All posts by Gineen

Tomato Varieties: Finding the Right Heirloom Tomato Seeds

A tomato rainbow- cherry tomatoes, beefsteak tomatoes, brandywine tomatoes, paste tomatoes.

Tomatoes are a great place to start when it comes to planning your garden.  Since there are so many great varieties of tomatoes it can be hard to figure out where to start.  You might be tempted to plant tomato seeds for each of them!  But, if you are limited by garden space, time, and tummies for them all to go, then it is probably a good idea to think about what you want to use them for and which flavors suit you best.

Heirloom tomatoes have gained some popularity in the past few years.  It seems like: once you go heirloom you never go back.  For the most part this is true – most varieties developed before 1940 were bred for great flavor.  Some heirloom tomatoes were also developed for growing conditions – such as short summers or resistance to plant diseases like the dreaded late blight.  So, it is important to note, that just because a tomato variety is an heirloom doesn’t guarantee that it will be delicious (although it’s a good indication).

Cherokee Purple Heirloom Tomato- sometimes called a black tomato

Cherokee Purple is a beefsteak, heirloom tomato variety.  These tomatoes hold a rare distinction of actually having a purple color.  Most ‘purple’ tomatoes are more pink than purple.  The Cherokee Purple tomato also has a distinctive interior.  The flesh has a rich dark color while the  locule (the cavity where the tomatoes’ seeds are contained) filling has a deep  green color.  The tomato’s flavor is rich and juicy.

Heirloom -Yellow Brandywine Tomatoes

The Yellow Brandywine tomato has all the delicious flavor of a traditional Red Brandywine tomato.  The fruits are a rich yellow orange color,and have a smooth texture.  Yellow Brandywine fruits often have some ribbing and generally weigh 1-2lbs, definitely a beefsteak tomato. If the tomato plants experiences drastic shifts in temperature fruit shapes can become irregular.

Eva Purple Ball Heirloom Tomato

The Eva Purple Ball heirloom tomato plants take about 78 days before harvest.  Fruits are great all around tomatoes they can be sliced and  for sandwiches, cooked down into tomato sauce, and even dehydrated.  Eva Purple Balls produce uniform sized fruits that are resistant to cracking and rarely have blemishes.

Green Zebra - tomato

The Green Zebra tomato retains its green color after it ripens. It has a good earthy flavor and is popular with tomato aficionados.  Although this tomato was developed in 1985, it can certainly hold its own in a garden with heirloom tomatoes.

Matt's Wild Cherry Tomato

This cherry tomato wins taste test after taste test with its sweet flavor.  The tomato plants produce high yields of tiny currant sized fruits.  If you are going to plant this tomato in your garden you will certainly need to either place a cage around it or steak it.  Matt’s Wild Cherry tomato plant tends to sprawl.

Roma VFN Paste Tomato

The Roma VFN tomato is a great example  of a tomato that has not only been selected for flavor but for disease resistance as well. While no plant can ever be 100% safe in the garden the growing tomatoes should not suffer from Veritcillium Wilt, Alternaria stem cranker, or Fusarium wilt- race 1.  This open pollinated tomato variety is widely adapted to grow in a wide range of climates and growing conditions.

Growing Peanuts at Home

Peanuts are a great addition to a home garden since they require minimal care and provide bountiful yields. If you’re looking to try something new in your garden this year, maybe it’s time to take a closer look at the potential of peanuts.

Home-grown peanuts offer lots of possibilities in the kitchen. Talk about peanut gallery! They can be roasted in their shells, ground into peanut butter or boiled for a traditional down-home Southern snack.

Carwile's Virginia, an heirloom peanut variety introduced by Southern Exposure. The plants have great drought resistance.

When you are selecting peanut seeds for planting, it’s helpful to keep in mind that there are four main types of peanuts. Virginia peanuts have the largest seeds, and are usually roasted in the shell and have a more gourmet quality. Runner peanuts typically have a uniform size and are the preferred choice for grinding into peanut butter. Spanish peanuts have the smallest seeds, and are used for mixed nut snacks. They also have the highest oil content. Valencia peanuts are known for being the sweetest and for having attractive, bright red skin.

If you purchase a peanut seed package from us, you’ll notice that we ship peanuts still in their shells to ensure seed protection and preservation. Before you plant your peanuts, they will need to be shelled. Be careful not to damage the seeds while cracking them open.

In the garden…

Peanuts generally need a long growing season and relatively sandy soil, although Tennessee Red Valencia peanut can grow in clay soil. However, if you add enough organic matter by hilling or planting in raised beds, most peanut plants will be able to grow in clay soil.

Selecting peanut seeds for planting is easy once you figure out what works best with your garden conditions. Growing peanuts requires 130-140 frost-free days from the time they are sown until harvest time. If your growing season falls just short of this time window, it’s possible to start growing your peanuts indoors or in a greenhouse until the danger of frost passes and then transplant them outside.

A peanut plant in flower. From here on the plant needs steady water.

Plant peanuts one to two inches deep and about six inches apart. Next, add a thick layer of compost and a layer of mulch.

Be aware–peanuts need shallow weeding. You could damage them by digging too deeply into the ground where they are are developing. When the plant begins to flower, pegs will drop  into the ground under the flower and produce peanuts. Hand-weeding is the only option after the peanut pegs.

Also, after your plants start flowering, it’s important not to let them dry out or they won’t produce as many of the mouth-watering legumes you’ve been waiting for.

Once frost is in the forecast or the plant stems begin to turn yellow, it’s time to harvest. Try not to harvest while the soil is wet, and don’t wait too long to harvest your peanuts–they’ll  start sprouting in the ground if left unattended! Dig around the perimeter of where the plant’s leaves have sprawled. Lift the plant out of the ground and flip it, so that the leaves are on the ground. If rain is in the forecast, bring your plants into a shed or garage.

Dried peanuts (left); freshly harvested peanut plants (right).

A couple days later, it will be time to pull the peanuts off the plant. Most of them will be in a clump at the center of the roots, but some will also be attached to the lower branches.  A well-grown peanut plant can yield 50 -100 peanuts–more than enough for your next ball game outing! Spread the peanuts out to dry for a month where critters won’t be able to get to them, then store them in a closed container. Peanuts left in their shells can stay fresh for years.

In the kitchen…

Home-grown peanuts are fun and simple to use in your kitchen and offer some great snack options. You can roast them, grind them into a fresh peanut butter or boil the raw, green peanuts.

Roasting peanuts is easy as pie…or, shall I say, peanut brittle! Simply spreading your peanuts on a cookie sheet and bake them at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure they roast evenly. You can add a sprinkle of salt over them if you wish. Yum!

Roasted peanuts
Home-grown peanuts turn into home-made peanut butter!

To make peanut butter, mix two cups of roasted peanuts with two teaspoons of vegetable or peanut oil. “Chop” this mixture in your food processor for three or four minutes.

Feel free to add honey to taste, or toss in some of lightly chopped peanuts for a chunky texture.

To make boiled peanuts the good ole Southern way, you’ll need one pound of freshly-dug (green) peanuts still in their shell, four cups of water, and one quarter cup of salt.

Combine the salt, water, and peanuts in a thick-bottomed pot. Bring to a boil and cover.   Simmer the peanuts and saltwater for at least three hours. For added flavor, you could throw in a dash of paprika or your favorite spice blend.

Boiled peanuts

The longer the peanuts boil, the tastier they will be. Be sure to eat your boiled peanuts within a few days–they don’t last as long as roasted or raw peanuts. But you probably won’t need me to remind you to eat up. Your taste buds should do the job just fine!

Southern Exposure’s Seed Catalogs 2011

It seems like this year’s gardening season flew by.  Once again, we’re cleaning off the last bean seeds and running germination tests.  Already everyone at Southern Exposure is getting ready for next year; we are starting to draw garden maps to figure out which plots will be fallow and which ones will grow Abe Lincoln tomatoes and Chinese Five Color peppers.

The cover of our 2011 catalog

We figure that you, too, are ready to start thinking about something besides hard frosts and bare trees.  I am thrilled to announce that our organic and heirloom seed catalogs 2011 will be dropping into mailboxes in the next few weeks!

Request a Copy of Southern Exposure’s Free Seed Catalog

On behalf of the whole crew at Southern Exposure, I hope that you have fun flipping through our catalog full of heirloom vegetable seeds, organic flower seeds, herbs and native plants.  We strive to offer the best seeds possible.  Many of our seeds are organic, or sustainable farmed by dedicated seed growers.

Some of the new varieties in our seed catalog include:

Lipstick Pepper
This pepper is a great option if your growing season is on the short side since the plant starts fruiting three or four weeks before most other pepper plants.  The peppers are chunky and triangular, and ripen from green to red.  They are flavorful and sweet.

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Nootka Rose Garlic
The Nootka Rose garlic variety is an heirloom that originally comes from Washington state. This is a great Silverskin option as it’s long storing and produces large bulbs 15-25 cloves.  The cloves have a rich flavor and medium heat.  Nootka Rose is almost too pretty to eat, with its white outer skin and pink clove wrapper!  A must for garlic braids.

Broken Colors Four O’Clock Flower
The Broken Colors Four O’Clock is an heirloom variety that was recently all but lost.   The plant grows about thirty inches tall and is a prolific producer of small flowers that open and close early in the morning and again in late afternoon.  The speckled petals range in color from dark purple and pale pink to vibrant yellow and snow white.

Easter Egg Radish
The Easter Egg radish is a great way to add some color to your late spring salads since these radishes range in color from a deeply saturated purple to bright pink and white skins and uniform white flesh.  The radishes have a light peppery taste behind their crispy texture.

Frances’s Choice Marigold Flower
A cutting garden must-have.  These marigolds are well suited to grow in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast.  The plant produces abundant flowers that have dark red petals with golden edges.  The flowers are great for using in bouquets and vases since the stems average eight inches long.

Kebarika Snap Bean
This heirloom bush bean originated in Kenya.  The dry shell bean plants have excellent tolerance for heat and drought.  Kebarika plants are sturdy and upright, and grow loads of six-inch pods holding about five black and white mottled beans each.  Be sure to pay close attention to these plants as the harvest window is pretty short.

Of course, you’ll also find that our 2011 Catalog & Garden Guide is chock-full of our tried-and-true varieties. To us–and hopefully to you–these veteran seeds are trusted friends.

Enjoy!

Sierra Lettuce (left), Brenda Jordan's Heirloom Celosia (center), and Dragon's Claw Millet (right) are returning varieties in our 2011 catalog.