10 Unique Heirloom Varieties to Add to Your Wishlist

If you’re a lover of heirloom varieties like we are, chances are you’ve got an eye for the unique. We love adding uncommon plants to the garden that bring with them a touch of whimsy. Here are ten distinctive heirloom varieties to add to your wishlist to make next season’s garden stand out. 

Grandma Nellie’s Mushroom Pole Snap Beans

These pole beans are a true treasure! Just as their name suggests, they taste a bit like mushrooms when cooked. Grandma Nellie’s are a heavy yielder and are ready to harvest in just 56 days. They’re tender when picked at around 5 inches. 

The original seed for this variety came from Marge Mozelisky and was given to her by her grandmother.

Costoluto Florentino Tomato

This uniquely shaped tomato is sure to be a standout! It’s an Italian heirloom from the Tuscan region that bares 8 to 12 oz, deeply lobed, red fruits. It’s great for slicing, sauces, and making stuffed tomatoes.

It’s also a great choice if you live somewhere hot; Costoluto Florentino was one of the most heat tolerant and productive varieties in the 2011 University of Georgia trials. It also did well in the cool wet, summer we had here in Virginia in 2013.

Mrihani Basil

This ruffled basil comes from Zanzibar off the eastern coast of Africa, where it’s used in food and perfumes. Mrihani is excellent tasting, relatively mild, with notes of anise. This basil is relatively easy to grow, slow to bolt and has excellent resistance to Downey Mildew. 

Lion’s Ear (Klip Dagga)

If you like the unusual and unruly, this orange monster is for you! This plant grows large and sprawling, reaching heights of 4 to 10 feet. Lion’s Ear or Klip Dagga starts blooming in late summer, producing nectar-rich, fuzzy flower tubules that leap from sharp, spiky green bracts. These orange flowers are a favorite of hummingbirds and butterflies.

The nectar of Lion’s Ear has a sweet grapefruit taste. The leaves and flowers of this plant have been used in traditional herbal medicine in Africa and India. 

Lion’s ear is moderately drought tolerant and prefers well-drained soils. It’s a tender perennial and may regrow if winter lows are above 20°F.

Balik Hot Pepper

This productive pepper is named for its unique shape. Balik, pronounced BA-luck, means “fish” in Turkish. These peppers have two lobes generally resembling a fish in shape. They are sleek, crunchy, 1 to 3 inches long, and have milder heat than most Jalapeños. The plants grow about 18 inches tall.

White Wonder Watermelon

While it may not look like most watermelons you see, it’s just as good. The creamy white flesh is crisp with a fresh, sweet taste. White Wonder produces high yields of 3-10 lb icebox-size melons. 

They’re rare today, but white-fleshed watermelons were popular in the 1800s. This unique white-fleshed melon is sure to be a hit at farmers’ markets or on the picnic table!

Lemon Cucumber

This unique cucumber produces seven ft. vines covered with crunchy round yellow fruits. Lemon Cucumbers are ready to harvest in about 67 days. Pick them at 1½ in. for pickling or two in. for salads. You’ll love this excellent, never-bitter, old-fashioned cucumber flavor with a hint of nuttiness. 

Wonderberry (Sunberry)

These Garden Huckleberries are an interesting relative of the tomato. They grow like tomatoes, but Wonderberry is more finicky to germinate. The tiny seeds need to keep moist for a much longer period. However, they self sow readily. 

Plant genius Luther Burbank developed this variety. It produces three ft. plants that yield dozens of clusters of dark, ¼ in. berries; each cluster holds 8-12 fruits. Wonderberry’s unique, huckleberry-like flavor makes for intriguing dessert fillings, jellies, and syrups!

Don’t consume the green fruits as they are likely toxic.

Erlene’s Green Cotton

This beautiful, green-colored cotton is a family heirloom from Erlene Melancon in east Texas. Erlene said that she has been spinning green cotton for years and that her grandmother loved using colored cotton in her quilts.

Erlene’s Green produces five ft. tall plants. The fibers are light olive green and can be spun off the seed. Harvest the bolls shortly after they open so that the fiber does not fade in the sunlight. Once it is spun and washed, it turns yellowish-green. 


Rich in vitamins and used in salads for mustard-like flavor, this green stands out for the way it grows. As the name suggests, Watercress should be transplanted into a stream of cool, clean water. Alternatively, you can grow it in pots adding fresh water daily or in trays with just enough water to float the crowns. Watercress needs partial shade in hot weather.

Adding these or some of the other unusual heirlooms we carry is a great way to make your garden uniquely yours. What unique heirlooms are your favorites? Share your garden with us on Facebook or on Instagram using the hashtag #southernexposureseed and tagging us @southernexposureseed.

Proper Seed Storage: 3 Key Steps

This time of year, there’s not much work to do in the garden. We’re mostly looking ahead to next spring, planning garden rotations, new beds, and selecting varieties we’d like to grow next season. One chore that may still need to be taken care of is seed storage. Properly storing seeds will ensure they remain viable for a long time. There are three main things to consider when storing your seeds this winter, whether they’re leftover packets or seeds you saved from your garden. 

Keep them cool.

Cooler temperatures help keep seeds in dormancy. The Svalbard Global Seed Storage Vault, which hopes to be the “ultimate insurance policy for the world’s food supply,” stores seeds at about -0.4°F or -18ºC to keep the seeds viable for long periods. 

While that isn’t necessary or even possible for most home gardeners, generally, you want to keep your seeds as cool as possible. Storing seeds below 40°F is optimal, but between 50° and 60° will work just fine. Get creative and think about what areas in your home always remain cool, whether it’s your basement or a particular cupboard, closet.

It’s important to remember that freezing and thawing or any significant temperature changes can mimic seasonal changes and cause seeds to deteriorate. Freezers can be a great place to store seeds, but if you frequently lose power during the winter, it may be better to put your seeds in a cool cabinet than into the freezer to avoid significant temperature fluctuations.

Keep them dry.

Moisture also signals seeds to germinate. If you’re saving seeds, make sure they’re fully dry before you package them. Larger seeds should easily snap in half and not bend. Smaller seeds should shatter under pressure. 

Use airtight containers such as mason jars to store seeds. It’s also a good idea to avoid storing seeds in the refrigerator or unheated garages and sheds due to the fluctuating moisture and temperature levels. 

Another option is to add silica gel packets or some dry rice to your jars or containers. These will help absorb any excess moisture. While this isn’t strictly necessary, it can provide a little extra protection.

Keep them in the dark.

Sunlight is detrimental to the long-term viability of seeds. It can signal to seeds that it’s time to sprout and cause the seeds to break down. You can place jars or containers of seeds in a dark cabinet or a larger solid color tote or container. 

A few other things to consider:

  • Label everything! Label your containers with the date seeds were stored and when you’ve done germination tests. 
  • Especially when storing grain seed, if you see signs of pest activity such as moths or weevils, place it in an airtight container in the freezer for two days to kill them.
  • Organize your seeds and make a list of what you have to avoid over-ordering this winter.

Properly storing your seeds can save you time and frustration. Follow these tips to ensure your seeds stay viable for as long as possible. Check out a few more of our seed-related posts below:

10 Tips for Growing Great Brassicas

Many of the first crops we start indoors are brassicas. We’ll begin by tucking cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower seeds into trays at the end of January. We start sowing kale, mustards, kohlrabi, and collards outdoors in March, followed by more indoor sowing of Brussels sprouts in April. These humble vegetables make up a considerable portion of the garden. They’re generally easy to grow, but a few simple tips can help ensure you have success.

1. Begin improving the soil this fall.

While they’re generally easy to grow, you’ll have more productive brassicas in good, healthy soil. Begin with a soil test. Brassicas don’t do well in acidic soil; you want the pH level to be between 6.5 and 7.5. Amend your soil with lime if needed.

You can also fork your soil this fall and begin working in aged manure or compost. Brassicas thrive in well-drained soil, so forking and adding plenty of organic matter makes a big difference. Planting a fall cover crop is also ideal, or you can cover the bed with mulch. 

2. Avoid common seed starting mistakes.

If you’re new to starting seeds indoors, a few mistakes are easy to make. When sowing brassicas, it’s important to provide supplemental light, so they don’t become leggy. You also want to get them planted out on time so that they don’t grow too large for their containers, and you take advantage of the cool spring weather. You should also remember to harden off your seedlings.

When you’re direct sowing brassicas, be sure to keep the soil moist. If you’re sowing seeds in hot summer weather, you can lay a board or cardboard over the row until they germinate. Be sure to check them often and remove the board as soon as they begin to come up!

3. Rotate your brassicas.

Like other crops, brassicas are susceptible to a range of pests and diseases. A fungal disease called clubroot can be especially troubling and can remain in the soil through the winter. Plant brassicas on a three-year rotation to avoid pest and disease issues. 

4. Remove and destroy any pest-infested or diseased plant material.

If you have pest or disease issues, it’s a good idea to clean up the garden bed after your crop is finished. Remove and destroy this material by burning it or burying it away from the garden. Fungal diseases can be killed in a compost pile that reaches 140°F.

5. Use row cover.

Cabbage worms can quickly ruin an entire crop. If you struggle with them year after year, it may be good to try growing your brassicas under row cover. We’ve found that cheap tulle fabric works well for this. It lets in light and airflow but keeps cabbage moths out. 

Alternatively, you can kill cabbage worms with Bacillus thuringiensis or Bt. It’s a naturally occurring bacteria that kills the larvae of moths and butterflies. You can find OMRI (Organic Material Review Institute) certified sprays. Be careful only to spray your brassicas, though, as it can kill other species on other plants. 

6. Use proper spacing.

Especially when dealing with a small garden, it can be tempting to squeeze in as much as possible. Please don’t do it! Brassicas do much better when given proper space. Thin seedlings of direct-sown crops like collards and kale and read spacing requirements for broccoli, cabbages, and cauliflower.

7. Mulch around your brassicas.

Your brassicas will perform better if the area around them is kept weed-free. Unfortunately, brassicas tend to have very shallow roots, which can make hoeing near them challenging. Mulching around them is an excellent way to suppress weeds and helps keep the soil moist. However, mulch can provide a hiding place for slugs. 

8. Watch for slugs.

Slugs are another pest that can do a number on your brassicas harvest. They’re nocturnal, so you may only see the damage they cause or the trails they leave during the day. At night you can go out and handpick them from your plants.

There are also a variety of home remedies for dealing with slugs organically, and you may already have a preferred method. You can also find an OMRI (Organic Material Review Institute) certified product like Sluggo to help you deal with them.

9. Read about different varieties.

There are so many different varieties of brassicas, and they all excel in different situations. Be sure to read about varieties you like carefully before selecting one. For instance, Early Flat Dutch Cabbage has excellent heat resistance making it great for southern gardeners and spring plantings. January King Cabbage has excellent cold tolerance and is slow-growing, making it ideal for fall plantings. 

10. Harvest brassicas when they’re ready.

Don’t wait too long to harvest crops like broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbages. If left in the garden too long, they may flower. These crops can be frozen or fermented for storage. Cabbages also keep well in root cellars. 

Having success with a selection of brassicas can provide you with fresh produce all year long. Follow these tips for a bountiful harvest. Happy growing!

Saving the Past for the Future