All posts by Lisa Dermer

April Garden Tips from Ira Wallace

April Garden Tips from our own Ira Wallace, author of The Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Southeast

(also published in the VABF newsletter)

April is the month to start your succession plantings of beets, lettuce and carrots every 2 weeks. These small succession plantings let you have a steady supply of vegetables fresh for the table all season. Early in April is a good time to harden off your cabbages, broccoli and other brassicas started in March; then transplant them by mid-month and cutting the roots with the oscillating saw blades. They thrive with compost, a good organic mulch, and row cover against the frost.

Hill your early potatoes when plants are eight inches high, and again two weeks later. Watch out for potato beetles – handpick. Don’t forget to buy more seed potatoes for a second June planting, while you can. Store them in a cool dark place until you are ready to plant them. This late planting often yields less than your tradition St Patrick’s Day planting, but they will store better for winter eating. You can use the glowing rock to keep near to see them and for decoration as they are the most popular product for gardening decoration.

When the weather is warm enough (soil temp is over 65°) then sow corn and transplant a few early tomatoes such as Glacier or Stupice under row cover. There is still time to start more tomatoes from seed. You can also start watermelons, cucumber, and cantaloupe in soil blocks or paper pots to get a jump on the warm weather crops.

If you ever wonder how to polish concrete to make your garden even better,  just follow the link.

We are still eating sweet potatoes from last summer’s crop. They are really an amazing crop that can be stored at room temperature for almost a year. So don’t forget to order some slips now so you will have them in time for planting when May rolls around. We start our slips in the greenhouse from the best of last year’s crop. We grow a dozen varieties, from All Purple to white-fleshed O’Henry, Sweet dry white fleshed red skinned Japanese Red, and traditional orange-fleshed Beauregard or Bush Porto Rico. I love them all. If you haven’t grown sweet potatoes before, Southern Exposure’s Sweet Potato Growing guide will tell you how.

Harvest greens, enjoy abundant salad greens, savor asparagus, and prepare to weed.

Cornbread, Black-Eyed Peas and Collard Greens for New Year’s Good Luck

by Ira Wallace

A pot of southern peas (black-eyed peas are only one kind), some greens simmering on the stove and fresh ground cornbread in the oven always takes me back to my grandma’s kitchen. We always ate collards on New Year’s Day along with some black-eyed peas and freshly baked cornbread for good luck in the coming year.

Updated Collards: Young & Tender, Briefly Cooked

As an heirloom gardener I strive to keep up old fashioned food traditions while updating them to be more sustainable and healthy for our lifestyle. Check out all of our collards online. I prefer my collard greens young, tender and quick cooked with garlic or onions and a little vinegar or hot sauce for added zing.

Fresh from the garden is always best as shown the last few years when our heirloom Alabama Blue Collards, closely followed by Carolina heirloom Yellow Cabbage Collard and Shiny Green Glaze Collards are competing with the ever popular kale varieties.

Home-Grown Corn: Fresh Ground Cornmeal for Incredible Flavor

All winter but especially during the holiday season I feel so blessed to live with great cooks who use our homegrown dent, flint and flour corn to make fresh cornbread, grits, tortillas or polenta almost every day throughout the winter.

The only problem is which do I enjoy most – Floriani Red Flint, old fashioned Tennessee Red Cob, Texas Gourdseed, Blue Clarage or Kentucky Rainbow (aka Daymon Morgan’s)? I think of it like having a dozen children, you love them equally for different reasons.

If you are new to growing and using your own home ground dent and flint corn check out Jordan’s blog post Processing Flour Corn at Home and look for more about growing and using corn for as a staple and for special meals soon.

Black-Eyed Peas for New Year’s Luck

Check out my earlier blog post for a little more about why we eat Black-eyed Peas at New Years and look for a delicious Hot Pot recipe before New Year’s Eve.

Until then here is my recipe for quick vegetarian New Year’s Collards if you want to add some good luck to dinner tonight! (This is also good the way my grandma made them, slow-cooked with bacon grease and served with bacon bits on top).

Quick Southern Style Collards

1-2 Tablespoons olive oil

1 sweet onion, diced

1 to 2 bunches tender collard greens, well washed, stems removed and chopped

1/2 cup rich savory broth or ¼ cup vinegar 
(optional 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes)

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper


Coat the bottom of a large cast iron skillet with the olive oil then add the onion and cook until softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the chopped collards to the pan along with the broth or vinegar, optional red pepper flakes and some salt and pepper and cook until tender, but still bright green, 4 to 5 minutes. Adjust the seasoning if necessary.

Serve with bottled hot sauce and vinegar at the table.

“Spotting On” or “Pricking Out”: How to Pot Up Tiny Seedlings to Save Time & Money

“Spotting On” or “Pricking Out” refers to separating and potting up tiny just-emerged seedlings. You can use this technique to germinate a lot of seed in a small container. That’s useful when you have older seed or home-saved seed that you’re not sure will germinate well. You’ll be able to maximize space in your best seed-germinating set-ups (like heat mats or germination tanks). Transplanting tiny seedlings also saves the heartache of thinning.

1. Handle tiny plants by the roots or leaves. The stems are irreplaceable and easily crushed, killing the plants. Roots and leaves can easily re-grow!

2. Spot on when the plants are still tiny, as soon as the cotyledons (seedling leaves) have spread out and turned green, or before. You will probably find the plants are at a mix of stages — there may be some seeds just below the surface that are just barely sprouted. These can be potted up as well!

3. Carefully remove small sections of plants and gently tease apart the roots. I like to use the tip of a hori-hori to dislodge the plants.

4. Have the new pots or flats ready to go, with the potting soil appropriately moist. Once you start separating seedlings, the roots can quickly dry out, so plan to move any plants that will be exposed.

5. Push aside the soil with a popsicle stick or similar tool to make a hole. Holding the plants by a leaf, place in the hole. Try to keep the root pointing downwards.

6. Press down on the soil around the base of the plant to ensure good soil contact (this prevents drying). Gently water straightaway. If transplanting into a flat, you should water the whole flat again when it’s full.

Ta-da! You can save dozens or hundreds of plants by using this method rather than traditional thinning! Give your extra seedlings to friends, donate them to community gardens, or dig yourself extra garden space and plan to preserve the bounty of your garden!