Category Archives: Garden Advice

6 Ways to Share Seed

There are so many good reasons to save seed. Earlier this year, we published a blog post of 22 reasons to save seed in 2022. It helps preserve genetic diversity, saves you money, increases your self-sufficiency, and much more. It’s also essential to share seed. This further contributes to maintaining your favorite varieties and can help promote food sovereignty in your community. Here are some ideas to share seed.

Give Seeds for Holidays, Birthdays, and Other Occasions

Seeds make great gifts if you know other gardeners or maybe folks interested in getting started! The holiday season is almost upon us, but birthdays and other special occasions are great options too. 

You can package seeds in 1/4 or 1/2 pint jelly jars with a bit of fabric over the lid for a special touch. Alternatively, many printable DIY seed packets are available online, or there are ready-to-go packs in the SESE shop.

Join Seed Savers Exchange

Seed Savers Exchange has hosted a seed exchange since 1975! Using this virtual exchange, you can list fruit, vegetable, grain, flower, and herb seeds that you harvested and would like to share with others. You can also request seeds.

Donate to Seed Libraries

Like the little free libraries with books, seed libraries allow community members to seeds for free or sometimes for a nominal fee. They’re often located at libraries, community centers, or other public organizations. Currently, there’s a network of about 200 seed libraries registered across the U.S. You can find one near you to donate to or start your own. Check out the Seed Library website or view this seed library map.

Willow Leaf Colored Lima Beans (share seed)Connect with Your Local Master Gardener’s Program

Many areas, both urban and rural, have master gardener programs. Master Gardener programs train volunteers to be community leaders working on environmental and horticultural projects. Your local master gardener group may know of local initiatives to share seed or be interested in helping to organize something.

Start Your a Seed Swap 

If you don’t have any seed-sharing initiatives in your area, this is a great day to start one! Many community organizations may be willing to loan out a space for you to host a seed swap, or you can set up something virtual, like on Facebook. 

Check Out The Community Seed Resource Program

The Community Seed Resource Program “wholeheartedly believe[s] that the non-commercial saving and sharing of open-pollinated seed makes the world a better place for everyone.” Their website is excellent for networking and finding resources for seed saving and setting up seed exchanges, seed libraries, and other seed-focused events.

Seed is better when it’s shared. Use these ideas to get started sharing seed in your community, whether it’s through a seed swap, an initiative to help low-income gardeners, or just with family, friends, and neighbors!

Fall Tasks: Mitigate Plant Diseases

Just like humans, plants are susceptible to a number of diseases. It’s an unfortunate part of gardening. Your cucumbers may suffer from Downey mildew, your tomatoes may get verticillium wilt, your potatoes may suffer from late blight, or your corn may get leaf rust. Thankfully, there are ways to strive for healthier plants. Here are some steps you can take this fall to help mitigate plant diseases. 

Study Plant Diseases

Try to identify the specific plant disease infecting your plants. Once you’ve identified a particular disease, you can find information about the transmission (how it infects your plants), different host plants, and what type of environment it requires to thrive. This information will help you control it. 

For example, you may have had a few tomatoes infected with Fusarium Wilt this year. Fusarium Wilt typically enters the plant through the roots, often in areas damaged by nematodes. Unlike many fungal diseases, it doesn’t spread by the wind. It’s typically brought in on infected soil or equipment. It thrives in acidic soil and will infect tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, pigweed, mallow, and crabgrass. Knowing this, you can take steps to mitigate the issue. Keep that bed free of these plants for a couple of years, amend your soil with lime, and sanitize all equipment. 

Clear Away Diseased Plant Material

Many of us strive to have natural systems in our gardens, and what seems more natural than just letting plant material decompose right in the bed? While this is sometimes fine, if the material is diseased or your garden is prone to diseases of that crop, you should remove the plants. 

Diseased plant material can be burned, buried away from the garden, or composted in a well-managed compost pile. Compost piles must reach a temperature of at least 140 degrees F to kill fungal diseases!

Sow Cover Crops

Tillage radishes are an excellent choice for fall and winter kill in areas where temperatures reach below 20°F. They also have biofumigant properties, ideal for suppressing diseases and pests. They also improve soil structure, creating spaces that allow air and water to enter and a great for breaking up hard pans.  

Other fall cover crops like Austrian winter peas and winter rye are also great for building healthy soil by adding nitrogen, nutrients, and organic matter. 

Write Down Where You Planted Crops

Fall tomatoes (mitigate plant diseases)Crop rotation is key to disease prevention in every garden. No matter what size your garden is, come next spring, it can be tough to remember exactly where you planted what the previous season. While many don’t have the time or desire to create a comprehensive garden journal, you should at least sketch out your 2022 crop layout before you forget it this fall. That way, there’ll be no doubt in your mind next spring that you’re planting your tomatoes in a bed that didn’t previously have nightshades. 

Alternatively, there are many gardening planners and apps available. Check out the Southern Exposure Garden Planner to quickly create layouts for your records and plan for next season. 

Start Building Healthy Soil

It’s a good idea to have your soil tested in the fall and work to improve it over the fall and winter. Begin a compost pile and add compost to your garden. Compost adds nutrients and helps improve the soil structure leading to healthy root systems. Plants are far less susceptible to disease when grown in healthy, well-balanced soil. 

Research Disease Resistant Varieties

Even among open-pollinated varieties, there are many disease-resistant cultivars available. They’re worth looking into if you struggle with a specific disease each year. 

On the Southern Exposure website and catalogs, you’ll find some crops like tomatoes and cucumbers are marked with acronyms in brackets after their name. These acronyms stand for known disease or pest tolerance and are listed in our keys to disease and pest tolerance. For example, a variety marked with “an” has resistance to Anthracnose.  

Many other seed companies use the same system, though the acronyms may vary slightly. You can also find lists of disease-resistant varieties through your local extension agency or a quick internet search.

Sanitize Your Equipment

Especially when dealing with a highly infectious disease or pruning and handling diseased plants, be sure to sanitize equipment. Sanitize small tools like pruning shears, garden knives, and trowels with alcohol. You can also use a bleach solution to wash larger tools and work surfaces. 

While having a perfect garden is impossible, we can strive to minimize and even mitigate plant diseases. Taking these steps this fall will help you create a healthy garden and have a more productive 2023!

10 Ways to Start Organic Gardening Now

We’ve had so many people joining the ranks of organic gardeners in the past couple of years. Folks are becoming interested in where their food comes from, stretching their budgets, becoming concerned for the environment, or just trying to make the tastiest meals. Unfortunately, not everyone concludes that they’d like to start a garden during the spring. When I first read about organic gardening and local food, it was fall, and it was tough to feel like I had to wait all winter to start on this new venture. Thankfully, if you’ve just decided to start organic gardening, you don’t have to wait. Here are 10 ways you can start an organic gardening right now.

Start a Compost Pile

Compost is one of the best ways to build healthy soil, and you can start a compost pile any time of year. Add fall leaves, kitchen scraps, grass clippings, egg shells, and more to your pile. Check out our post, Black Gold, for complete instructions.

Plant Cover Crops

Cover crops are another great way to build up your soil in preparation for a new garden. While it’s too late to plant most vegetable crops, you can still sow a few fall cover crops. Learn more about how and what to grow with our post, Cover Crops for Beginners.

Build a Raised Bed

Raised beds can be easier to manage for new gardeners and allow you to grow food in areas with poor or even no soil. Getting one set up this fall will save you stress in the spring!

Start a Lasagna Garden or Hugelkultur Mound

Another type of garden you can start is a lasagna garden or hugelkultur mound. Both methods allow you to build up your soil and create beds without tilling. Lasagna gardens are made of just a couple of layers. First, you lay down cardboard to kill the grass, followed by a layer of organic material, usually hay, but leaves, grass clippings, and straw can also be incorporated. Then you cover this with several inches of finished compost or manure. The manure will need to break down longer before you can plant.

Hugelkultur mounds are similar but have an additional layer. You begin by laying down woody material such as sticks, branches, or even logs. The larger and fresher the material, the longer it will take to break down. Then you add a layer of nitrogen-rich material like grass clippings or manure to help encourage the woody material to decay. Follow this with a layer of soil and a layer of mulch. Check out our post, How to Build a Hugelkultur Garden Bed, for more information.

Organic Garden (start organic gardening)Get a Soil Test

A soil test is a great place to start for any new gardener and will help you avoid many issues. Healthy plants start with healthy soil, and a test will tell you critical information, like if your soil is too acidic or missing vital nutrients like phosphorus. 

Do Your Research

There’s a lot of information about organic gardening, and while you’ll still make some mistakes, it can be beneficial to learn as much as possible before starting a garden. Some of our favorite resources include:

Plant Garlic & Onions

I said there weren’t many vegetable crops to plant his time of year, but there are a couple! Fall is when we plant our garlic and onions. You can start garlic, multiplier onions, and shallots from sets. Start bulb onions from seed in a cold frame or hoop house to ensure they get plenty of time to bulb up before next summer gets too hot.

Plant Fall Flowers

You can also plant many flowers during the fall. Fall bulbs like tulips, daffodils, crocuses, and oriental lilies are popular choices. You can also sow cold hardy seeds like coneflowers, sweet peas, violas, and Larkspur. Our post, Spring Flowers: Fall Sowing, discusses overwintering flowers.

Begin Collecting Supplies

While you can start an organic garden with almost nothing, a few tools make it much more manageable. Watch yard sales or thrift shops for basic tools like a shovel, watering can, garden fork, and trowel. You can also watch fall sales on hoses and irrigation supplies.

You can also try to score free organic matter for your garden and compost pile. Ask friends and neighbors to save grass clippings or leaves for you. Be sure that these aren’t from lawns sprayed with herbicides!

Plan your seed list early and order early to ensure you get the varieties you want. Thankfully there are many great small seed companies you can support; we have a few of our favorites listed on the website if you are looking for something we don’t carry. 

Check Your Hardiness Zone

Especially if you plan to add perennials to your garden, you’ll want to check on your hardiness zone. You can use this information to purchase perennials like fruit trees that will thrive in your area. 

Don’t wait until spring to start organic gardening. There are many ways to get started this fall that will help you have a productive summer!