Gardener Gift Guide

It’s that time of year again! The seed catalogs are coming out soon, and the holidays are just around the corner. We know that many heirloom gardeners strive to give meaningful, practical, and waste-free gifts, so we’ve created a gardener gift guide. Here are some of our favorite ideas, whether you’re shopping for seed savers, homesteaders, new gardeners, or even just nature lovers. 

Mother Earth News Magazine Subscription 

There’s something wonderful about flipping through the pages of a magazine in today’s digital world, and Mother Earth News is one of our favorites! SESE’s own Ira Wallace has been a contributor, and we typically attend and always enjoy Mother Earth News Fairs. 

It’s full of information on gardening, sustainable living, homesteading, livestock, cooking, natural health, and more. You can purchase six issues of Mother Earth News for someone on their website.

Hand using CobraHead ‘Steel Fingernail’ Weeder and CultivatorCobraHead’ Steel Fingernail’ Weeder and Cultivator 

No matter how long you’ve been gardening, dealing with weeds is still challenging. Give the gardener in your life a helping hand with the CobraHead’ Steel Fingernail.‘ 

Ira Wallace reviewed this tool herself:

I don’t usually get excited about small tools, but the CobraHead got me excited about weeding. Made in the USA of knife-quality steel, it’s simply the best all-around small tool I’ve come across. National Garden Club testers were really impressed with the tool and all it can do. It cuts through all types of soils. The weeds it can’t cut, it lifts. The self-sharpening blade can be used in all directions. The comfortable handle is made from recycled plastic. The CobraHead has a full one-year warranty against manufacturer defects. If defective, return it within the year together with your receipt, and we’ll send you another or refund your money.

Wild Garden Perennial Insectary Mix

This mix is the perfect gift or stocking stuffer for those looking to make their yard and garden a little more eco-friendly. The Wild Garden Perennial Insectary Mix provides the backbones of a spring-through-fall oasis for your resident beneficial insects. 

A complement of self-sowing annuals, biennials, and perennials provides food, shelter, and pollen. Includes fennel, Korean mint, garden sorrel, mustard, chervil, parsley, chicory, cress, turnip, calendula, amaranth, and orach. The leaves are also edible by humans. 

Virginia Biological Farming Annual Conference BannerEvent Tickets

Education is a significant gift idea. Be on the look for gardening workshops, conferences, and summits in your area or those you think would be a good fit for your loved one. 

SESE will be attending several upcoming events, including the 2023 Virginia Biological Farming Conference, The Tennessee Local Food Summit, and the Texas Mother Earth News Fair.

Garden Planner

Especially when you’ve got big gardens, they can be hard to keep track of! Give your loved one a bit of help with our Garden Planner. This online tool helps manage your garden throughout the season and from year to year.

It’s easy to draw out your vegetable beds, add plants and move them around to get the perfect layout and a personalized planting calendar for your location. You can even order our seeds directly from the planner!

Farming While Black: Soul Fire Farm’s Practical Guide to Liberation on the Land

“This is the most inspiring book I have read in years.” ~ Ira Wallace

Leah Penniman’s book, ‘Farming While Black: Soul Fire Farm’s Practical Guide to Liberation on the Land,’ is a rich and culturally relevant how-to manual for black and brown farmers. It’s filled with uplifting stories of black contributions to agriculture and the ongoing work at Soul Fire Farm to build an anti-racist and just food system. 

SESE Gift Certificates

Stuck on what to buy your favorite gardener? Grab a SESE gift certificate, and we’ll mail it to whoever your choose. They can use it to buy their favorites from the SESE catalog. 

DIY Seed Collection

If you’re a seed saver yourself, seeds make an excellent gift! You can give a loved one a few of your favorite heirlooms or maybe seeds for a themed garden like a pizza garden. You can also shop for seeds to supplement your own and make a personal collection.

Guides to Growing in the Southeast

SESE’s Ira Wallace has expanded her original Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Southeast into Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, and South Carolina guides. Grab one for the southern gardener in your life!

Herbalism Courses

Many of the folks that follow SESE also share a passion for herbalism. While reading articles and books is excellent, an herbalism course can help someone get more hands-on experience with feedback. Many places now offer reputable courses. Some great schools include:

See a longer list of options and other resources at Mountain Rose Herbs.

This season isn’t all about shopping and gifts, but we hope to offer ideas and options that are both meaningful and sustainable. Try one of these gift ideas, or get some inspiration from this list to create your own, and give someone in your life a waste-free gift that will make them a better gardener, seed saver, or homesteader. 

10 Easy Flowers to Grow From Seed

While some folks are glad for some time off, November can be a sad time of year for many gardeners. In much of the US, all but the most cold-hardy plants have been hit by frost. Even in warmer areas, gardeners are now dealing with dwindling daylight. Thankfully the 2023 catalogs will be shipping out soon, and we can all start dreaming and planning for spring! Flowers seeds are one of my favorite things to peruse in winter and are the most affordable way to create a large flower garden come spring. Here are some of the easiest flowers to grow from seed, even for beginner gardeners.

Bachelor’s Buttons

  • Annual
  • Full Sun
  • 65 Days to Bloom
  • Blooms Mid-Summer – Fall
Polka Dot Bachelor's Buttons (flowers from seed)
Polka Dot Bachelor’s Buttons

A favorite for cut flowers and dried arrangements, bachelor’s button varieties may have blue, red, rose, lavender, or maroon-black blooms. They’re great for attracting butterflies. It’s believed that they may have earned their name during the Victorian era when it was common to place flowers through the buttonholes of men’s suit coats. 

Bachelor’s buttons can be direct sown in mid-spring when the soil temperatures reach about 60°F. Alternatively, they can be sown indoors about 6 to 8 weeks before your last frost and transplanted out. 


  • Annual
  • Full Sun
  • 85 Days to Bloom
  • Blooms Mid-Summer
Calendula Resina (flowers from seed)
Resina Calendula 

Beautiful and medicinal, you can use calendula flowers in bouquets, for food coloring, cake decorations, natural dye, saffron substitute, or salves and balms to calm mild skin irritations. Herbalists prize the strain Resina Calendula for its high resin content. 

Direct sow calendula or start it indoors 6 to 8 weeks before your last frost. Seeds need darkness and germinate best around 55-65°F. Calendula often fades in the late summer heat but can be succession planted for fall harvests. 


  • Annual
  • Full Sun – Partial Shade
  • 45-68 Days to Bloom
  • Blooms All Summer
Sensation Mix Cosmos (flowers from seed)
Sensation Mix Cosmos

Cosmos will bloom all summer long, especially if you keep up with deadheading. You can find cosmos in various colors, including shades of orange, yellow, pink, purple, red, and white. They’re excellent for bouquets, and the seed heads attract birds. They self-seed readily. 

Cosmos prefer full sun but tolerate partial shade, poor soils, and drought once established. Cosmos may be direct sown after all danger of frost has passed and the soil has reached 70°F. For extra early blooms, they can also be started indoors about 4 to 6 weeks before your last frost. 

Four O’Clocks

  • Annual
  • Full Sun
  • Blooms June to Fall
Don Pedros Mixed Colors Four O'Clocks (flowers from seed)
Don Pedros Mixed Colors Four O’Clocks

These neat flowers open around four in the afternoon and are pollinated by sphinx and hawk moths! They can be grown in the garden or pots. Marvel of Peru Four O’Clocks make excellent cut flowers and Don Pedros Mixed Four O’Clocks offer beautifully variegated flowers, primarily in shades of magenta or yellow.

Four O’Clocks do best when direct sown in late spring after the danger of frost has passed and soil temperatures are about 70°F. They do well in average, well-draining, moist soil, and full sun. They may self-seed.


  • Annual
  • Full Sun – Partial Shade
  • 55-93 Days to Bloom
  • Blooms All Summer
Crackerjack Mix African Marigold (flowers from seed)
Crackerjack Mix African Marigold

The name “marigold” is said to have been derived from “Mary’s gold” in reference to the golden color of many of these blooms and the Virgin Mary. Today, we often appreciate marigolds both for their beauty and their usefulness. Marigolds make excellent companion plants helping to deter nematodes and to attract beneficial insects such as lacewings, parasitic wasps, and ladybugs.

Marigolds prefer full sun but may tolerate some afternoon shade, especially in the hottest parts of the country. Marigolds may be direct sown after all danger of frost has passed and the soil has reached 70°F. Start them indoors 6 to 8 weeks before your last frost for extra early blooms.

Morning Glories

  • Annual
  • Full Sun
  • 65 Days to Bloom
  • Blooms from Early Summer to Fall
Grandpa Ott's Morning Glory (flowers from seed)
Grandpa Ott’s Morning Glory

Did you know that the humble morning glory helped inspire Seed Savers Exchange and the whole heirloom movement? Grandpa Ott’s Morning Glory, a family heirloom from Diane Ott Whealy, was one of the first varieties to become part of SSE. These easy-to-grow vining flowers add beauty to the garden on trellises or can be grown in containers to spruce up porches. 

Morning glories thrive in full sun. They self-seed readily. Before planting, soak seeds for two days, changing the water every 12 hours. Then, direct sow after all danger of frost has passed, and the soil has reached 70°F or sow indoors about six weeks before your last frost date.

Old Fashion Vining Petunias

  • Annual
  • Full Sun
  • Blooms Early Summer to Fall
Old Fashioned Vining Petunia (flowers from seed)
Old Fashioned Vining Petunia

Sweet fragrance, soft colors, and a self-sowing nature gives Old Fashioned Vining Petunia a sure spot on this list. Our first regular staff member, Grandma Jean, recalls this heirloom petunia from her grandmother’s garden. Old Fashioned Vining dates back to the early 1900s, well before Grandma Jean was born.

Sow in flats or pots indoors in March or April and transplant out after the last frost. Ever-blooming and much hardier than modern varieties, this old favorite blooms into the fall when other annuals have faded and gone. 


  • Annual
  • Full Sun
  • 55-65 Days to Bloom
Hungarian Blue Breadseed Poppy (flowers from seed)
Hungarian Blue Breadseed Poppy

The stunning, easily recognizable, papery blooms are an excellent addition to any garden and can be found in various colors. Some varieties also produce delicious seeds for baking and seed pods that look stunning in dried arrangements. 

Direct seed poppies in the fall or as soon as the soil can be worked in the spring. Sow approximately 1/4” deep; the seeds require darkness to germinate. Thin plants when the first true leaves appear.


  • Annual
  • Full Sun 
  • 53-71 Days to Bloom
  • Blooms July-August
Mammoth Sunflower (flowers from seed)
Mammoth Sunflower

Giant, cheerful blooms are great for wildlife and fun for kids and adults alike. Some varieties offer excellent seed production, while others, like Velvet Queen, are well-suited for cut flower arrangements. Some archaeologists believe Native Americans may have cultivated sunflowers as early as 3000 BC.

Direct sow seeds after the danger of frost has passed. Taller varieties may require staking. Ideally, it would help if you planted them in a spot protected from heavy winds. 


  • Annual
  • Full Sun
  • 60-70 Days to Bloom
  • Blooms All Summer
Red Beauty Zinnias
Red Beauty Zinnias

Excellent for cut flowers or just adding tons of long-lasting color to your flower beds, zinnias are one of the easiest flowers to grow from seed. Zinnias also offer a surprising variety with spiky petals like Cactus-Flowered or the double flowers of Red Beauty and a wide range of colors.

Direct sow after all danger of frost has passed and the soil has reached 70°F, or sow indoors 3 to 4 weeks before your last frost for extra early blooms. Sow several successions for a steady supply of cut flowers and keep up with deadheading. 

Starting flowers from seed is the most affordable way to add color and beauty to your garden. These ten flowers are easy for beginner gardeners to start from seed and maintain. Add a few of these to your 2023 list for stunning beds, borders, and bouquets!

Herbal Tinctures: The Folk Method

One easy way to start working with medicinal herbs is to create tinctures. A tincture is simply a liquid extract of a medicinal plant. They’re a great way to preserve herbal medicine in season. They also help concentrate the active ingredients in a plant, allowing you to use an herbal remedy conveniently. You can take a drop of tincture rather than a cup of tea, or for those who struggle with it, having to swallow capsules. Today, we’ll cover how to create your own tinctures using the folk method.

***None of the information in this post is intended to diagnose or treat any condition. Consult your physician for medical advice.***

***When using wild plants, always be 100% sure of their identification before employing it in any herbal or edible preparation.***

History of Tinctures

There is an incredibly long history of tinctures in medicine. The Al-Qanoon fi al Tibb (The Canon of Medicine), an encyclopedia of medicine in five books compiled by Persian physician-philosopher Avicenna and finished in 1025, includes instructions for making tinctures!

It’s likely that the use of tinctures dates back much further and probably started shortly after the invention of distillation. What’s now China, Egypt, Turkey, and Israel may have been distilling alcohol and creating tinctures as far back as 2000 BC. 

Early distillation looked far different from what we know today. Writings from 4th century Greece credit the first modern distillation with an alembic to the western alchemist Maria the Jewess between AD 200 – 300.

Alcohol distillation didn’t occur in Europe until the 12th century, with alchemists primarily interested in creating elixirs. Slowly, the process became more widely used, as did tinctures and recreational alcohol. By the 1800s, tinctures were common in European medicine. 

Lemon Balm Leaves, Mason Jar, and KnifeWhat’s the folk method?

The folk method is likely how the first tinctures were made and is still in use today. It’s an easy and effective way to create tinctures without a scale or measuring cup. To use the folk method, pack herbs into a glass jar or container and cover them with alcohol. It’s as simple as that!

Alternatively, as you become a more experienced herbalist, you may want to learn to create weight-to-volume tinctures. These types of tinctures combine macerated herbs by weight to alcohol by volume. Often, fresh herbs are tinctured at a ratio of 1:2 with alcohol, and dry herbs are tinctured at a ratio of 1:5. The ratio may also vary with the type of herb.

We’ll stick with the folk method for this blog, but The Herbal Academy has an excellent weight-to-volume tincture guide you can read here.

What do I need to make a folk tincture?

You can make a tincture from nearly any herb you have on hand. You can use fresh herbs you’ve grown or gathered or dried herbs from a trustworthy source like local farms or Mountain Rose Herbs. In the past, we’ve featured posts on holy basil and goldenrod tinctures.

You may also want to create a tinctures and select herbs with a specific goals in mind. Below are a few herbs that herbalists will commonly tincture:

  • Echinacea
  • Coltsfoot
  • Holy Basil
  • Valerian 
  • Feverfew 
  • Chicory Root
  • Chamomile
  • Raspberry Leaves
  • Lemon Balm
  • Goldenrod
  • Mint
  • Skullcap
  • Lovage

***Always thoroughly research an herb before using it and consult your physician. Some herbs are known to cause adverse reactions when combined with prescription medications. Herbs may also cause allergic reactions or other illnesses when used in inappropriate concentrations.***


You’ll also need 80-proof alcohol. Many people choose to use vodka as it doesn’t impart much flavor, but you can choose to use others like brandy or gin. Byron Ballard, Appalachian urban farmer, witch, and author of Roots, Branches, & Spirits: The Folkways and Witchery of Appalachia, says she prefers rum as it adds a bit of nicer flavor. 

Other Supplies

Depending on the herb you’re working with, you may need a clean knife, scissors, or grater to prepare your herb. You also need a clean jar with a lid that seals well. An ill-fitting lid may let the alcohol slowly evaporate. 

Later, you’ll need a strainer or cloth to filter your aged tincture. You also need a clean container to store the filtered tincture in. Depending on the container you choose, a funnel may also be helpful.

Strainer, tincture in mason jar, mason jar with herbs, lemon balm leavesMaking a Tincture with the Folk Method

  • Prepare your herbs. Roots should be scrubbed and chopped or grated, and it’s best to remove large stems from herbs. You may also want to chop up leaves and flowers to help speed up the process.
  • Place the herbs into a container. You may want to pack light, fluffy herbs down gently.
  • Cover your herbs with alcohol. Press the herbs down a bit so that the alcohol covers them completely.
  • Place a tight lid on the container and store it somewhere dark for a minimum of two to six weeks. 
  • Check on and shake your container every few days, especially in the beginning. Press the herbs down or add alcohol as needed to keep them covered.
  • Strain the plant material out of your finished tincture. A wire strainer may do for larger pieces, but you may need a finer filter, like a clean bandana, for fine herbs.

Can I make a tinctures without alcohol?

While a tincture is technically defined as an ingredient dissolved in alcohol, other ways exist. Increasingly, herbalists are using the word tincture to refer to herbs in vinegar or glycerin for those who need or want an alcohol-free option. Learn how to make herbal glycerites from The Herbal Academy.

Storing Tinctures

After you strain your tincture, you want to store it somewhere cool and dark. If available, brown glass bottles are ideal for tinctures as they block some of the light. Small bottles with droppers can be handy, especially if you want to take your tincture regularly.

Generally, I use and then replace tinctures within two years. However, tinctures may keep for up to 3 to 5 years.

Using Your Tincture

How you use your tincture largely depends on what it is. Herbalists generally may make recommendations by the drop or dropper full, referring to those small bottles with droppers. 

Tincture recommendations vary widely by herb and purpose, from taking a dropper full when you’re feeling anxious to taking 30 drops up to three times a day when you’re experiencing cold and flu symptoms. Again, appropriate research and consulting a physician can help you determine what’s best.

Folk tinctures are a great way to get started with herbalism and connect with new plants. Whether you’ve grown and gathered herbs this season or are ordering them online, this guide will help you create your own tinctures using the folk method.

Saving the Past for the Future