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6 Ways to Celebrate Gardening Heritage at Home

This past weekend we had the pleasure of being part of the 12th Annual Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello. This festival which SESE’s Ira Wallace helps organize is a celebration of agriculture, history, food, culture. It was an amazing opportunity to learn more about historical gardening methods, heirloom seed varieties, traditional cooking recipes, and so much more. While we encourage everyone to attend the harvest festival (we can’t wait to see you next year), we realize that it isn’t possible for all to attend.

If you were too far away or just couldn’t get away from work this year to attend there’s a few things you can do at home to celebrate your gardening heritage this harvest season.

Organize a seed swap.

The Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello includes an awesome seed swap but there’s no reason you can’t set one up in your neighborhood with a few friends. Alternatively there are even a few Facebook groups dedicated to seed swapping.

Read, read, read!

Thankfully many of the wonderful speakers at the Heritage Harvest Festival also have books available. Adding these to your reading list can help you preserve history and become a better gardener or cook!

The Cooking Gene by Micheal W. Twitty

Epic Tomatoes: How to Select and Grow the Best Varieties by Craig LeHoullier

Southern Provisions: The Creation & Revival of a Cuisine by David S. Shields

Sustainable Market Gardening by Pam Dawling

Vegetable Gardening in the Southeast by Ira Wallace

“A Rich Spot of Earth” Thomas Jefferson’s Revolutionary Garden at Monticello by Peter J. Hatch 

Host a variety tasting.

At the festival, SESE puts on a huge tomato, pepper, and melon tasting. It’s a lot of fun but it can also be really helpful for gardeners unsure about which varieties they might want to add to their garden next year. If you can find others growing heirlooms in your area swapping samples may help you plan your seed order. If other gardeners in your area aren’t growing heirlooms offering a tasting of varieties you grow may encourage them to plant some of their own.

Visit a farmer’s market and try to buy local.

One awesome part of the festival at Monticello is seeing all the vendors with products grown and crafted in Virginia. Visit your local farmers market or search the web for people in your state producing food, beverages, clothing, crafts and more. Buying local is better for the environment and supports small business owners.

Take a local gardening or cooking class.

The workshops at the festival are a wonderful place to learn each year but you may be able to find some offerings close to home. Many communities have affordable classes with local chefs and master gardeners that don’t get the attention they deserve. Don’t be afraid to ask around!

Pass on your knowledge.

It was wonderful this weekend to see people of all ages from all walks of life get together to celebrate agriculture and history. You don’t actually need a festival setting to accomplish this though. Whether you’re talking to your neighbor about heirloom varieties, teaching your friend how to cook with fresh ingredients, or getting your kids involved in the garden you’re helping to protect valuable skills and history.

If you were able to attend we hope you enjoyed the festival as much as we did. If not try some of these ideas and celebrate at home. We hope to see you next year!

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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.