Welcome to the October Edition of The Seed Bin - High Mowing Seeds' Online Newsletter!
Welcome, Everyone! Well, the frost still hasn't come yet, so for those of us used to pulling out herbs and tomatoes in September, we've gotten quite the season extension. Some of you may be well-accustomed to such warm fall temperatures, but those of us in northern New England now know what we've been missing! As fall marks an end to certain cycles, it is also beginning in many ways. This fall brings a big beginning for High Mowing Seeds. As we mentioned in the last newsletter, we have moved our operations to new, bigger, better facilities. In this issue, we give you a tour of the new place. Also in this newsletter we feature the first in a two-article series on Basic Soil Management. Sustainable agriculture - like all agriculture - is dependent on the health of the soil, and knowing your soil and learning how to manage it well is critical for the long-term success of any agricultural enterprise, whether you are a commercial grower, subsistance homesteader, or home gardener. In Part One, we will look at what's under our feet, and what makes - or breaks - good soil. And, don't forget to check out our October seed sale, going on now for this month only!
Thanks for reading, and enjoy the foliage!
In This Issue:
- High Mowing Seeds' New Home
- Basic Soil Management - Part One: The Basics of Soil Health
- Great Seed Sale for October
- Recipies of the Month and more!
High Mowing Seeds' New Home
September has brought with it many changes for High Mowing Seeds, some of the biggest the company has ever seen. As you read this, we are finishing the transition process into our brand new facilities, just in time for the busiest time of the year! Right now, seeds are coming in from the fields by the truckload, needing to be weighed, dried, cleaned, weighed again, stored, packed, picked, and shipped. In this article, you'll get a brief look at the seed cleaning process as you get a tour of our new facility.
Our operational center is now located at 76 Quarry Road, off of VT Rte. 15 about halfway between Wolcott and Hardwick, VT. We are working out of a 13,000 sq. ft. warehouse and office complex, as well as two very large equipment sheds and a maintenance shop. Previously, our equipment storage and maintenance, seed cleaning facility, shipping and fulfillment center, seed storage, and offices were each in separate locations. Now, all aspects of the business, once the seeds leave the field, are under one very large roof.
Our tour starts when the seed comes in from the field. Accessed through a large bay door, the 1800 sq. ft. seed cleaning room receives the seed. If the seed hasn't fully dried, it is put into one of two large batch driers, each designed for different types and volumes of seed. When the seed is dried, it is weighed on a floor scale, and then cleaned. Cleaning happens with one of five machines:
- The Eclipse separates seeds by size. The seed passes through a series of interchangeable screens to filter out both large chaff and fines, and is aided by vibration and a fan
- The spiral separator separates seeds by shape, specifically roundness. Seed is poured into a hopper at the top of the spiral; round seed descends to the bottom, while imperfect seed is sent out the sides of the spiral
- The Sortex separates by density. Seed is poured into a chamber, mounted with a fan blowing air up towards the top. Good seed falls to the bottom, while the fan blows out light (immature) seed and fine chaff
- The gravity table separates by density. Seed pours out of a hopper over a vibrating, tilting, mesh-topped table equipped with a fan blowing air up through the bottom of the table. Adjustments are made by hopper pour rate, table vibration speed, table tilt and pitch, and fan speed. Seeds are separated by density, with stones going to one area, good seed to another, and immature seed to a third.
- The Clipper is a small version of the Eclipse, and is used for smaller seed lots.
After cleaning, the seed waits in a holding area until results of the germination tests are received, before moving further along in the process.
Seed Storage and Packing
In March of 2006, construction will be finished on our new climate-controlled seed storage unit. Maintained for optimal temperature and humidity, this 1,000 sq. ft. room will be directly attached to the seed cleaning room, and will receive all clean lots of seed that have passed the germination test. The climate-controlled unit is adjacent to a 750 sq. ft. space that will hold any overflow peas, beans, corn, and cover crop seeds, as well as the seed packing equipment. Two machines are used to pack seed into appropriate-sized bags and envelopes. The Ballard packs large runs of small quantities of seed into packets, like those seen in our seed rack displays. The bulk packer packs larger quantities of seed into large envelopes or bags.
Fullfillment and Shipping
On the other side of the building is where the seed, now packed and bagged, gets turned into filled orders. This 3600 sq. ft. area is separated into a few different areas. In one corner is the handpacking station, where any packets or bags needing to be filled by hand are processed. On the other side is the "pick line" where orders are fulfilled. Invoices, printed from the offices, are taken down a long row of shelving that stores the inventory of packed seed. Backstock is kept in large boxes below the shelves. After the orders are filled, they are brought to the shipping station, where they are packed up for delivery. This area is also home to the seed rack department. Rack assembly and storage takes place here, as does a separate packet inventory for the seed rack program. It is here that the seed racks are packed up and prepared to be delivered to retail stores across the country. The last stop for all these seeds is the 625 sq. ft. loading dock, where two bay doors are the exit point for the facility.
Offices and Other Spaces
There are a slew of other rooms that keep things humming here. The staff entry area houses (or will house) cubbies, coathooks, message boards, and inboxes. The entry area for the general public is the Showroom, in which are displayed seed rack displays, promotional literature, press material, upcoming information, and seasonal displays. Off of the Showroom is a 600 sq. ft. suite, home to the main office, President Tom Stearn's office, and the conference room. Next to this suite are a series of three 100 sq. ft. offices, for the sales department, Director of Finance and Administration Meredith Martin-Davis, and Operational Manager Dann Black. Very soon, all offices will be serviced by high-speed internet access, which will greatly facilitate our ability to perform everything from basic daily functions to intricate systems-management applications. Across the building are another series of rooms. Two bathrooms abut the break room, which is equipped with a full kitchen, and also houses our lending library. A patio will be built off this space for warmer weather. Next to the break room is the pathology suite. A pathology lab is where Pathologist Jodi Lew-Smith and crew perform germination tests and analyze both seeds and crop material for disease issues. Her office is attached to the lab. To be built is an attached research greenhouse to be used for performing grow-out experiments to confirm pathogen identifications, as well as performing seedling vigor tests and seedling varietal purity analysis.
Outside this warehouse are two large sheds, one of which houses much of our field equipment and other supplies. Attached is a maintenance shop, which we will soon put into use. In the future, we plan to erect a series of greenhouses to be used for our growing operation throughout the warm season. This is the beginning of a long life in a new home, and we are thrilled to have the opportunity to grow into this space. From here, we can now better serve the needs of growers and gardeners across the country by continuing to supply the best quality certified organic seeds. Thanks for your support throughout the years; it has helped make our dream a reality!
Basic Soil Management - Part One: The Basics of Soil Health
Many of you have written to us, requesting information on how to improve your soil conditions for your gardens, or looking for recommendations for amendments to help increase yields. In this two-part article, we will begin to answer some of those questions by looking at the soil that supports our world and how to work with it to maximize the potential of your plants. The world of soil science and management is a very complicated one, and we can only begin to scratch the surface of this broad topic; therefore, let this article serve only as an introduction to some new concepts, or as a reminder for more experienced growers of some factors governing their operations. Many more wonderful resources on the topic can be found as sources listed at the end of this article, in books sold in our catalog or in your library, and at your local agricultural extension service. More and more information is being made available online, as well, to help you craft a suitable soil management plan for your farm or garden. In part one, we will look at the basic elements that make up healthy soil, and the factors that govern changes in soil health. In part two, we will discuss strategies for working with your soil to maximize its potential.
To begin, let's take a close look at our soil. In company with sun and water, soil is the basis upon which all life on this planet is supported; our food is only as good as the soil in which it is grown. Therefore, many of the successes and failures in your agricultural endeavors can be traced to the condition of the soil. There are many different elements at play in the soil - chemistry, biology, physics - as well as the soil's relationship with its climate, all of which play different roles in aiding or hindering the agricultural process.
The term "texture" refers to the physical makeup of the soil, as combinations of sand, silt, or clay. Sand is at one end of the spectrum, composed of large, quartz- or other mineral-based particles that contain no nutrients and do not hold water effectively. Silt is made of smaller, quartz-based particles, but still contains no nutrients. Clay particles are the smallest in the soil, and tend to be more nutrient-dense. Having a larger relative surface area, they also do the best job of water retention. The term "loam" refers to a soil which holds these three particle types in relative proportion. Terms such as "sandy loam" or "silty loam" speak to the propensity of one soil type or another in the overall soil texture. Soil texture cannot be easily changed by agricultural practices.
"Structure" refers also to the physics of soil, in this case the clumping of particles or "aggregation" of soil. Good soil structure is found when a handful of soil crumbles nicely. Aggregation can be dramatically effected by agricultural practices; in combination with texture, they determine the physical aspects of soil, such as pore structure for the transfer of air and water within the soil, looseness, erosion potential, ease of tillage, and root penetration. "Tilth" refers to the physical condition of the soil in relation to plant propagation, such as ease of tillage, root development, and seedling emergence. It is dependent on aggregation, as this governs the physical structure of the soil. The ability of water, microorganisms, air, seedlings, and roots to move throughout the soil are all impacted by aggregation. Poor soil aggregation can lead to "crusting", in which clay particles dispersed during rain or irrigation clog soil pores upon drying, effectively sealing the soil and resulting in water runoff and seedling suppression. This is specifically a danger for soils exposed to rainfall. Dispersion, the opposite of aggregation, can result in soil erosion, as lighter particles that don't aggregate are washed off by the flow of water.
One of the principles of sustainable agriculture is the promotion of a living soil. The soil is host to a wide variety of micro- and macro-organisms, members of a soil ecology that supports the plants we grow. Excluding the most "macro" of the community (small mammals), the larger organisms in the soil are earthworms and arthropods. Earthworms have long been cherished as key players in creating good structure; the practice of vermiculture pertains directly to the cultivation of worms and their byproducts. Benefits brought to the soil by worms are many. Their tunnels and burrows improve porosity of the soil, aiding in air and moisture transfer; worm-tilled soils absorb water at a far greater rate than those lacking worms, which provide a buffer for the soil in events of both extreme moisture (erosion prevention) and dryness (moisture retension). Greater air transfer in the soil leads to higher microbial activity, which results in greater nutrient cycling. Root growth is aided by these networks of worm tunnels, and allows roots greater ease of access to moister subsurface soils in times of drought. In addition to being natural tillers of soil, worms serve an important decomposition role, breaking down plant material, soil, and soil organisms, and leaving organic matter and nutrients then able to be further broken down by microorganisms. Their products are known as "worm castings", and are highly nutrient dense. Earthworms prefer soils that are pH neutral, moist, and with plenty of plant residues on the surface. Tillage greatly disturbs earthworm populations, especially in spring and summer, when they break dormancy and are most active. Certain pesticides and fertilizers can be harmful to earthworms, like carbamate insecticides, organophosphates, and anhydrous ammonia. Others have little or no effect, such as synthetic pyrethroids and most herbicides (except triazines). Cultivating greater earthworm populations in your soil is one strong element of a good soil management practice.
Anthropods, also visible to the naked eye, include sowbugs, millipedes, centipedes, dung beetles, and springtails. These primary decomposers break down plant material into accessible nutrients or into organic matter to be further decomposed by microorganisms. Some also prey on microorganisms, further releasing nutrients to the soil, and occasionally aiding in pathogen control. For example, dung beetles help control livestock parasites and flies.
Bacteria, being the most numerous of the soil organisms, play a great role in soil health. There are many different types of bacteria, and they play many different roles. One primary job bacteria do in the soil is to transform organic matter into accessible nutrients for plants to uptake; different bacteria make available nitrogen, sulfur, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, iron, calcium, and trace elements to plants, as well as growth hormone to stimulate root development. They play a strong role in the nitrogen cycle, fixing nitrogen from the air into the soil and vice versa, both in leguminous roots and independently. Improving soil structure is another benefit bacteria offer, by creating by-products of waxes and glues that aid in good soil aggregation. Other benefits include fighting root disease and detoxifying soil.
Fungi are another group of microorganisms that play a vital role in our world, and specifically in the soil. They come in many different shapes, sizes, and colors, and also serve many different roles. They can be primary decomposers, such as molds and mushrooms, breaking down larger plant residues. They also decompose finer organic matter into nutrients available to plants for uptake. Some fungi secrete plant growth hormones, while others attack soil pathogens. Like bacteria, fungi also help with soil aggregation and improve soil structure. The fungi type known as mycorrhizae live on or in plant roots in a symbiotic relationship; they serve as root extensions into the soil, aiding in nutrient and moisture uptake, protecting from root-feeding nematodes, and secreting growth hormones and antibiotics. In turn, they receive nutrients from the plants.
Other soil organisms aiding in plant decomposition, nutrient uptake, and soil structure, include actinomycetes, nematodes, algae, and protozoa. Supporting this diverse culture of soil organisms is a critical part of maintaining the strong soil health required of sustainable agriculture; there are many resources out there that can aid in identifying microorganism resources in the soil, and provide more information about their role in the soil and how to promote their presence.
To support this vast network of soil organisms, a good food supply is required. The term "organic matter" refers to living organisms, as well as the no-longer-living residue in various stages of decomposition that serves as their fuel. "Humus", another commonly-used term, refers to the end-product of the organic matter cycle; it is quite stable, and supports good soil structure. Organic matter provides the bulk of the nutrient base upon which plants - and by extension humans - survive. Achieving a good percentage of organic matter in the soil is a matter of balancing pH, nutrients, moisture, temperature, aeration, and organic material, in the form of plant residue, animal manure, or compost.
Supporting high levels of organic matter and humus are critical in providing for the desirable physical soil characteristics previously identified, leading to good aggregation, proper water retention to avoid erosion or excess drying, good root development for plants, and easier tillage.
Agricultural practices can either promote good tilth and high organic matter percentage in the soil, or have a resoundingly negative effect. Tillage has a huge effect on aggregation and organic matter, depending on the type, frequency, and timing of tillage. Soil inversion - when the topsoil and subsoil layers are reversed, as achieved in moldboard plowing - can result in a lack of oxygen available for the biologically-active topsoil layer now deeply buried, effectively killing many organisms. The physical disruption of the soil can affect earthworms, fungal and bacterial networks, and other organisms. Accelerated oxygenation of the soil as a result of tillage rapidly speeds up the rate of soil decomposition, and if not kept in balance with organic material inputs, can burn up available organic matter and leave the soil much lower in organic matter in the long term.
Compaction of the soil by heavy machinery or rototilling can greatly reduce aggregation and clog soils, reducing oxygen and water transfer. The removal or incorporation of surface residue leaves the soil surface subject to temperature extremes, rapid soil moisture loss by evaporation, and "crusting" caused by direct rainfall. The addition of manure or compost is a very good way of increasing soil organic matter and humus. Another approach is to grow perennial grasses, which can regenerate and increase soil humus.
Nitrogen plays a role in organic matter, as well. In all soil ecologies, there is a chemical balance in play known as the carbon-nitrogen, or C:N, ratio; this is the ratio of carbon to nitrogen present in the soil. Carbon can be thought of as the fuel, while nitrogen is the fire. Too much carbon, and the nitrogen will remain bound in soil organisms used to decompose the abundance of carbon. Unavailable to plants in this form, it takes longer for these organisms to in turn be decomposed on down the chain until the plants are able to uptake the nitrogen. Too much nitrogen, however, and the soil bacteria will "burn out", as the rates of decomposition are greatly accelerated until all available carbon resources are used up, and further nutrient uptake is diminished. Leaching of nitrogen into watercourses can occur at this point, causing environmental problems, in addition to poor soil performance and fertilizer efficiency. This is why overuse of fertilizers or use of strong synthetic fertilizers can be detrimental to organic matter levels and soil ecology in the long run, unless carbon is added to the soil with the fertilizer to maintain a proper C:N ratio.
In addition to nitrogen, the rest of the chemical and mineral balance of the soil all plays into the presence of organic matter and overall health of the soil. There are theories of soil management that maintain that a large contributing factor of soil health lies in the correct balance of nutrients and trace minerals in the soil, such as calcium, magnesium, sodium, potassium, and other minerals; this relative balance of minerals and nutrients, along with an appropriate pH, is another important factor of the health, and therefore productivity and longevity, of the soil.
Topsoil is the most nutrient-dense, biologically-active, and therefore productive part of the earth; it is also the most vulnerable, lying as a thin skin on the surface of the planet. We have talked about some the elements effecting the health and condition of topsoil, but special note should be made about the need to maintain the very presence of topsoil. In the US, the average acre of topsoil is eroding at a rate of 7 tons each year, leaving behind soil that is drastically inferior in nutrient levels, holding capacity of water, and soil aggregation. This is a direct loss of productivity of the soil, which translates into a direct loss of profitability for the farmer. The primary vehicle for topsoil loss is water and wind erosion. Preventing erosion is said to be the first step towards sustainable agriculture, in that you are preserving your existing soil. From there you have the ability to improve and utilize it. Without soil, there is no agricultural potential. In that erosion is initiated by raindrop contact with water, maintaining ground cover is a primary step towards avoiding erosion. Good soil aggregation is another important element in soil preservation, as crusting is less likely to occur, and soil particles remain well-bonded and less likely to be removed by surface water overflow. Other, more costly and complicated measures can be employed, such as installing ditches, swales, and other water diversion methods. There are many agricultural practices that effect erosion potential, including cropping and crop rotation, irrigation, and perhaps most importantly, tillage practices. Quite often, the practices that are harmful to the soil in terms of erosion potential are harmful to the soil in other ways as well. Other times, a method that may favor one soil attribute may have the potential to harm another. It is important, when developing a soil management strategy, that the different needs of the soil are balanced against the impacts of your agricultural enterprise, and to tune your agricultural practices to the needs of your soil.
Maintaining healthy soil ecology is the foundation of sustainable agriculture. To do this, the soil must be sustained from loss, by preventing erosion. Good tilth - the physical structure of the soil - is a key aspect to keeping the soil healthy; not only does well-aggregated soil prevent erosion, it prevents crusting and its associated problems, provides for good moisture uptake during wet spells and moisture reserves during dry times, allows for healthy biological activity, yielding higher levels of organic matter, and promotes good root development and larger root crop production. Organic matter is critical in providing a basis of good soil health, both for improving tilth and for improving plant development. It is a cyclical process; improving one aspect of the soil ecology improves others, and a decline in one aspect can lead to a total decline in soil potential and productivity. Therefore, care must be taken in selecting the appropriate management practices, particularly in the field of tillage practices. Next month, we'll look at some different agricultural practices that can help - or harm - you soil's health, your farm's profit, and your garden's potential.
sources: Sullivan, Preston. Sustainable Soil Management. ATTRA publication #IP027/133, 2004. http://www.attra.org/attra-pub/soilmgmt.html
October Seed Sale
For the month of October, 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 October, so click over to our sale page now to catch these great fall deals!
Recipe of the Month
October is garlic-planting time here in Vermont, so get some bulbs in the ground and cloves on the table. Enjoy these dishes seperately or together for a mouth-tingling, health-boosting meal!
Roasted Garlic and Onion Soup with Chevre Croutons
This soup requires some planning, but is both simple, elegant, and delicious.
4 large heads garlic (about lb)
1 lb onions
1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil (use garlic-infused oil for extra garlic flavor!)
5 cup chicken stock
1/4 cup white wine
coarse salt, fresh ground pepper
2 oz goat cheese
1/2 tsp chopped parsley
1 tsp shallot, minced finely
1/4 tsp fresh thyme leaves
1-2 cloves crushed garlic (optional)
8 toasted round French bread slices brushed with fresh garlic
Soup: Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Peel garlic cloves and onions, cut onions into six wedges each and lay them in large roasting pan. Scatter garlic on top of onions, pour oil over all, season with salt and pepper. Roast onions and garlic for two hours until both are very soft. Put onions and garlic into soup pot. Over medium heat deglaze roast pan with wine and add to soup pot. Add stock, cover pot, bring to boil, simmer one hour. Put garlic and onion in blender and puree. Return vegetables to broth and boil 15 minutes to reduce. Refrigerate soup at least overnight. Reheat soup and reseason with salt, pepper. Makes about 5 cups.
Croutons: Using a rubber spatula, combine the goat cheese, parsley, shallot, thyme, and (if you can't get enough) crushed garlic thoroughly and spread on French bread. Just before serving, heat the French bread in a 300 degree oven until the cheese has just begun to melt. Ladle hot soup into warm bowls and float a crouton on each one. Pass the remaining croutons on a plate.
Garlic and mushrooms work so well together that garlic mushrooms is one of the classic dishes. Everyone has their own version of the recipe, we like to keep it simple. Who needs a creamy sauce when the garlic mushrooms themselves are so nice? This garlic mushrooms recipe serves two as a side dish (great with steak or grilled chicken!) or as a starter if served with toast.
8 oz Mushrooms - This will look like a lot but they reduce considerably during cooking. Use small button mushrooms, or flat mushrooms cut into bite sized pieces. Use wild, shiitake, and porcini mushrooms alone or in combination for a lovely flavour; white mushrooms will do just as well.
1/2 oz Butter
2 Cloves Garlic, crushed - As always, adjust garlic according to taste
Dash hot pepper sauce - Optional
Salt & pepper
Wash and dry the mushrooms. Melt the butter in a small pan then add mushrooms and cook at a medium heat for a couple of minutes stirring constantly. Add the garlic, continue cooking & stirring for another minute or so. Stir in a dash of pepper sauce and season with just a touch of salt and pepper.
Reduce heat to absolute minimum then cover with a tight fitting lid. Leave the garlic mushrooms to sweat for at least ten minutes, stirring occasionally.
If you're serving these garlic mushrooms as a side dish they'll easily wait twenty minutes or more sweating on minimum whilst you finish off the rest of the meal.
Serve the garlic mushrooms with the gloriously wicked garlicky butter.
Ultimate Garlic Mashed Potatoes
See how far you can take simple mashed potatoes! Stands alone, or as a side dish.
3 lb Yukon Gold or russet potatoes
1/2 cup cream
1/2 cup whole milk
2 garlic cloves
2 tbsp butter
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp white pepper
salt to taste
Peel potatoes and boil until tender. Drain and mash with the cream, milk and butter. Use a garlic press to squeeze the garlic cloves directly into the puree. This ensures a distinct garlic taste. Add nutmeg and white pepper, salt to taste, and blend thoroughly. Add more milk or cream if you desire a different consistency. If you prefer a milder garlic taste, boil the garlic cloves with the potatoes.
Garlic Lover's Steak
A truly wonderful way to enhance a good steak with a small amount of effort.
2 filet mignons or small porter house steaks
1 tbsp virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1/3 cup beef stock
2 tbsp brandy
1/4 cup heavy cream
salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
Salt and pepper steaks. Heat oil in large heavy skillet over medium high heat. Add steaks and cook to desired doneness. (4-5 minutes per side for medium-rare)
Remove to heated platter. Discard excess grease from skillet and add garlic. Sautè until barely brown. Add beef stock to pan and then brandy. Reduce by half. Add cream and stir until heated through. Pour over steaks, sprinkle with fresh ground pepper and serve with horsradish (or garlic!) mashed potatoes.
Announcing the Results of the Name That Newsletter Contest!
In case you didn't see at the top of the page, we have finally settled on a winner for our Name That Newsletter contest!
Our congradulations go out to Jim Strickland of Lunasol Farm in Gloversville, NY, for his winning entry of The Seed Bin. In addition to bragging rights and glory, Jim will be receiving a ten-pack of seeds as our first-prize winner. Many thanks to all who entered for all of your terrific suggestions.
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