Tag Archives: heirlooms

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.

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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!

Transplanting Tomato Seedlings

Most of you have probably already transplanted your tomato seedlings, but here at SESE we do it a bit later than most. Why? Because we want the vast array of tomatoes we grow for the tastings at our late August open house and at the Monticello Heritage Harvest Festival in September to be ready for picking just at the right time for those events. We’re growing more than 70 varieties for you to come and taste!

Just a tiny selection of the tomatoes going in our tasting patch
Just a tiny selection of the tomatoes going in our tasting patch

Here’s the technique we use for quick and successful transplanting of tomato seedlings:

After hardening them off for a couple weeks in our cold frames, we’re ready to take them out to the garden. For us, this means lots of careful labelling and mapping to keep all those varieties clearly separated!

Step 1: We start by spreading hay thickly over the whole area where the plants will go. This serves to keep the ground cool, hold moisture in, and choke out weeds, and in the long term it adds organic matter to improve the soil. If you try this, make sure you get hay that hasn’t been treated with herbicides or pesticides. You’ll also want to get hay that’s been sitting for a year or so, giving all the seeds a chance to have sprouted and died, or you’ll be growing grains alongside your tomatoes.

Step 2: Make a nest in the hay at each place where you want a tomato to go. Space them about 4 feet apart and make each nest about a foot in diameter, pushing the hay away until you can see the ground.

tomato planting nest

Step 3: Dig a hole at the bottom of the nest, toss in a double handful of compost, and mix the compost with the soil you have loosened.

removing tomato seedling from flat

Step 4: Gently pull the seedling out of its container and lay it on its side at the bottom of the hole you’ve dug, all the way at one edge of the nest space. This way you can cover not just the root ball, but also a good portion of the stem with soil. You want to bury a third to a half of the plant. Tomatoes will grow roots along any portion of the stem which is underground, and this method gives you a much sturdier root structure. Be careful that the sideways portion of the stem is supported by soil so it doesn’t break.

tomato seedling planted

Step 5. Cover the root ball and stem portion with soil and press it down firmly. Good soil to root contact is essential to get the plant sucking up water and nutrients right away. Then pull the hay back into place all around the stem of the plant, tucking it in cozily. Finally, give it a good watering and watch your baby grow!

Tomato seedling tucked in

If you do come to the Heritage Harvest Festival, here are a few of our top picks to look out for:

  • Rutgers 250 This is a brand new variety which brings added durability to a flavourful old heirloom and we plan to add it to our 2017 catalog.
  • Matt’s Wild Cherry This one is always a favourite at tastings, an intensely sweet wild cherry tomato originating in Mexico.
  • Garden Peach A delightful novelty tomato disguised as a peach.