Tag Archives: heirlooms

How to Choose Plant Varieties

It’s so easy to flip through the seed catalog each winter circling varieties you want to plant only to flip back through and realize there’s more circled than not.

Despite the fact that common advice for the new gardener is, “start small.” There’s not a whole lot of good advice about how to make the tough calls when it comes around to seed order time. Hopefully these ideas will make the decisions a little less difficult.

Location, location, location.

While some varieties do well almost anywhere others need a little special consideration. If you’re from Vermont you’ll probably have better luck with a watermelon like Blacktail Mountain (73 days) than Amish Moon and Stars (100 days). This is not to say it’s impossible just that it’s easier and having some successes will inspire you to keep growing.

Grow what brings you joy.

Amy’s Apricot Mix Cherry Tomato

Another classic tidbit of advice is “grow what you know your family will eat” but sometimes I think that’s a bit over-rated. Don’t feel obligated to grow a ton of paste tomatoes just because your family eats a lot of spaghetti sauce if you hate canning so much you won’t be invested in the plants. If you’ve only got space for a few varieties and seeing a rainbow of cherry tomatoes or slicers is what inspires you and your kids to get out in the garden opt for them instead!

Consider your how much room you have.

If you want to try a ton of varieties but only have a small garden just make sure you select space saving varities. Opt for a bush type squash like Table Queen instead of letting Burgess Buttercups sprawl all over your garden. If you have a fence you may want to grow pole beans up it instead of growing rows of bush beans.

Plan out your space.

On the same note if you have at least a general plan of what your garden will look like this year you can write down a general idea of what you need before opening the catalog to help you stay on track. For example you’ll know how much space you have dedicated to carrots and therefore a better idea about how many varieties you may want to try. You can find Southern Exposure’s garden planner here.

Ask local gardeners and farmers.

Other growers in your area will know about certain varieties that work well or don’t in your specific location. They’ll also have ideas about their personal favorite varieties that you might want to try.

Grow what’s hard to get.

If you’re short on space or time you may want to pick varieties that aren’t readily available in your area. For example if you know there’s a lot of organic spring greens and radishes available at your farmers market you may want to use an area of your garden for snap peas instead.

Fall in love with a story.

Belle Isle Cress

Not every variety comes with a really cool history but some do. If there’s a story that really stands out in your mind like how “Radiator Charlie” paid off his house after developing the Mortgage Lifter Tomato or how shipwrecked Portuguese sailors survived a Canadian winter on Belle Isle Cress pick that variety. Your excitement will help keep heirlooms alive everytime you share that story with someone visiting your garden.

Try to find a variety that connects you with your heritage and culture.

Not that far in the past everyone had a garden and cooked from scratch. If you can find out what your grandparents favorite varieties were or more generally what varieties you share some heritage with you can help re-awaken cultural food ways. You may even find yourself more inspired to maintain family gardens and recipes.

 

Above all else choose what you love. Don’t let worry about having a “good” garden control your choices. If you love spending time in your garden with the varieties you’ve chosen that’s really all that matters.

 

Pin it for later.

The Importance of Heirloom Seeds

As we begin to plan and gear up for the 2018 season we’re reminded of the importance of keeping heirloom varieties alive. At Southern Exposure we define heirlooms as open pollinated varieties developed prior to 1940. While some believe that hybrids and GMOs are the answer to our current agricultural dilemmas we know that these old varieties hold incredible value and potential.

Diversity

As growers have shifted away from heirlooms we’ve seen drastic decline in crop diversity in the United States. Keeping heirlooms alive means increased diversity which in turn increases resilience. When you only grow one crop variety it only takes one problem to wipe out the entire crop. Planting multiple varieties helps to ensure your crops survival.

A diverse source of food is also better for our health. You may have heard that you should always try to eat a variety of vegetables but that’s also true for specific varieties. The purple, yellow, green, and multi colored heirloom tomatoes all have different nutrients than the couple of red varieties offered at the grocery store. The same is true for other crops as well.

Adaptability

As heirlooms have been handed down from generation to generation they’ve become adapted to specific places and climates. They’ve evolved natural defenses to certain diseases, pests, and weather patterns. These defenses mean organic farmers and gardeners can beat their local problems without resorting to chemicals.

They can also continue to adapt to different localities. If you save seed from your favorite corn variety year after year, always picking the best and most productive plants to save seed from you will adapt that variety more and more to your climate and challenges.

Flavor

Depending on who you talk to this may just be heirlooms best characteristic. Heirlooms are often the tastiest produce because seed varieties that didn’t taste great just weren’t saved. Heirlooms are those lovely varieties that were bred by small farmers around the world before they had to worry about choosing varieties that kept for weeks and weeks or shipped well.

History

Each heirloom variety is a little piece of living history. They tell the story of the people that grew them and the place that they farmed. Keeping these seeds alive maintains a connection to cultural roots, ancestral ways, and the earth.

Having a local food culture not only has an impact on the environment but on people’s health. If people once again had a tradition of growing and eating specific heirlooms they would be less likely to replace important customs with proccessed foods.

Independence

The last great thing about heirlooms is that they allow farmers and gardeners independence. Because heirlooms can be saved from year to year growers don’t have to rely on big companies to supply their gardens each year. They’re financially independent.

At SESE we believe these traits give heirlooms immense value. They’re important for growers that want independent, resilient farms and homesteads. They’re perfect for the chef who wants to create healthy dishes with unique, rich flavors. They’re the seeds that keep us connected.

Hybrids certainly have their charm but when you’re selecting seeds this year consider adding a few heirlooms to your garden. Whether it’s for their flavor, charm, or usefulness we know you’ll fall in love.

Pin it for later.

7 Awesome Varieties Returning to SESE This Year

It’s that time of year again! The new 2018 Southern Exposure catalog is coming out and gardeners everywhere are browsing varieties and dreaming up big plans for springtime.

At Southern Exposure a lot of work goes into selecting and growing each and every variety we offer. However there’s a few varieties returning to SESE this year that we think are worthy of a shout out.

Grandma Nellie’s Yellow Mushroom Bean

First off is these awesome heirloom beans. The original seed was given to SESE by Marge Mozelisky which had been handed down to her from her grandmother. This unique variety is a pole snap bean with the distinct characteristic of tasting a bit like mushrooms when cooked. If you’re looking for an easy fun bean this spring these are a heavy yielders and ready to harvest in just 56 days.

Amish Snap Tall Pea

This heirloom variety predates more modern sugar snap varieties but is still sweet and vigorous. It’s always a springtime favorite as it can be sown as soon as soil can be worked in the spring and is ready to harvest in just 62 days.

Georganic Peanut 

While this is a newer variety it has still quickly earned a place in our hearts. Georganic Peanuts were developed specifically with organic growers in mind. They have sprawling runner growth that helps to prevent weeds and excellent disease resistance. Their red-skinned seeds have good flavor and they do best when grown in the deep south.

Purple Dragon Carrot

This variety, bred by John Navazio, is SESE’s favorite purple carrot. They’re ready to harvest in 80 days and offer consistent color and great flavor. Their exterior is purple while their interior is bright orange or yellow. They also offer a sweet almost, “wild” spicy flavor and good storage ability.

Australian Brown Bulb Onion

One of the best onions for extended storage this variety is an Australian heirloom dating back to before 1897. It takes 100 days to be ready to harvest and has mild white flesh and thick amber-brown skin. Pick this one to help stock your pantry for the year!

Sea Island Brown Cotton

Sea Island Brown is a lovely heirloom cotton that is believed to be a cross between Sea Island White and an unknown brown variety. This cotton offers “naked seeds” which are easy to remove from the lint and has longer fiber than other browns. Spun up it has a bit of shine. It grows 5-6ft tall and is ready to harvest in approximately 135 days.

M-101 Rice

This unique rice can be grown as an upland or paddy rice and is ready to harvest in 120 days. The plants are vigorous, grow about 3ft tall, resist lodging, and have excellent cold tolerance in the seedling and reproductive stage. It does require more nitrogen than heirloom rice.

 

Choosing seeds can be fun but it’s never easy to decide on varieties. We hope at SESE you’ll find awesome heirloom and modern varieties to suit your gardens specific needs and your garden dreams.

Also keep an eye on the blog or browse the website or catalog in the coming weeks to learn about varieties that are completely new to SESE this year!