Tomatoes are a great place to start when it comes to planning your garden. Since there are so many great varieties of tomatoes it can be hard to figure out where to start. You might be tempted to plant tomato seeds for each of them! But, if you are limited by garden space, time, and tummies for them all to go, then it is probably a good idea to think about what you want to use them for and which flavors suit you best.
Heirloom tomatoes have gained some popularity in the past few years. It seems like: once you go heirloom you never go back. For the most part this is true – most varieties developed before 1940 were bred for great flavor. Some heirloom tomatoes were also developed for growing conditions – such as short summers or resistance to plant diseases like the dreaded late blight. So, it is important to note, that just because a tomato variety is an heirloom doesn’t guarantee that it will be delicious (although it’s a good indication).
Cherokee Purple is a beefsteak, heirloom tomato variety. These tomatoes hold a rare distinction of actually having a purple color. Most ‘purple’ tomatoes are more pink than purple. The Cherokee Purple tomato also has a distinctive interior. The flesh has a rich dark color while the locule (the cavity where the tomatoes’ seeds are contained) filling has a deep green color. The tomato’s flavor is rich and juicy.
The Yellow Brandywine tomato has all the delicious flavor of a traditional Red Brandywine tomato. The fruits are a rich yellow orange color,and have a smooth texture. Yellow Brandywine fruits often have some ribbing and generally weigh 1-2lbs, definitely a beefsteak tomato. If the tomato plants experiences drastic shifts in temperature fruit shapes can become irregular.
The Eva Purple Ball heirloom tomato plants take about 78 days before harvest. Fruits are great all around tomatoes they can be sliced and for sandwiches, cooked down into tomato sauce, and even dehydrated. Eva Purple Balls produce uniform sized fruits that are resistant to cracking and rarely have blemishes.
The Green Zebra tomato retains its green color after it ripens. It has a good earthy flavor and is popular with tomato aficionados. Although this tomato was developed in 1985, it can certainly hold its own in a garden with heirloom tomatoes.
This cherry tomato wins taste test after taste test with its sweet flavor. The tomato plants produce high yields of tiny currant sized fruits. If you are going to plant this tomato in your garden you will certainly need to either place a cage around it or steak it. Matt’s Wild Cherry tomato plant tends to sprawl.
The Roma VFN tomato is a great example of a tomato that has not only been selected for flavor but for disease resistance as well. While no plant can ever be 100% safe in the garden the growing tomatoes should not suffer from Veritcillium Wilt, Alternaria stem cranker, or Fusarium wilt- race 1. This open pollinated tomato variety is widely adapted to grow in a wide range of climates and growing conditions.
Peanuts are a great addition to a home garden since they require minimal care and provide bountiful yields. If you’re looking to try something new in your garden this year, maybe it’s time to take a closer look at the potential of peanuts.
Home-grown peanuts offer lots of possibilities in the kitchen. Talk about peanut gallery! They can be roasted in their shells, ground into peanut butter or boiled for a traditional down-home Southern snack.
When you are selecting peanut seeds for planting, it’s helpful to keep in mind that there are four main types of peanuts. Virginia peanuts have the largest seeds, and are usually roasted in the shell and have a more gourmet quality. Runner peanuts typically have a uniform size and are the preferred choice for grinding into peanut butter. Spanish peanuts have the smallest seeds, and are used for mixed nut snacks. They also have the highest oil content. Valencia peanuts are known for being the sweetest and for having attractive, bright red skin.
If you purchase a peanut seed package from us, you’ll notice that we ship peanuts still in their shells to ensure seed protection and preservation. Before you plant your peanuts, they will need to be shelled. Be careful not to damage the seeds while cracking them open.
In the garden…
Peanuts generally need a long growing season and relatively sandy soil, although Tennessee Red Valencia peanut can grow in clay soil. However, if you add enough organic matter by hilling or planting in raised beds, most peanut plants will be able to grow in clay soil.
Selecting peanut seeds for planting is easy once you figure out what works best with your garden conditions. Growing peanuts requires 130-140 frost-free days from the time they are sown until harvest time. If your growing season falls just short of this time window, it’s possible to start growing your peanuts indoors or in a greenhouse until the danger of frost passes and then transplant them outside.
Plant peanuts one to two inches deep and about six inches apart. Next, add a thick layer of compost and a layer of mulch.
Be aware–peanuts need shallow weeding. You could damage them by digging too deeply into the ground where they are are developing. When the plant begins to flower, pegs will drop into the ground under the flower and produce peanuts. Hand-weeding is the only option after the peanut pegs.
Also, after your plants start flowering, it’s important not to let them dry out or they won’t produce as many of the mouth-watering legumes you’ve been waiting for.
Once frost is in the forecast or the plant stems begin to turn yellow, it’s time to harvest. Try not to harvest while the soil is wet, and don’t wait too long to harvest your peanuts–they’ll start sprouting in the ground if left unattended! Dig around the perimeter of where the plant’s leaves have sprawled. Lift the plant out of the ground and flip it, so that the leaves are on the ground. If rain is in the forecast, bring your plants into a shed or garage.
A couple days later, it will be time to pull the peanuts off the plant. Most of them will be in a clump at the center of the roots, but some will also be attached to the lower branches. A well-grown peanut plant can yield 50 -100 peanuts–more than enough for your next ball game outing! Spread the peanuts out to dry for a month where critters won’t be able to get to them, then store them in a closed container. Peanuts left in their shells can stay fresh for years.
In the kitchen…
Home-grown peanuts are fun and simple to use in your kitchen and offer some great snack options. You can roast them, grind them into a fresh peanut butter or boil the raw, green peanuts.
Roasting peanuts is easy as pie…or, shall I say, peanut brittle! Simply spreading your peanuts on a cookie sheet and bake them at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure they roast evenly. You can add a sprinkle of salt over them if you wish. Yum!
To make peanut butter, mix two cups of roasted peanuts with two teaspoons of vegetable or peanut oil. “Chop” this mixture in your food processor for three or four minutes.
Feel free to add honey to taste, or toss in some of lightly chopped peanuts for a chunky texture.
To make boiled peanuts the good ole Southern way, you’ll need one pound of freshly-dug (green) peanuts still in their shell, four cups of water, and one quarter cup of salt.
Combine the salt, water, and peanuts in a thick-bottomed pot. Bring to a boil and cover. Simmer the peanuts and saltwater for at least three hours. For added flavor, you could throw in a dash of paprika or your favorite spice blend.
The longer the peanuts boil, the tastier they will be. Be sure to eat your boiled peanuts within a few days–they don’t last as long as roasted or raw peanuts. But you probably won’t need me to remind you to eat up. Your taste buds should do the job just fine!
Growing garlic is a great way to spice up your garden. And your kitchen!
If you’re a garlic lover, having your own garden is an absolute must. There are tons of garlic flavors that you just can’t find at a supermarket. From kid-friendly, mild-flavored Elephant Garlic to intense, fiery-hot Red Toch Garlic (go ahead and try it…I dare you!), there’s a different flavor for every taste.
Selecting Seed and Getting Started
A Note on Garlic Seed
It is best to purchase garlic seed from a source that you trust. Using cloves that you buy in the supermarket CAN work, but you run the risk of introducing diseases into your garden. You also run the risk of buying a bulb of garlic that has been chemically treated to never sprout. Is planting supermarket garlic really worth the risk?
A Note on Garlic Types
You have three main options when selecting a garlic variety: Softneck, Hardneck, and Asiatic.
Softnecks include silverskin and artichoke types of garlic. These varieties are the most domesticated. They are among the easiest to grow, and are among the highest yielding. But be aware: Softnecks don’t do too well in extremely cold climates.
Inchelium Red, Italian Softneck, Loiacono, Red Toch, Silver Rose, and Silverwhite Silverskin are a few varieties of Softneck garlic.
Hardnecks include Rocambole and Topsetting types. These varieties are enjoying a gourmet renaissance. The cloves are large and easy to peel. Hardnecks grow better in colder climates than warmer ones. For these garlic varieties, it is best to plant large cloves.
Appalachain Red, Music, Persian Star, Chesnok Red, and German Extra Hardy are varieties of Hardneck garlic.
Asiatic or Turban types of garlic are considered a subset of Softnecks. These are the first to mature in the garden. In warm climates they act like Softnecks, whereas in cold climates they act more like Hardnecks. Varieties include; Xian, Asian Tempest and Blossom.
When to plant garlic:
You’ll be planting garlic in the fall. Southern Exposure caters to Mid-Atlantic gardeners. So, we recommend that most of you plant in late autumn, usually this means planting garlic between Columbus Day and Halloween. However, if you’re a little farther north, your garlic cloves are better planted earlier in the season.
Preparing Garlic for Planting
The first thing you’ll need to do is separate the individual cloves from the bulb. This only takes about a minute or so. Be sure to leave the paper (the thin, papery skin) on the individual cloves!
Preparing the Bed
Garden bed prep is going to take somewhat longer. Garlic really benefits from compost early in its development, so you’ll want to be sure your garlic beds have a good, thick layer of compost when you first plant. Adding nutrients later would not be as helpful.
If you have a rototiller, toss some compost on there and go for it! If not, you can aerate and mix the nutrient-rich compost into your soil with a broadfork.
Next, dig your furrows with a warren hoe.
Mark the line you’ll be planting along by dragging the tip of the hoe down the length of the bed. Then, using more pressure, dig your trenches. A couple of inches deep will do. Place the garlic cloves upright (with the paper still on) into the deepest part of the trench. The bottom of the clove will put down the roots, and the pointy top will sprout the leaves.
Plant the cloves about six inches apart. If your beds are three feet wide, you can usually fit four rows.
After the garlic is in the ground, use a paddle hoe to cover the garlic and level the trenches. The next crucial step is to LABEL your newly-planted garlic, as it will be some time before harvest.
Now, mulch away! Don’t be shy–cover the garlic beds with about six inches of hay or straw mulch. This way, you will get far fewer weeds. (You’ll still get weeds… but at least not nearly as many!)
After about a month, it’s time to join the garlic liberation front. Your garlic should be starting to sprout, so help the new leaves find light by making a hole in the mulch for them.
The Waiting Game
What’s next? Learn a foreign language, rebuild a hot rod, or clean out the attic…you’ll have months before your garlic needs attention again.
Scapes and Weeding
In late spring, it’s time to weed. If you mulched like a champion, this shouldn’t take too long.
Now, depending on the type of garlic that you are growing, harvest the garlic scapes. These are the long shoots growing up from the middle of the leaves. The leaves are going to look like giant blades of grass, while the scapes will be round. You’ll know it’s time to harvest the scapes when they curl over. To harvest, pull the scape upwards slowly but firmly. You’ll want to pull the scape completely free without pulling the garlic out of the ground. (That comes later!)
When early summer arrives, but later than the Fourth of July -for the Mid-Atlantic it will be time to harvest your garlic. When garlic is ready, there will typically be only six leaves left on the plant. Get your pitchfork and dig about three inches in front of the stem. You’ll want to give your garlic a nice, wide berth. After all this work, it would be a shame to impale your plants!
Loosen the soil around the garlic and pull it carefully out of the ground. If you want to make sure that the garlic is ready to be harvested, cut the bulb down the center to see if the cloves are fully formed. If so, continue digging. If not, try again in about a week.
At this stage, garlic looks like it’s ready to try out for the Steelers. The bulb will be big, burly, and tough-looking. But it’s not actually that tough! The bulb is easily bruised and damaged, so handle gently. And no tossing!
Place each dug-up plant–with the roots and leaves still attached to the garlic bulb–in a pyramid formation. (Instead of going out for football, they should really consider cheerleading.) There should be space between the bulbs on each row. Now, tie up your garlic and hang it out to dry.
Reap What You Sow!
By mid-summer, your garlic should be cured. Cut off the roots and stem, and store your garlic in a cool, dry and dark place. Finally, it’s ready for consumption!
If your garlic grows well and you get a bountiful harvest, save some of the cured bulbs to plant the next year. Replanting garlic that has grown well in your garden will only make it even better next year. In time, selectively saving your own garlic seed will produce garlic that is custom-designed to grow fabulously in your garden, year after year!