Let’s Talk Tomatoes!

Choosing tomatoes to plant in your garden can be a bit tricky if you don’t know a few key terms.  Since there are so many different tomato varieties out there, it can be hard to figure out which one is right for your garden.  Some varieties are perfect for making sauce, while others are great for tossing into salads all summer long.

Certified organic tomatoes grown at Southern Exposure

All of the tomato seeds Southern Exposure offers are non-GMO and non-hybrid.  Most varieties are heirloom tomato seeds.  People often debate about what “heirloom” means, but to us, an heirloom variety is generally one that was introduced before the widespread use of hybrid varieties in industrial agriculture. This began around 1940. The integrity of our heirloom tomato seeds has been preserved thanks to open pollination. Most of our tomato seeds are also certified organic, which means the seed was collected from plants grown without exposure to petrol chemicals.

Determinate vs. Indeterminate Tomatoes

The distinction between determinate and indeterminate tomatoes sometimes leaves people baffled, so here’s a little tutorial.

Determinate tomatoes will stop growing at a certain point, and generally they are shorter in height than indeterminate varieties. Here in Virginia, if a determinate tomato plant grows to be five feet tall, the same plant could be three feet tall in a colder climate. Either way, there is a limit to how tall a determinate tomato plant will get.

Determinate tomatoes include: Glacier, Roma VF Virginia Select, Marglobe VF, Neptune

Glacier Tomatoes are one of the first to ripen

Indeterminate tomatoes, on the other hand, will just keep growing and growing! Factors that affect height are climate/length of season, trellis size, and plant health. In tropical areas, indeterminate varieties can be like perennials and grow for a few years. Most tomato varieties, especially cherries, are indeterminate. One of our customers who planted our Matt’s Wild Cherry seeds in her greenhouse told us that the vine grew to be 17 feet long! (Please keep in mind that this is very unusual.)

Indeterminate tomatoes include: Yellow Brandywine, Georgia Streak, Abraham Lincoln

Georgia Streak- heirloom tomato introduced by Southern Exposure

An advantage of growing determinate tomatoes is that there is less trellising work involved. Also, if you are going to be canning fresh tomatoes, you will probably want to go with a determinate variety as most of the fruit will need to be harvested over a short period of time. The disadvantage of determinate tomatoes is that they have fewer leaves than indeterminate varieties, meaning that the plant is less likely to receive nutrients. More leaves = more nutrients = tastier fruit. So, if you are hoping for a tomato plant that will consistently bear smaller amounts of tomatoes for snacking, sandwiches and salads, you’ll want to go with an indeterminate variety.

Cage-free Tomatoes?

We’ve been asked if it’s absolutely necessary to trellis tomatoes. In other words, is it OK to let them sprawl on the ground? The short answer is yes. But it’s not the greatest idea! Cage-less tomatoes will bear less fruit than trellised tomatoes, and the fruit you will get

Newly caged tomato plants

could be more vulnerable to rot and critters. If you really don’t have the funds for trellising materials, make sure to mulch the ground heavily to protect the tomatoes. If the mulch

gets wet, however, the ripe tomatoes sitting on the ground will certainly rot, so I’d recommend only trying cage-free tomatoes in hot, dry weather.

Although tomato trellising requires both time and money, it’s a worthy investment! You can reuse your tomato cages year after year. At Southern

Exposure, we use five-foot-tall cages made with concrete-reinforced wire cut into pieces that measure two to three feet in diameter. Also, we make sure to secure our cages with sturdy posts so that they don’t fall over.

Husk Tomatoes

Thanks to some of our seed growers just up the road, we now carry fives types of tomatillos! Our most recent addition is called Purple Tomatillo. In honor of this, I’d like to briefly explore the world of husk tomatoes with you.

Purple Tomatillo - ripening

Husk tomatoes, as our catalog describes, “are distinguished from tomatoes by the light-brown, papery husk which enlarges and covers the maturing berries.” Picture Chinese lanterns with goodies inside of them, and you’ve got husk tomatoes!

Cossack Pineapple - ground cherry

Ground cherries and tomatillos are the two most commonly cultivated species of husk tomatoes.  Tomatillos are commonly used for salsa and other Mexican foods, and they are often cooked to bring out their full flavor. Ground cherries, on the other hand, can be eaten raw. They are deliciously sweet, so you could also try them in sauces, preserves, pies and other desserts!

Lastly, Some All-Time Favorites!

Garden Peach- bears fruit until frost

For storage –  Garden Peach*

For sauce – Hungarian Italian Paste

Cherry tomatoes – Matt’s Wild Cherry

All-around good – Eva Purple Ball

*Personally, I’d say that Garden Peach is the most scrumptious tomato I’ve ever tasted. These little pinkish-yellow bulbs make the perfect snack, and if you pick them when light green, they’ll store well without splitting.

Matt's Wild Cherry Tomatoes were a favorite at Mother Earth News Fair and the Heritage Harvest Festival!

Welcome Home

Time is a funny thing. We can make time; we keep time; once in a while (if we’re lucky) we can even find time- yet there never seems to be enough time. In times like these, we look to our community for support- our friends, our families, our loved ones. Meanwhile, big business is getting bigger and small businesses are getting smaller. We pray for abundance and hope for sustenance. And while personally, my little farmhouse is two seasons late for spring cleaning and there are always more bills to pay, I’m always grateful for my involvement with Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.

Ashley and Arlo

As one of the newest members of our co-operational family here, I am constantly reminded that we are the exception to these rules. In a shrinking economy, Southern Exposure grew (and continues to grow). We make money by selling seeds, yet exist to share the skills of saving seed. Big business seed companies might try to fool themselves into modifying their seed. They might only produce one crop. They may sell the same seed variety to the same gardeners, season after season. At Southern Exposure, we realize by empowering our community of growers- we might sell a seed variety only once to each gardener- but that’s OK. We’re constantly adding different seed varieties to our catalog and our scope of growers is constantly widening.
You see, we are all community; and we always have time for you. Your success is our success, and ours is yours. Together we can overcome any drought, and at the end of the season we will share a fruitful harvest.

Introducing…the SESE blog!

Hi! Welcome to the brand new Southern Exposure blog.

It’s an exciting time here at Southern Exposure.  You may already know we’ve been involved in all aspects of the heirloom seed and organic seed movements for years.  (If you didn’t, there will be more on that later.)  But lately, we’ve made the decision that we want to start getting others involved, too.  What better way could there possibly be to preserve our rich and diverse agricultural heritage?  And what better way to do THAT than to communicate it with you here, in a free and open spirit of exchange!

We’ve decided to start this blog so we can share everything we know about seed saving, heirloom and organic seeds, organic gardening, home gardening, and a host of other subjects with those of you out there who – like us – are interested in a sane and sustainable future.

We’ll be posting information about big, upcoming events Southern Exposure is taking part in…”How-to” articles from professional gardeners and dedicated seed saving activists…Information about how you can get involved, no matter where you are…And of course, lots and lots of pictures.

So please, bookmark us and check in frequently.

P.S.  We’d love to hear your feedback!  So always feel free to leave comments.  And if you have any questions, you can always write us at gardens@southernexposure.com.

Happy gardening!

A Little Bit about Southern Exposure

Since we’re just getting the blog started, I thought this would be a good time to tell you a little bit about us and what we’re up to here at Southern Exposure.

So, what are we up to?  We are, as we like to say, “Southern Exposure Seed Exchange: Saving the Past for the Future.” What does that mean? It’s a catchy way of saying that we’re a small company with what we feel is a pretty big mission: to save the world’s seeds from the numerous perils that threaten to wipe out agricultural diversity permanently. (By the way, it’s entirely possible we’ll be writing more about those perils in the future, so stay tuned if you’re interested.)

Why do we care about the world’s agricultural diversity?  Well, there are plenty of good reasons.  But first and foremost, because we’re gardeners, too.

Southern Exposure is a worker owned and managed cooperative company. Each of us here is doing his or her part to fight against threats to our natural, biologically diverse food crops. Each of us stands up for the right to save seed, and for your right to do so, too.

We are very active within the heirloom seed saving movement.  This includes a dedication to outreach programs, like our annual co-hosting of the Heritage Harvest Festival (pics from this year’s HHF coming soon!), our seed donation program, and our many educational talks and workshops.

Plus, we’re dedicated to empowering gardeners in more immediate ways – like by providing access to high-quality seeds you can save yourself.  It doesn’t matter if you’re a small family farm growing for market, or a backyard gardening enthusiast.  Either way, we’re interested in helping you find the right seeds for your garden.

But we’re about more than just activism.  We simply love to garden.  And we love to push boundaries to discover just what works best (and what doesn’t) in our own organic gardens.

Gardening is an art, and trying new things just comes with the territory.  Hang around here, and it seems like there’s always a discussion about what we can try next.  Which tomato seeds are better for early planting…which heirloom flowers attract the most butterflies…and of course, which varieties of all the wonderful things we plant taste the best.

What else?  We’re…
…conducting trials on all our seed varieties to make sure they grow reliably.
…making sure to preserve varieties that have been developed naturally and have demonstrated favorable qualities for both growing condition and flavor here in the Mid-Atlantic region.
…looking out for varieties that grow well with as little impact to the environment as possible.
…doing all of our own germination tests to ensure that our seeds meet our high standards necessary for a bountiful garden.

We figured you’d like to know about all that, too.  So, this is where we’re going to give it to you.  Day by day, week by week.  We look forward to sharing what we know, and hearing what you think.

P.S.  Since our farm is certified organic, we can assure gardeners like you that our seeds absolutely do NOT need petrol chemicals in order to thrive.  It makes a difference to us, and we hope it does to you, too.

Saving the Past for the Future