This is the time of year when the finish line is in sight for many growers: only a few large harvests remain, and many of the main season crops are on their way out. For seed growers, our season is a little different. September and October are the crown jewels of our growing season. Unlike CSA, farmers market and wholesale growers, seed farmers don’t have a constant harvest every week of the season. Our harvests are, for the most part, bunched together in a rush of adrenaline-packed, lengthy, dedicated days. And we’re right in the thick of it during September and October.

How Does Seed Farming Work?

Every grower is familiar with the diversity of needs that occurs between different crops. Some like it hot and dry, others cool and wet. Some will tolerate poor soils, others will only thrive with high fertility. Seed crops present a similar variance of conditions that are ideal for growing seed. We have suitable conditions for growing many of our seed crops here in northern Vermont; plants in the cucurbit family – cucumbers, summer squash, melons, winter squash do particularly well here. Some present a bigger challenge because of the conditions they require to produce mature seeds – like parsnips, which may be the epitome of a tough-to-grow biennial crop.

Because we are always striving to offer organic growers more and better options when it comes to seed, we continue to experiment with our own seed productions so we can learn how to produce more, better seed.

To get a snapshot of how seed farming works at High Mowing, read about the production of the two types of seed crops we grow: wet seed production and dry seed production.

Tom Stearns inspects a crop of paste tomatoes at various stages of ripeness to assess seed maturity.

Who Grows Your Organic Seed?

In the 2017 season, the High Mowing seed farmers grew the most volume of seed we’ve ever produced on our own farm here in Vermont. Of the 700+ varieties we offer, 46 of them were produced either in part or in full on our farm in Hyde Park.

We’ve grown a lot in the 20+ years since Tom Stearns was producing all of High Mowing’s varieties in his backyard. Back then, of the 58 varieties that High Mowing offered in our first catalog, Tom was growing all 58. We’re thankful that we’ve found partners since then who help us provide more organic seed for more organic growers. As Tom likes to say, the mission we’re on is too important to go it alone. We must do everything we can to continue this work and find others who will continue it with us. This year, the organic seed we will be offering in our 2018 seed catalog (you can request a free copy by clicking here!) was grown all over the country - in Washington state, California, Kentucky, North Carolina and Vermont, among others.

Uniquely High Mowing: Vermont-Grown Gilbertie Paste Tomato

Gilbertie Paste Tomato was one of the first seed crops that Tom Stearns grew for the first High Mowing seed catalog. It is still in production at the High Mowing seed farm today.

Just like other organic growers, when seed farmers find a variety that works, we get attached. There are several varieties that we love to produce on our seed production farm in Vermont, but there is one that we’ve been growing for longer – much longer – than any others: Gilbertie Paste Tomato.

This heirloom paste tomato is an old-time favorite for its outstanding flavor and unique shape with a slight crook in the neck. Tom Stearns received the original seed for this variety from a farmer in Connecticut named Mel Bristol. Mel was a family friend of the Stearns’ who, in his youth was bit by the farming bug while interning with Helen and Scott Nearing. Tom grew Gilbertie Paste for seed the first year High Mowing offered a seed catalog, and the team at High Mowing has been growing it ever since. This year, it was planted and harvested for the first time in the fields of our new farm property in Hyde Park, Vermont.