Welcome to the November Edition of The Seed Bin - High Mowing Seeds' Online Newsletter!
Welcome, Everyone! Up here in the north country, our blissful early autumn warmth has given way to the more standard late autumn cold, wet, and darkness. A very rainy October culminated in an early Nor'Easter that dumped snow across the area, downing kale fronds, tree limbs, and telephone poles alike. Although much of the snow is now gone, it marked an end to the extended fall growing weather many of us enjoyed, and has forced us to turn our attention to winter preparation. With preparation in mind, we bring you Part Two of the Basic Soil Management article series; this month's focus is on Management Strategies, and how to apply all the information we learned last month about our soil. Dr. Jodi Lew-Smith's Pathology Report returns for this month, and of course another selection of recipes are presented for your culinary enjoyment. And, don't forget to check out our November seed sale, going on now for this month only!
Thanks for reading, and enjoy the season!
In This Issue:
- Basic Soil Management
- Part Two: Management Strategies
- Pathology Report by Dr. Jodi Lew-Smith
- Great Seed Sale for November
- Recipes of the Month and more!
Basic Soil Management - Part Two: Management Strategies
In part one of Basic Soil Management, we became introduced to our soil, learned what makes good soil, and discovered factors that influence the quality of the soil. In part two, we will look more specifically at different soil management practices, and how they can benefit or harm your soil.
Basic Soil Health (Revisited)
Let's quickly revisit what we learned last month. There are a few elements that govern the quality of the soil, with most fundamental being the texture, which refers to the physical elements making up the sand, namely clay, sand, and silt. Structure refers to aggregation, or clumping, of soil, and along with texture, governs the physical condition of the soil. Aggregation both influences and is influenced by the organic matter content of the soil. Organic matter includes plant residues in all stages of decomposition, as well as micro- and macro-organisms. Such organisms, vital to soil health, include earthworms, nematodes, beetles, bacteria, viruses, fungi, and many more. High levels of soil organic matter lead to good tilth, or workability of the soil. With good tilth there is greater movement throughout the soil of air, water, plant roots, and organisms. Water retention and absorption is increased, erosion is reduced, and soil aggregation improves, reducing crusting, which occurs when rainsplash displaces soil molecules to cause clogging of the soil surface. Crusting hinders many of the aforementioned characteristics of healthy soil. The chemical balance of the soil - specifically the carbon-to-nitrogen, or C:N, ratio - also plays heavily into the health of the soil, effecting both physical and biological conditions. Topsoil, the surface-layer of the soil which is the most bio-diverse and bio-intensive, is the lifeblood of any agricultural enterprise. The basis of any practice of sustainable agriculture, be it a garden or a farm, must be the preservation and development of healthy topsoil. Erosion by wind or water is the main cause of topsoil loss, and is a factor of the health of topsoil. Healthy topsoil can withstand and resist the natural events that might otherwise cause erosion in poor soils; agricultural practices, such as tilling, can have dramatic effects on both the soil's health and ability to resist erosion, as well as creation or avoidance of environments that can lead to erosion. With this in mind, let us look now at some of these practices and how they can be used to create good soil.
Find Out What You've Got
The first step to improving your soil is already underway with this article series. You must first understand what the soil is, and what makes good soil. After that, the next thing to do is get an idea of the soil in question. That means taking a close look at your soil and determining its condition. There are a variety of ways to go about evaluating your soil, and there is a lot of information to evaluate. The most basic test is to simply go outside with a shovel and dig. How does the soil smell? How does it crumble in your hands? Is it moist or dry? If you pour water on the ground, does it puddle, seep in slowly, or disappear instantly? What organisms are visible in the soil? If you are evaluating soil that has wild plants living in it, such as a meadow, what plants are present, and what soil conditions do they prefer? If there are plants in your soil (wild or cultivated), pull one up. What do the roots look like? Are they compacted in a ball, or well-spread out? Is there evidence of mycorrhizae or other symbiotic organisms present with the roots? There are many other tests you can do at home with simple tools and materials. You can also contact your local agricultural extension agency to inquire about having a soil test done. A lab test of a soil sample from your site can tell you the nutrients, minerals, metals, contaminants, organic matter, pH, and much more, present in your soil. This information, used in conjunction with direct evaluation of your soil, can help you make informed and accurate decisions about fertility, tilling, and treatment strategies for your farm or garden. Check out the resources at the end of this article for more information about soil evaluation.
Build Your Soil
Since the vitality of your crops depends on the health of your soil, your agricultural practices should be based around the development of your soil. This includes the introduction of amendments, such as fertilizers, the growth of cover crops and "green manures", and the use, type, and timing of tilling and other mechanized practices. While there is no such thing as too much organic matter, the nutrient and mineral balance in soil must be well-maintained. This is why evaluation, as mentioned previously, is so important; in order to know how much fertilizer is enough, you must first know how much of any given nutrient or mineral is already present in your soil. Therefore, if an amendment is selected for a specific nutrient, the entire nutrient profile must still be evaluated, so as to make sure too much of another element is not being introduced. Accurate application of amendments by well-tuned equipment is also important to ensure the desired effect is being achieved.
Animal manure is a common nutrient amendment, as it is plentiful and free in any agricultural systems that include animals as part of the system. Manure has the benefit of providing both organic matter and readily available nutrients, and is particularly favored for nitrogen. The type of animal manure, and its form as liquid or solid, can lead to widely varying nutrient profiles, and so, as mentioned above, care must be taken not to apply only for desired nitrogen, but for overall nutrient balance. For example, chicken litter is as high in phosphorus as it is in nitrogen. Excess nutrient loading, in addition to being potentially harmful to soil health, can leach into watercourses and have negative effects on aquatic biology, as well. Manures also have the benefits of providing the soil with many of the sticky gums and waxes, byproducts of micro-organisms, which help with soil aggregation.
Compost, made from manure and other organic matter, makes for another terrific amendment. While the nutrients aren't as quickly available to plants as in manure, compost provides nutrients in a stable form that prevents nutrient losses and allows for applications at nearly any rate without harming soil health. Compost is less bulky, less smelly, and easier to handle than manure, and provides a high level of humus, decomposed organic matter that greatly promotes good soil structure. While compost can be expensive to buy, on-farm composting is a very cost-effective way to introduce a lot of good organic matter into the soil, and has the potential of being a profitable enterprise for the farm.
Green manures are another excellent source of minerals and organic matter. There are many plants used for cover crops, and different plants can be used for different benefits. While buckwheat is used as a smother crop for weed control, its great biomass production makes it a good choice for introducing more organic matter. Winter rye can stabilize erosion-vulnerable soil through the winter and early spring, and is said to interfere with the growth of switch grass. Clover and leguminous crops provide a good source of nitrogen to the soil, and can be used well in a rotational schedule preceding a heavy nitrogen feeder, such as corn. It is important that cover crops be incorporated into the soil at the appropriate time for each plant. Tilled in too early, and many of the benefits can be lost. It should be noted that in certain cases, the introduction of large amounts of carbon into the soil may need to be supplemented with nitrogen to achieve an appropriate C:N ratio. Cover crops can also be used for pest control, and to attract beneficial organisms and pollinators to the farm system.
If you plan on using synthetic fertilizers, especially nitrogen, care must be taken to mitigate the potential detrimental effects. Time nitrogen application and balance application rate to maintain the carbon-nitrogen ratio. For example, do not add nitrogen when growing a leguminous crop. Adding nitrogen with a carbon-heavy crop or amendment, or after the soil has supported a heavy nitrogen feeder, is a safer strategy. When possible, use manures, compost, or cover crops and green manures as nitrogen sources, as these forms all come with varying amounts of carbon present.
Tillage is commonly used in one form or another to deal with weed pressures and to prepare soil for planting. There are many potential downsides associated with conventional tillage, however. Tillage destroys soil aggregation, smoothes the soil surface leading to crusting, reduces the soil's ability to absorb and retain moisture, kills beneficial soil organisms, reduces organic matter, and creates surface and subsurface soil compaction. Tillage is one of the leading causes of soil erosion.
There are conservation-till strategies that are being employed for the sake of water conservation, erosion-reduction, flexibility of farming schedule, reduction of fuel, and topsoil preservation and growth. These include ridge-tilling (similar in form to raised-bed gardening), chisel-plowing (which rips, but does not turn, soil), disking, and no-till systems. Some of these systems have the downsides of the potential need for herbicides, the careful use of specialized equipment, and potentially lower spring-time soil temperatures; that said, in the right conditions, no-till systems have proven to have comparable or higher yields than conventional till systems, and have the important benefits of reducing soil erosion and preserving soil tilth.
One of the most important things to do when implementing a new strategy is to observe and evaluate the results. Just as an initial soil survey tells you what type of strategy to develop, continual soil observation and testing will ensure that your strategy worked, and what can be done to improve the system. By developing a close relationship with your soil, you can be guaranteed many bountiful harvests for years to come.
sources: Sullivan, Preston. Sustainable Soil Management. ATTRA publication #IP027/133, 2004. http://www.attra.org/attra-pub/soilmgmt.html
Pathology Report for November
by High Mowing Seeds Plant Pathologist Dr. Jodi Lew-Smith
Well we're (almost) in for the winter, and for us at the seed company this means "seed cleaning and testing season" has begun in earnest. Seed all goes through several cleaning steps before either being sent away or tested in-house for germination rate and seedling vigor. Seed that fails germination testing will be re-cleaned to remove more immature and damaged seed, such that the resulting lot will (usually) achieve greater than 80% germination. Certain seed types, often the wet-seeded crops such as cucurbits and tomatoes, typically achieve 95-100% germination quite easily. Other seed types, such as many flower varieties and some "naked-seeded" vegetable varieties, such as spinach, rarely achieve germination rates over 85%. These lower germination rates are due to both inherent seed characteristics and also the ease with which disease organisms can damage seed that is not protected by either a pod or a fleshy fruit. All of these "naked-seeded" crops are much more difficult to grow in our cool, moist climate, which is a veritable paradise for the fungus among us.
Germination testing serves a dual purpose for those of us interested in seed health, in that we can often spot disease troubles on seed at the same time that we assess germination. Seed-borne diseases can take many forms. When a pathogen actually becomes embedded in the tissues of the seed itself, this is referred to as an "infection," and pathogens can colonize any or all of the embryo, endosperm, or seed coat. Location of infection is often correlated with pathogen type, where viruses typically must penetrate the embryo itself in order to achieve seed-borne transmission, whereas many fungi are successfully transmitted by seed coat infection alone.
In contrast to a true infection, an "infestation" (or "contamination") refers to situations where pathogens are hitchhiking along on seed without actually having penetrated any seed coats. This kind of passive travel can take place either on the seed surface or on residual plant parts or soil mixed in with the seed. As compared to infections, infestations are easier to control; good cleaning of seed usually removes the bulk of material that might harbor pathogens, and any remaining disease can then be removed by surface disinfestation using bleach or another agent.
Infections, especially those confined to embryos, are more difficult to spot and control. Fungal diseases are often easiest to control because they almost always affect the seed coat, causing discoloration, shriveling, and changes in density that make infected seed easy to separate from healthy seed. Also, fungal infections are readily spotted during germination testing because infected seeds show fungal growth and usually germinate poorly. If infected seeds cannot be cleaned away from healthy seeds than these lots are rejected and never sold.
Bacterial and viral infections, on the other hand, are more often asymptomatic on seed and thus more difficult to spot. Any seed lot that is suspected of harboring a viral or bacterial disease must be treated with hot water, as heat treatment is the only means by which organisms residing on the interior of the seed can be effectively eradicated. Heat treatment is quite effective at eliminating disease, especially bacterial diseases, but has the potential to simultaneously damage the seed such that germination rates drop quickly after a certain period of time, which is the reason that we do not routinely heat treat all seed. By far the best means of achieving disease-free seed is to closely watch growing seed crops for signs of disease, and keep good records such that seed testers know what diseases to look out for. If there is any possibility that a crop might harbor a disease for which symptoms do not become apparent on the seed, that seed must undergo preventive treatment.
In our new pathology lab we have a section of the lab that is dedicated to germination testing and disease screening. Seeds are carefully counted out for replicated tests, rolled into special moist toweling, and then incubated at temperatures proscribed for each seed type. Counts of germinated seeds are typically done at 4 and 7 days, but can be longer or shorter for certain seed types. Also, certain seed types, such as lettuce, require light to germinate, and thus testing must be done in clear acrylic boxes that allow penetration of light. Other seed types are subject to something called "fresh seed dormancy," where seed that has been freshly harvested will not germinate well until a certain amount of time has passed. To overcome this dormancy in order to assess germination potential, these seeds are watered with a dilute solution of potassium nitrate (KNO3), as KNO3 mimics certain soil components that signal seeds to wake up and grow. Once seeds have been stored for several months at cold temperatures, fresh seed dormancy is no longer a problem and they will germinate normally.
Luckily this past season was a dry one and disease problems were minimal. We're expecting very few seed lots to fail this year, which is good news for all of us - except that you'll have to put on your reading glasses because I'll have way too much time to ramble on in my pathology reports!
November Seed Sale
For the month of November, we are offering a 25% discount on the following varieties:
Danvers 126 Carrots
Scarlet Nantes Carrots
Wrinkled Crinkled Crumpled Cress
Red Russian Kale
Green Deer Tongue Lettuce
Dark Green Zucchini Summer Squash
Yellow Crookneck Summer Squash
Cinnamon Basil Culinary Herbs
Sweet Basil Culinary Herbs
Italian Parsley Culinary Herbs
Moss Curled Parsley Culinary Herbs
Chader's Mix Sweet Williams Perennial Flowers
Dwarf Jewel Mix Nasturtium Annual Flowers
But this sale is only valid through November, so click over to our sale page now to catch these great fall deals!
Recipe of the Month
Last month's Garlic Mashed Potatoes was quite well-received, so here are a few more selections featuring that universal favorite, the potato. Enjoy!
Potato Chowder Soup
This is a creamy, cheesy soup that is easy and delicious! Great in bread bowls.
2 cups peeled and diced potatoes
1/2 cup diced carrots
1/2 cup diced celery
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup butter
2 cups milk
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 (15 ounce) cans whole kernel corn, drained
2 1/2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
1. Place potatoes, carrots, celery, onion and salt in a large pot with water to cover. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes. Meanwhile, combine butter, milk and flour in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir constantly until smooth and thick. Pour milk mixture into cooked vegetables. Stir in corn and cheese until cheese is melted. Serves 8.
No, it's not too early to start thinking about latkes. Try out this recipe now to be ready for Chanukah, or just for the love of fried potatoes. This is a basic recipe that is ripe for interpretation.
2 pounds of Yukon Gold Potatoes
1/2 of a medium sweet onion
1 large egg, beaten
salt and freshly ground pepper, as desired
Vegetable oil, for frying
Fresh dill, minced (optional)
Matzo meal (optional)
Peel the potatoes keeping the potatoes in cold water until ready to grate. Use a grater and hand grate all the potatoes and the onion into a bowl. With another bowl press down on top to squeeze out all the water. Leave excess water for a few minutes in the bowl, then spill out saving the potato starch in the bottom and mix into the grated potatoes. Add in the beaten egg, seasonings and dill. Matzo meal or flour can be added optionally; while flour can help hold the latkes together, it makes for a more cake-like consistency. Heat a large size frying pan with a light film of vegetable oil. Take out about 2 tablespoons of the potato mixture in the palm of your hand and flatten. Place in the frying pan and flatten with a large spatula and fry for a minutes until golden. Flip over and brown the other side. Remove to paper towel to drain. Serve immediately with a small dollop of sour cream and smoked salmon or applesauce. Can made small and served as appetizers or sides. Yields 24 latkes.
Rustic Balsamic-Roasted Root Vegetables
Say that five times fast. This dish is intoxicatingly aromatic, with the scent of the rosemary roasting and releasing its essence into the root vegetables. We suggest serving it aside a rosemary-encrusted, roasted pork loin, or a grilled steak with caramelized onions simmered in red wine.
1/8 cup balsamic vinegar
1/8 cup Pinot Gris or other white wine
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons chervil, finely chopped
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1 teaspoon black peppercorns, coarsely ground
1 teaspoon lemon zest
4 baby red potatoes, quartered with skin on
4 white fingerling potatoes, with skin on, sliced ¼-inch thick on the diagonal
3 purple potatoes, quartered with skin on
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and sliced into ¼-inch-thick rounds
1 medium yam, halved then sliced ¼-inch thick
1 small beetroot, quartered with skin on
1 large carrot, with skin on, sliced ¼-inch thick on the diagonal
1 bulb garlic, peel cloves and leave whole
1 chipolone onion, peeled and quartered
3 sprigs fresh rosemary (optional)
Preheat oven to 375.
Prepare the balsamic marinade:
Combine all ingredients, whisk together and set aside.
Prepare the root vegetables:
Place the roots into a large mixing bowl. Pour the prepared marinade over the roots and toss to coat. Place into 13"x9" pan, assemble rosemary sprigs on top. Roast uncovered for approximately 45 minutes or until the edges are golden brown. Pierce with a fork to test for tenderness.
[Chef's Note: Don't feel limited to the roots used here. The potato varieties work well with the marinade, but do be adventurous. Keep enough potatoes in the mix to provide a starch base for the balsamic marinade, but do try a new root from time to time, just to mix things up. Some of our personal favorites include celeriac, parsnips, and rutabaga.]
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