What to Sow in January

As the year begins we’re eager to start sowing seeds, but nervous about starting too early and having big, leggy transplants and nowhere to plant them. There are lots of crops we can and should start in January: bulbing onions, rhubarb, artichokes, celery and celeriac, parsley, and spring flowers (like poppies, chamomile, and evening primrose). Long season hot peppers (like habañero) can be started at the end of January; peppers are generally slow to germinate. We’ll start our seeds indoors, or outside in cold frames or the hoophouse, for transplanting later in the spring.

Be aware of when you want to plant and decide when to sow transplants by counting back from then! Overly large transplants suffer greater transplant shock and may have reduced yields. Brassicas like kale, collards, cabbage, and broccoli should have 3-4 true leaves and be about six weeks old when you transplant. Tomatoes and eggplants also need about six weeks, and peppers need 8-10 weeks. In our area we transplant most brassicas in mid-March, so we’ll wait until early February to sow. We provide recommended planting dates (PDF) >>

Sow bulbing onions for transplant now if you haven’t sown them already. Those in the lower South should have already sown Short Day Length bulbing onions, like Vidalia, last fall. In-between areas like us will have the best results growing Long to Intermediate Day Length bulbing onions, and starting them in December or January. Transplant out when they’re still thinner than a pencil! Read about growing bulbing onions >>

Artichokes and rhubarb should be sown in January and grown in cold frames to vernalize. They need the exposure to colder temperatures now to put on much growth later.

Winter has been warm all over the South: we’ve been sowing greens in cold frames and the hoophouse every couple weeks since fall. You can sow a variety of winter hardy greens (spinach, cress, mustard greens, arugula) throughout January. Remember, plants grow slowly in winter’s low light – even in warm greenhouses your starts may not put on much growth until the sun is stronger.

There’s still work to be done outside, even if it’s too early to be putting out plants. On nice days, prepare your beds if the weather is warm and dry enough. Then cover with mulch or row cover (prevent erosion on bare soil!) until you’re ready to plant. And don’t forget to look after your perennials – most fruit trees need pruning in winter, before they start to bud.

Request a free copy of our new catalog if you haven’t received one yet. We do expect to run out of some varieties, so order early while things are still in stock.

Happy winter gardening!

Lawns 2 Lettuce 4 Lunch & SESE Seeds

Capitan LettuceForellenschluss LettuceSweet Valentine Lettuce

We love hearing about how our seeds are growing, but were particularly delighted to have an update from Joan Horwitt, who founded the Lawns 2 Lettuce 4 Lunch initiative in Arlington, Virginia. Joan writes: "We’ve had fun using the great variety of lettuce seeds from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange for our school and community collaboration, LAWNS 2 LETTUCE 4 LUNCH. We’ve added a variety of SESE greens and garlic . . . and a great fall harvest of sweet potatoes."

She also shared a video from Arlington Public Schools on the Reevesland-Lawns 2 Lettuce 4 Lunch event at Ashlawn Elementary School last November and the recent AbundantCommunity article highlighting the addition of sweet potatoes to their program!

Violetta Sweet PotatoBradshaw Sweet PotatoAll Purple Sweet Potato

SESE celebrates 30 years with a look back at our roots

SESE Founder Jeff McCormackThe First Catalogradiator charlie's mortgage lifter heirloom tomato

Left to right: Founder, Jeff McCormack, in 1987; Southern Exposure’s first catalog, from 1983; and the company’s flagship tomato, Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter

The inspiration for Southern Exposure Seed Exchange can be traced back to the 1970s. Jeff McCormack and his wife, Patty Wallens, were in New England, where Jeff was a graduate student and later a biology professor. On a weekend trip to Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts – a restored early 1800s farm and village – Jeff was intrigued by heirloom poultry breeds and also by the colors of an heirloom bean, Jacob’s Cattle.

Further inspiration came with Jeff and Patty’s move south in 1977 – Vermont’s cold, cloudy climate and short growing season frustrated them. Without any jobs lined up, they moved near Charlottesville, Virginia. They built their own passive solar-heated house heated mostly by an attached greenhouse. “I took a course on basic house design, Patty took a course on plumbing, and we both took a course on wiring. Later we went to the building site with our box of tools and our box of books. When it came time to do the roof, we opened to the chapter on roofing, and did that!” Jeff and a friend started a consulting business in solar greenhouse design and construction. Named Southern Exposure of Charlottesville, it operated for many years, and eventually lent its name to the seed business.

Read the full article, in honor of Southern Exposure’s 30-year anniversary >>

Saving the Past for the Future