soil-born pathogen said to be only weakly virulent, but that attacks a wide range of crop species, including tomato, peas, cucurbits, brassicas, and others.
And so, early blight is often caused by two pathogens. The Septoria causes the smaller brown spots that are scattered regularly over the leaves and stem, while the Alternaria causes the “bulls-eye” spots with internal rings that are larger and more irregularly-spaced, eventually fusing into large amorphous brown areas.
Both pathogens are soil-borne and overwinter in the northeast, and both require moisture to infect, however one intriguing difference between them is that they have different optimal temperatures at which to infect tomatoes: Septoria prefers cool night temperatures for infection, whereas Alternari requires warm night temperatures for infection. And thus, in a season such as we had last year in 2007, where the nights remained cool all season long in our region, the early blight we observed was caused almost exclusively by Septoria lycopersici.
Given this problematic pathogen, I decided to initiate a breeding program to attempt to isolate resistance in one or more tomato lines, and then use these lines to introduce resistance into more commercially-suitable varieties. I thus obtained all the tomato lines purporting to have resistance to either early blight or to Septoria from the USDA-ARS germplasm repository in
These lines came from various parts of the world, and were of various sizes and tomato types. I grew these lines for a year to increase seed and make some initial selections, and then harvested seed from individual plants.
At the same time I harvested leaves showing symptoms of Septoria and dried them as a means of storing the fungus for use in later disease screening.
I am now in the process of working out the means to isolate and grow the fungus using various fungal media, and will then move on to infecting tomato plants with the isolated fungus to determine whether there is a varying degree of resistance among the individuals I selected. (Many thanks to
University for her assistance in learning how to grow Septoria and infect tomatoes.)
In Part II of this article I’ll let you know how the disease screening is going, and whether we have promising individuals showing good horizontal resistance.
Land Trust Membership Discount
Two for One Membership Supports Sustainable Agriculture in
The Northeast Organic Farming Association of
Vermont (NOFA-VT) and the Vermont Land Trust have joined with High Mowing Organic Seeds to support local agriculture in
Vermont, offering High Mowing Seeds customers the opportunity to become members of both organizations for only $40.
Family farms are at the core of
Vermont’s rural economy and local food system. The Vermont Land Trust (VLT) and NOFA-VT are nonprofit organizations that share a vision of local farms producing local foods. With your support, VLT and NOFA-VT can continue their work to strengthen agriculture in
For a limited time, VLT and NOFA-VT are offering High Mowing Seeds customers
the opportunity to become members of both organizations for a total of $40. Your joint membership with NOFA-VT and the Vermont Land Trust supports
Vermont’s rural landscape and economy, helping to conserve land and ensure that current and future generations can enjoy local organic food. This gift will be shared by the two organizations and is a savings of $30. Each gift makes a difference in
Vermont’s future. Click here to find out more and donate online.
You can also learn more about NOFA-VT or VLT or give a gift to just one of these organizations by visiting http://www.vlt.org/ or http://www.nofavt.org/
Thank you for your support!
Wednesday afternoons in May, 3-7 pm
Farmer & Artisan Market
Located at the
Center, 74 Pleasant St.,
River Arts Center
High Mowing Organic Seeds attends this weekly event loaded with packets of organic seeds for sale.
We have our 96 slot rack with that right, 96 varieties of vegetables herbs and flowers.
Other local farmers and artists are onsite offering a wide array of goods.
Check out the following articles for a quick peak:
VPR Interview with Amy Walker, Localvores Go Retail
Weekend, May 5-7, 2008
Investor’s Circle Spring Conference
Investors' Circle Spring Conference
The conference will feature tracks in
energy & environment, health & wellness, media & education, food & organics, and community & international development.
Tom Stearns will be attending representing High Mowing and will be meeting with leaders in sustainable food and agriculture businesses such as Carlo Petrini, founder of Slow Food and the board of Slow Money, a group of sustainable investors focusing on helping small businesses thrive in a world where selling out to big business has been the only option to move forward.
Weekend, May 10-11, 2008
Going Green Expo-VT
“Taking Green to the Mainstream”
Going Green Expos
A must go to event if you are interested in the latest best practices, green technologies, and strategies for taking action to create a comfortable, compassionate and sustainable future and living planet.
Going Green magazine hopes to pool local resources to give rural and urban citizens the tools to take “
Green to the Mainstream”.
Come on by and say HI at the the High Mowing Seeds’ booth (#21).
See you there!
May 14, 2008
Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility
18th Annual VBSR Spring Conference
VBSR 18th Annual VBSR Spring Conference
The event will feature 20 workshops, exhibits by your business peers, an extensive silent auction, local food, and a special performance of The Boycott and a cocktail party to finish the day.
Abrams, Co-Founder and CEO of South Mountain Company, and author of ‘The Company We Keep: Reinventing Small Business for People, Community and Place’.
As members of VBSR we will be attending this meeting.
Check out the VBSR web-site to find other
Vermont businesses that are part of this socially responsible network of small business owners who you might want to support.
Tom Stearns along with Andrew Meyer of VT Soy and Tom Gilbert of High Fields Institute will be presenting a workshop on Sustainable Business Groups:
A Case Study, and How to Start One Near You, describing the group these three are currently part of in Lamoille County, VT.
Check out the following article for more information:
Vermont Business August 2007.
Davis, HMS General Manager, will also be co-leading a workshop titled
Encouraging Employees to Think Like Owners.
This workshop will discuss advantages of giving employees a bigger picture of how the company operates on a financial basis.
This can empower individual employees by offering a greater understanding of how their contribution affects the company’s success, and increases their willingness to accept accountability for their actions.
Weekend, June 27-29, 2008
Trapp Family Lodge,
Stowe Garden Festival
A three-day celebration of garden-related events. Informative seminars, tours and open houses. This exceptionally popular
Stowe event was selected by the Vermont State Chamber as one of the Top Ten Summer Events for 2006.
will be leading a garden tour on Saturday highlighting seed saving, see website for more details.
July 30, 2008,
High Mowing Organic Seeds’ July Field Days
High Mowing Organic Seeds
Take part in an afternoon walk of our trial gardens.
This year we have included a
Garden highlighting some of our new and upcoming varieties we know you will love.
We will also walk through our Variety Trials that include 800 varieties, and over twenty crop types as well as our current on-farm Breeding Projects.
Refreshments and local food will be available to snack on.
We are lining up a pre-event workshop too!
Check out our website for more information when we get further into summer.
Butter Braised Radishes with Sorrel
(This recipe taken from
Few people think of eating warm radishes, but they are delicious—like turnips with a little bite.
1c stock (chicken or veggie)
2lb radishes, quartered
½ oz sorrel leaves, stemmed and thickly sliced (1c packed)
Salt and pepper to taste
In a large skillet, bring the stock and butter to a boil over moderate heat. Add the radishes and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are crisp-tender and the liquid has thickened slightly, about 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and transfer to a shallow bowl. Scatter the sorrel over the top and serve.
Morel and Fiddlehead Fern Ragout
(This recipe taken from
1 1/2 pounds fiddlehead ferns
2 shallots, minced
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1/2 pound fresh morels, trimmed and rinsed well
2 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon chopped chives
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
Salt and pepper
Parmesan curls, for garnish
In a saucepan, bring 1 1/2 quarts of salted water to a boil. Add fiddleheads and return to a boil. Using a slotted spoon, transfer fiddleheads to an ice bath and chill. Drain and pat dry, removing as much of the outer brown, tissue-like membrane as possible. In a skillet sauté shallots in butter until softened, about 2 minutes. Add thyme, morels, and garlic and continue to cook until morels have softened and given up their liquid, about 3 minutes. Continue to cook until almost all liquid is evaporated, about 2 more minutes. Add chicken stock and cook until reduced by half. Add fiddleheads and cook 2 minutes, add cream, chives, and parsley, and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste. Serve immediately, garnished with Parmesan curls.