Tag Archives: perennials

10 Reasons to Grow Thyme

German Winter Thyme

Thyme certainly isn’t the most popular herb in backyard gardens but we’re stumped as to why! This little plant has a lot of great things going for it. Check out some of thyme’s benefits to learn more about why it deserves a spot in your garden.

Thyme has medicinal properties.

Thyme may be generally thought of as a culinary herb but it also as a long history of medicinal use. It is primarily used to treat lung and throat issues like colds, coughs, and sore throats. It’s an excellent ingredient for homemade cough drops, soothing teas, and gargles. Thyme can also be used for soothing for upset stomachs.

It’s a hardy perennial.

It’s a hardy perennial. At SESE we offer three varieties of thyme. German Winter Thyme and Creeping Thyme are hardy in zones 4-10 and Summer Thyme is hardy in zones 6-9. If you’d like a low maintenance garden it should definitely be on your list.

Thyme can be started from seed.

While many perennials can be a bit tricky to get going from seed thyme is actually quite easy. It can be started indoors with other garden plants like tomatoes and peppers and set out after the danger of frosts have passed in the spring. It may take a little while to get going but not having to buy transplants may be worth the wait.

It’s delicious.

In the kitchen, thyme is incredible versatile. It can be used in sweets like shortbread cookies or savory dishes like sauces, meats, and beans.

Thyme is beautiful.

Creeping Thyme

Thyme plants a truly beautiful and different varieties offer a plant perfect for every garden. German winter thyme is shrubby and upright while summer thyme is a bit smaller. Creeping thyme is a vining plant that creates an excellent ground cover for rock and herb gardens. Even though they have different appearances all three can be used as culinary or medicinal herbs.

It attracts beneficial insects.

Thyme’s little flowers attract a variety of beneficial insects including native pollinators, honeybees, and predatory wasps.

Thyme makes an excellent companion plant.

It can be planted in with cabbage, potatoes, eggplant, and strawberries. It’s thought that it repels cabbage worms, flea beetles, and tomato hornworms.

It’s good for you.

In case you needed a reason besides its wonderful flavor to add thyme to your recipes thyme is very nutritious. It’s high in iron and antioxidants.

Thyme will tolerate shade.

If you have an area of your garden that’s get’s too much shade to be an excellent vegetable patch you might want to add some creeping thyme. It will do fine in areas that are fairly shady.

It doesn’t need much water.

While you need to water your thyme plants while they’re getting established once they’re mature these Mediterranean plants require very little water. They’re perfect for water conscious gardeners or those in drought-prone areas.

If you’re planning your garden for next year you may want to add thyme to your list! These are just a few of the many reasons this wonderful herb deserves a spot in your garden. What’s your favorite thing about thyme?

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Adding Perennials to Your Vegetable Garden

When planning our gardens we often think of annual food crops. Plants like peppers, tomatoes, cabbages, and sweet corn come to mind first and are the powerhouses of most backyard gardens. However perennials are an excellent addition to any garden. There’s a lot more to perennials than just their longer lifespan.

Why Grow Perennials

You can increase your food production.

Perennials can increase the amount of food you produce and therefore decrease your environmental impact. They’re often some of the first foods up in the garden and sometimes the longest producing. Plants like rhubarb, chives, and salad burnet will help fill your plates with local food when most of your annuals are still just tender seedlings.

They require less work.

Growing more perennials means less time spent starting plants each year. Just keep the weeds back, provide basic care, and enjoy your harvest.

Many perennials require less water.

As they grow for more than just one season they are generally able to develop deeper, more extensive root systems than annuals so they’ll need less careful watering.

They’re better at gathering nutrients.

Another advantage of their well developed root systems, perennials are often able to access nutrients from deep in the soil that annuals cannot. Perennials help bring these to the surface for them and the plants around them.

They improve soil structure.

Their root systems even help improve soil structure which helps not only them but any annuals that you grow near them. The soil health also improves because it’s not being disturbed each year. Nutrients are added through a top down system as parts of the plant die back or you add mulch around them. This process is just like what happens in a natural ecosystem.

How to Get Perennials

Perennials don’t have to be expensive! Browsing catalogs and visiting your local garden store can lead you to the impression that a garden full of perennials is going to be an expensive one. It’s doesn’t have to be though. Many perennial plants are easy to start from seed or divisions from existing plants which can sometimes be acquired for free or cheaply from friends, neighbors, or your local garden club. Ask around!

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange offers many perennial plants and seeds that can get you started without a big investment. Below are just a few of the perennials SESE offers that are easy to add to your garden.

Chives

Adding a lot of flavor with little effort, chives are super hardy, beautiful, and easy to grow. Plus once yours get established it’s easy to divide your plants and they make a great gift.

Rhubarb

Though not a true fruit, rhubarb is the first fruit like food you’ll be able to get locally each spring. While many garden centers only sell rhubarb plants they’re actually quite easy to grow from seed. You can find a great post on growing rhubarb here.

Perennial Onions

For some, growing a patch of perennial onions is enough to supply all their onion needs without having to start tons of onions from seed each year.

Thyme

Thyme makes and excellent perennial ground cover with the added benefit of smelling nice and being edible.

Salad Burnet

Often said to taste like cucumber, salad burnet will come up early and feed you long before any actual cucumbers will be available.

Ginseng

A highly sought after medicinal, ginseng takes awhile to grow but is well worth the wait!

Sage

Sage is both edible and medicinal and simple to grow from seed.

Oregano

On top of being a commonly used culinary herb, oregano’s small white flowers also do a great job of attracting pollinators.

Garden Huckleberry

These dark blue berries are one of the few berries that are easy to grow from seed and they make excellent jam. You can read more about them here.

Echinacea

This flower has a lot going for it. Echinacea is not only beautiful but a great species for attracting pollinators and it’s highly medicinal.

Lemon Balm

As a member of the mint family, lemon balm gets established and spreads so easily you may actually want to make an effort to keep it contained.

Don’t be afraid to add a few perennials to your garden this year. They’re quite affordable and have many benefits. Even if you decide you need to change your garden layout most can be transplanted without harm later on.

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Seed Growers Large and Small

Ken and I recently returned from a 2-week road trip, which we took primarily to visit farms that grow seed for Southern Exposure.  We work with about 60 farms that produce seed for us, which we then freeze, test for good germination, weigh out, and sell.  We took this trip to meet some of the farmers face to face, see their land, and get a better sense of how they farm, in hopes of collaborating better in the future.  We’re also glad that we can share some of their experiences with you.  Southwestern Virginia has one of the highest concentrations of farms growing seed for us, including two diversified family homesteads, which we’ll profile first.

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The Moyer family has been growing vegetable seeds for us for seven years.  They also grow an impressive range of their own food, sell vegetables at a local farmers market, and raise cows, goats, and several kinds of poultry.

We pulled some weeds in their garden and collected harlequin bugs off of a kale seed crop; they served us fresh cornbread with fresh butter, squash that they had traded with another farmer, and pork, and the next morning, a delicious breakfast of fresh eggs, oatmeal, butter, and sorghum syrup. Several of the Moyer children have raised seed crops of their own, keeping the proceeds and calculating their dollar per hour as part of their math class.  This year seed crops they’re growing for us include Selma Suns sunflower, German Johnson tomato, Burpee’s Butterbush squash, Egyptian Walking Onions, Sugar Drip Sorghum, Painted Mountain flour corn, and Floriani flint corn.

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Later we visited the Smythes, an extended family with a large vegetable garden, a cowshare dairy, and a young orchard.  To get to their property, we crossed a wooden bridge with low sides, and then entered a large family homestead, where we didn’t see any house numbers.  The door we knocked happened to be the right one.

Charlotte Smythe, who initially organized the family’s seed growing, has now married and moved up the hill to a new house on the family’s land, so more recently her younger sister Lydia has been heading up the seed growing.  The family decided to take a break from seeds this year so as to focus more on infrastructure development and perennials, but we hope they will grow for us again next year.

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On our way into Southwest Virginia we stopped to see Beth Shelley in Bent Mountain, VA She and her family grow a wide range of vegetables in two huge old greenhouses.  They are further diversifying their farm to include Chinese medicinal herbs.

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One of the biggest farms we visited just started growing seeds for us this year.  Fassifern Farm, in Bath County, VA, is managed by Mark Scott and includes 12 acres of cultivated land on various parts of a 2400 acre property.  Currently their biggest crops are vegetables that Cavalier Produce picks up twice a week for sale in nearby Charlottesville, after Cavalier unloads other produce for the local restaurants.  This year Mark and his crew are growing seed crops of Chires baby sweet corn, Black Amber Cane sorghum, Liana asparagus beans, Grady Bailley Greasy snap beans, Carwile’s Virginia Peanuts, and Orange Bell sweet peppers for seed.  Looking forward, Mark is excited to make seed growing a bigger part of his operation, and his farm’s large acreage, surrounded largely by forest, will give him the opportunity to isolate and grow seed crops of several varieties of corn per year.

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Near the other end of the spectrum of scale, Ann Shrader, in Floyd, Virginia, grows a home garden of no more than a quarter acre where her biggest crops are the seed crops she grows for us – this year, Appalachian Red garlic, Charleston Belle sweet peppers, and Peking Black southern peas.  She also grows a few fruits and vegetables for her own consumption, and lets a wide range of flowers self-sow.

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Monica Williams, Bill Whipple, and their young son Gabriel divide their time between Asheville, NC, and the remote West Virginia farm a ways down a one-lane road where they hosted us on the first night of our trip.

Their vegetable gardens include crops for home use as well as seed, but they find that on their rocky mountain land, berries and trees tend to do much better than annuals.  They are fortunate to have not only a very young orchard but also an older orchard that Bill planted at a time when farmers markets were much less common, with little idea of how they would sell the fruit it produced.  Now fruit is most of what they bring to market.

 

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Troy Teets and his family hosted us for a night in Riceville, Tennessee.  The evening we arrived, they showed us their garden and their new goats and pigs, and in the morning we harvested tomatoes and blackberries for their farmers’ market.  This year they’re growing a seed crop of Grandma Nellie’s Yellow Mushroom bean.  They’re also growing a few short rows of Parker Half-Runner bean, a favorite in Troy’s area that’s more tender than the standard Half-Runner beans on the market.  They expect to harvest a few pounds of seeds from this year’s Parker Half-Runner so that they can plant a much larger crop next year.  We plan to offer the seeds from their 2016 crop in our 2017 catalog.

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In South Carolina, we were hosted by seed growers Rodger and Karen Winn, who I profiled last year.  All in all we had a busy trip, visting about three farms a day on most days.  In upcoming blog posts, I plan to profile plant breeders, university research farms, and a bakery that mills its own grain.