Category Archives: Garden Advice

Julia’s Georgia farm has over 100 species

On our way back from the Georgia Organics conference in mid-February, Ken and I stopped to visit Julia Asherman’s impressively diverse farm in Jeffersonville, Georgia.  (Then we had to catch up on office work before finding the time to write this post!) At this time of year, much of the farm is in cover crops, and most of the action is in her high tunnels.

IH iphone (491) on Rag and Frass Farm prcsd

Rag & Frass Farm” was named in deliberate contrast with farm names that sound overly romantic or “like gated communities.” But one of Julia’s main sources of income about as romantic as it comes: selling flowers for weddings.

IH iphone (468) on Rag and Frass Farm prcsd

She and her seasonal apprentices also sell common types of vegetables, and various crops that are hard to find fresh or local.  They sell through her local farmers’ market, and through a farmers’ cooperative, and some years through a CSA.  She has a visions of a farm stand and a pick-your-own section of the farm with blueberries and tea.

IH iphone (495) on Rag and Frass Farm prcsdJulia brought out a bottle of dark brown syrup from sugar cane she’d planted the year before, and a tan bottle of vinegar made from the syrup, and we each tasted both.  Last year she’d planted the canes in a 200-foot row and took the harvest to a neighbor who had an old cane press, and gotten 54 bottles of syrup and a few bottles of vinegar.  I would have liked to buy a bottle of syrup, but she only had one left; the rest had sold at her farmers’ market for $15 each.

IH iphone (498) on Rag and Frass Farm croppedBetween turmeric, ginger, (both shown at right), sugar cane, and strawberry “daughters,” Julia has been doing a lot of vegetative plant propagation.

She’s also been experimenting with seed-saving for years, IH iphone (481) looking at Alabama Blue collards on Rag and Frass Farm prcsdand she and Ira had talked some about seed growing at previous farm conferences.  Our visit marked her first transfer of seed to a seed company.  We hadn’t been expecting it, and rarely do we buy seed from farmers we haven’t already contracted with.  But we saw that she had a blue landrace collard growing in her high tunnel, confirmed that it was Alabama Blue, and mentioned that having a collard seed crop in a greenhouse would increase the germination rate of the harvested seeds by keeping rain off the seeds as they dry on the plants. With seed crops in the collard family in the moist Southeast, the main challenge is to get the seed to mature without getting too wet.  Julia had previously harvested 2 pounds of Alabama Blue collard seed that she didn’t have a plan for.  We brought the jar back to our farm for germination testing.

We looked together at the Southern Exposure list of seed crops for 2017, and chose several that Julia will grow for us, including Red Foliated White cotton (with permission from her local extension agent),  Statice, Old Fashioned Mix Nicotiana, Heavenly Blue morning glory, and a yet-to-be-determined cosmos.

Julia has been growing a Jungle Striped Peanut for the past couple of years.  We ate a few, found them tasty, and brought home some seeds to try out in our garden.  She sells bundles of freshly dug peanut plants with the pods still on them, and this fall she’ll probably also sell some to us as a seed crop.

The day before we visited, Julia’s heritage breed Pineywoods Longhorn cow had given birth to a calf.

Julia is about to close, in the, next few weeks, on her 54-acre parcel, including a former motel and the 3 acres she’s and her apprentices have been cultivating for the past 4 years. You can read more about her farm on her website, http://www.ragandfrassfarm.com.

IH iphone (493) on Rag and Frass Farm prcsd

 

How to Choose the Right Tomato Varieties for Your Garden

Radiator-Charlie's-Mortgage-Lifter-tomato-SESE-web

By Ira Wallace, with Lisa Dermer

Mention summer gardens and the first thing to come up is which tomatoes are you growing? Year after year tomatoes are one of the most popular vegetables grown by our customers.  In our 2017 catalog we offer more than 100 different tomato varieties. There are currant tomatoes as small as a dime and big beefsteaks like Mortgage Lifter and Brandywine that can weigh well over a pound (plus every size in between and more shapes than most gardeners can imagine). In addition to the ever popular red and pink varieties there are orange, yellow, black, bi-color and even green varieties. We offer something for every gardener, but how to decide which to grow this year?

There are many criteria that could be used but these four are basic for me:

1. Flavor and texture – the first thing I consider is fruit qualities like flavor and texture for the sandwiches, sauces, and salads we like to eat. Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter tomato (photo top) is a large heirloom slicer with superb flavor, but be prepared for its long season and indeterminate growth habit (read on).

2. Days to maturity – is not just important for those with a short growing season. In many areas of the Southeast there are two seasons for tomatoes and other summer vegetables. The period in late July and August when it is too hot for tomatoes and sweet peppers to set fruit well, means we grow two crops: one to mature before the hottest spell, and one after. Fast-maturing early and medium days to maturity varieties are really important in such areas. Stupice is a favorite early variety: the small-to-medium size fruits have excellent heirloom-type flavor. We also list several Extra-Early tomatoes.

matts wild cherry tomato SESE

3. Growth style– there are two main growth habits for tomatoes:

-Determinate varieties that grow to a certain height (usually 2-3ft) then stop growing and mature all of the fruit in a short period of time.  Many paste tomatoes are determinate. These varieties are great for canning and well suited to growing in short or split season areas

-Indeterminate tomatoes keep growing, flowering and setting fruit until stopped by frost, disease, or really bad weather. Most Cherry and large beefsteak tomatoes are indeterminate, They need to be caged or staked with a really sturdy support.  Most really large heirloom tomatoes are indeterminate. These varieties are great if you have plenty of space, warm summer temperatures, and a long enough growing season. Delicious and super productive Matt’s Wild Cherry (photo) is a very small cherry tomato with tall, determinate plants.

-The Dwarf Tomato Project has given gardeners a new set of options, with short (2-4 feet tall) plants bred from heirlooms, and retaining heirloom flavor quality, that are easier to trellis and to grow in containers. We offer Rosella Purple, for diminutive plants with fantastic fruits similar to Cherokee Purple.

4. Disease resistance-Find out which diseases are common in your area and select resistant varieties whenever possible. As organic gardeners our first line of defense is prevention. When reading a seed catalog or looking at the back of a seed packet, disease resistances are often shown with an abbreviation after the name. For example verticilium (V) and frusarium (F) wilts are common soil-borne tomato diseases. Look for the V or F after the variety name. Nematodes (N) are  another common disease with resistant varieties available. Roma VF and Tropic VFN are excellent disease resistant varieties and show how the disease resistance is sometimes incorporated in the name.

More resources on www.SouthernExposure.com for tomato growers:

Five Inspiring Reasons to Grow Your Own Transplants

greenhouse-seedlings

Why grow your own transplants from seed?

1. The transplants you grow at home are often healthier, sturdier seedlings than any you could buy. (Seedlings should be short and sturdy, not long and spindly.) That means they’ll suffer less transplant shock, which often means better production.

2. You can time them so they’ll be just the right age when you’re ready to transplant (seedlings you buy are often over-old). This makes for a better start on life and healthier plants overall.

3. You’ll know the full life of your plants, and avoid introducing unknown pesticides or other chemicals into your garden.

4. When you grow your own transplants, you’ll usually end up with your more plants than you need, so you can share or trade with friends or neighbors.

5. Our favorite reason is that sowing your own lets you choose from a much, much larger number of varieties. While the situation is improving, there are still often only a handful of varieties commercially available as plants. The majority of our gardening diversity is only available to gardeners who grow from seed!

At the farm at Southern Exposure, March is when we sow our first round of nightshade crops. We’ll sow another round in late spring: where summers are hot, it’s best to sow a second, later batch for harvest in late summer and early fall. The same plants you put out in spring will be scraggly come September.

We sow peppers first, timing them to be 8-weeks-old at transplanting. Next we sow tomatoes and eggplants, timing the tomatoes to be 6-weeks-old at transplanting. The eggplants go in the ground a couple weeks after the tomatoes.

If you don’t have a greenhouse or cold frame to gow your seedlings, you can grow them inside your house. We recommend growing seedlings under grow lights indoors.