Tag Archives: garden planning

Starting a Vegetable Garden in February

“Anyone who thinks that gardening begins in the spring and ends in the fall is missing the best part of the whole year. For gardening begins in January, begins with the dream.” 

~Josephine Nuese

If you’ve spent this month dreaming of a garden, now is a great time to put some action behind those dreams! February is the perfect month to start a vegetable garden. Here are a few simple steps you can take to get started today. 

Plan Your Layout

Planning your garden’s layout can help you maximize your space. You’ll need to decide on details like what types of beds you want to create, where your pathways will be, and where you’ll plant any perennials on your list. It’s essential to get a good feel for your layout. You want to ensure you can reach across beds and have plenty of room to maneuver a wheelbarrow.

Once you have the structure laid out, you can design your plantings. Remember that you’ll want to rotate your crop families each year. For example, nightshades like tomatoes, peppers, and potatoes shouldn’t be planted in the same bed for a couple of years. You may also consider companion plantings. A mix of chives, tomatoes, cabbages, and marigolds rather than monoculture blocks helps deter pests.Hand holding freshly dug carrots

Prepare or Build Your Beds

Depending on what type of beds you’re creating, you’ll need to take different steps to get started. You can use no-till methods like hugelkultur or lasagna beds, though these will generally take longer to be ready for planting. You can also try a traditional garden, double digging, or raised beds. 

If you’re opting for the raised bed route, starting them now is a good idea. You’ll want to choose a solid material, but avoid pressure-treated or other chemical-treated lumber that could leach into the soil. Fill your beds with good-quality soil and finished compost if you want to be able to plant in them this spring. 

Install Fencing

Open gardens may be the beautiful idea you have in mind, but odds are you’ll need to install some fencing to keep the critters out. On the East Coast, gardeners contend with cottontails, groundhogs, raccoons, and tons of white-tailed deer, among other creatures. A good, tall, sturdy fence is a significant investment but will save you a lot of heartache and trouble in the long run.

Order Seeds

If you haven’t already ordered seeds, it’s time to get a move on! Planting time for some crops is already here and is drawing closer for others. It’s time to finalize your seed list and send it in.

We also have a list of other small seed companies that share our values and could use your support if you don’t find what you’re looking for on our website.

Start Seeds

To new gardeners, February may seem an odd time to be planting, but it is the perfect time for many of our cold hardy spring crops. This month, you can start broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, onions, and other greens indoors. 

It may be a little cold and dreary, but don’t let that deter you. Spring is just around the corner, and February is a great month to start a vegetable garden.

New Varieties for 2024!

New year, new seeds! We’re heading into 2024 by offering a few new varieties on our catalog and website. Some of these are heirlooms that have been shared with us, like the Turkish Cekirdegi Oyali Watermelon. Others are new varieties like Xiye Butternut Squash that have recently been bred for features like disease resistance, climate adaptability, and flavor. Not all of our new varieties are available on the website yet, but these fourteen are, so be sure to grab them while our seed supplies last!

Adirondack Blue Seed Potato

This new variety from Cornell University will quickly become one of your garden staples. Adirondack Blue produces moist, stunning, blue-skinned, and blue-fleshed potatoes. The vigorous plants support good yields.

Ashwagandha PlantAshwagandha (Withania somnifera) 

Ashwagandha is an important herb in Indian traditional medicine. Herbalists use the roots to strengthen the immune system, increase resiliency to stress, and relieve insomnia. You can also use the berries as vegetable rennet. 

Ashwagandha is native to the dry regions of India, the Middle East, and North Africa, where it grows to be a small shrub. It’s in the solanacea or nightshade family, like tomatoes and peppers. In the U.S., it’s only perennial to USDA zone 10 but can be grown as an annual in temperate regions. 

Appalachian White Wheat

Homescale grain production is easier than you think, especially with this excellent variety from North Carolina State University. Appalachian White Wheat has high protein (14%) and mild flavor.

It’s a semidwarf variety with good disease resistance to most wheat diseases of the Mid-Atlantic. ½ pound sows 125-250 square feet as a cover crop or 250 square feet as a grain crop.

Biquinho Spice Pepper PlantBiquinho Spice Pepper (C. chinense)

These little Brazilian Peppers are relatively mild and delicious pickled. In Brazil, they’re a popular snack in botecos or neighborhood bars and are often served with sausage or fish. They get their name, which means “little beak” in Portuguese, from their inverted tear-drop shape.

Biquinho Spice Peppers grow about 2 feet tall and are highly branched. The peppers are small, about ½ by ¾ inches, and relatively mild. Their harvests are more likely to taper off than with other Chinese types. 

Cekirdegi Oyali WatermelonCekirdegi Oyali Watermelon

Cekirdegi Oyali is a Turkish heirloom introduced to the U.S. by our friends at Two Seeds in Pod. This variety produces small melons, about 5 pounds each, with sweet orange flesh.

One of the joys of saving seeds from this variety is its unique-looking seeds, which look like they have been carved. As they dry, the black seed casing cracks, revealing the white seed inside.

Fiesta Trailing Mixed Color Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus) 

With a stunning mix of yellow, orange, rose, and crimson blooms, Fiesta is a must-have for any nasturtium lover. These plants produce long trailing vines of attractive, edible leaves and flowers with watercress-like flavor that works well for salads and garnishes. 

Green Finger CucumberGreen Finger Cucumber

Green Finger is an excellent variety for market and home growers bred by Cornell University. It produces crisp, thin-skinned cucumbers 8 to 10 inches long. They have great flavor and productivity and consistent fruits.

Green Finger shows excellent disease resistance to powdery mildew, papaya ring spot virus, watermelon mosaic virus, zucchini yellow mosaic virus, and high tolerance to angular leaf spot. It matures in sixty days.

Enjoy them right off the vine as you stroll through your garden, in a salad, pickled, or as an addition of crisp freshness to your cool summer drink!

Pink Zinnias

Who doesn’t love zinnias? These easy-to-grow flowers are staples for all kinds of flower gardens, so we jumped at the chance to add a new zinnia to the listings. 

Pink Zinnias produce a smorgasbord of pink flowers on tall plants, including a lovely mix of single, double, and semi-double flowers. 

Purple Viking Potatoes

Purple Viking has great looks and flavor. These attractive potatoes have purple skins with pink splashes and bright white flesh. They have great flavor, too, and are excellent mashed or baked.

Purple Viking produces big potatoes on compact plants. Their productivity and beauty make them an excellent choice for market gardeners.

Five Quan Yin Batavian Lettuce PlantsQuan Yin Batavian Lettuce

This Batavian-type lettuce produces lovely, big, dense heads. Quan Yin grows well in the summer heat, germinating more easily in hot soil than other lettuce types. It’s cold tolerant too and overwinters well in mild winters.

Our seed stock for this variety came from the wonderful folks at Siskiyou Seeds. 

Queensland Romaine LettuceQueensland Romaine Lettuce

This Australian heirloom has great heat resistance and is a favorite for growers in Florida and the Deep South! It features tasty, large, light green leaves.

Our seed stock for Queensland Romaine came from the amazing seed keeper and artist Melissa DeSa. You can find her on Instagram @southern_seed_queen. 

Showstar MelampodiumShowstar Melampodium

Looking for easy-to-grow plants that tolerate heat, humidity, drought, and poor soil? Look no further! Showstar Melampodium produces mound-shaped plants with many 1 ¼ -inch yellow flowers. It flowers most heavily in the fall and continues until frost, without deadheading! 

Spinners Ivory Cotton, Seeds, Yarn, and needleSpinners Ivory Cotton

This new cotton variety was bred by Cindy Conner through Homeplace Earth’s Cotton Project right here in Virginia. She bred Spinners Ivory from a cross of green and brown varieties.

Cindy named this variety for its naked seeds (no lint), making it easy to remove by hand or spin right off the seed. It has a short staple and off-white color.

If you’re interested in cotton or fiber arts, we highly recommend you read Cindy’s book Homegrown Flax and Cotton: DIY Guide to Growing, Processing, Spinning & Weaving Fiber to Cloth.

Ten Xiye Butternut SquashesXiye Butternut Squash (C. moschata)

This new winter squash was bred by Care of the Earth Community Farm in Corryton, Tennessee, and named in honor of climate activist Xiye Bastida. This variety was bred from a cross between San Jose Mountain Club Squash (from Costa Rica) and Waltham Butternut.

This great-tasting squash was bred to resist downy mildew and tolerate variable and unpredictable climatic conditions. The plants are fully vining and very productive. Xiye Butternut is sweet and nutty and has a caramel or butterscotch flavor when roasted, and the exterior color is a deep tan. 

Selection is ongoing for butternut shape, size (selecting for 4 lb. size), smaller seed cavity, dry matter content, flavor, and ability to store for at least three months. Xiye is currently in its 7th generation; expect a bit of variability for all characteristics.


Adding new varieties to Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and preserving old favorites is always a careful balancing act. Whether heirlooms or newly bred varieties, these fourteen crops have earned a place on our website and catalog for their delicious flavor, hardiness, disease resistance, beauty, and productivity. Consider adding one of these new varieties to your garden this season, and be sure to let us know how it goes!

Tips for a Drought & Heat-Tolerant Garden

Many of you probably saw that the USDA released a new hardiness zone map just a couple of weeks ago. Some of you may have gotten a further surprise, glancing at the map to see that your hardiness zone had changed! This little jolt may have helped confirm signs of climate change you’ve already noticed in your garden, like milder winters, hotter summers, erratic weather patterns, or earlier budbreak. While we can’t totally predict the effects of a changing climate, we do expect to see generally hotter, drier summers, and many of our customers do too. Here are a few ways to prepare for a heat-tolerant garden this season.

Genuine Cornfield Pole Beans
Genuine Cornfield Pole Beans

Grow Drought Tolerant Varieties

Many of our old heirlooms come from a time when irrigation on a small family farm was non-existent. When you look at many old Southern heirlooms like ‘Iron and Clay’ Southern Peas, Texas Gourdseed Corn, and Genuine Cornfield Pole Beans, you’ll find varieties that have tolerated heat and drought for years without much assistance.

Grow Short-Season Crops

One way to beat the heat is to avoid it. Crops that are fast-maturing stand a better chance of producing before they even have to face extreme temperatures or drought. Short-season bush beans are a great crop for this strategy. Varieties like ‘Provider’ can mature in as little as 48 days. In hot areas, crops like these should make up a good portion of your spring garden and will allow you to get another round in autumn. 

You can also opt for smaller versions of some of your typical slow-maturing favorites. ‘Golden Midget’ has become one of our favorite small watermelons for its ability to produce in just 72 days. ‘Table Queen’ winter squash, which produces in just 80 days, is another great option, especially when compared to varieties like ‘Big Max,’ which takes 115 days to mature.

Plant Perennials

Many perennials are quite drought-hardy once established. Their long lives allow them to develop deep tap roots and extensive root systems. This includes many fruit and nut trees and perennial herbs and vegetables like figs, almonds, horseradish, and asparagus. They may require watering initially, but once established, they should do pretty well on their own, especially if you keep them mulched.

Many of our native wildflowers, like Rudbeckia, echinacea, and Early Horse Gentian, have more extensive, deep root systems than many ornamental flowers. Opting for more species like these can reduce watering and maintenance in flower beds.

Use Companion Planting and Intercropping

The classic example of companion planting is the Three Sisters Garden, where corn, beans, and squash are interplanted. In this example, the squash vines help shade the soil for the corn and beans, keeping it cool and moist. 

While this example has become famous, Native Americans often interplanted other crops like sunflowers and amaranth, too, and you can use the same principles with other crops. Cucumbers can be grown beneath sorghum, roselle, or other tall crops to shade the soil. Bean tunnels or trellises can create shade to stretch the season for cool-weather crops like lettuce and broccoli. 

Diversifying in this way has other benefits, too. If one crop fails, you’ll still have used your space well. Multi-crop beds also tend to be more disease and pest-resistant than monoculture plantings. 

Use Cover Crops and Mulch

Bare soil is dead soil, especially when the temperatures climb. Keep your soil cool, moist, and healthy by keeping it covered. Cover crops are ideal for edges, pathways, and resting beds as they add nitrogen and organic matter to the soil. Some, like buckwheat, are very quick-growing and can be cut, dropped, and used as mulch for transplants. 

Use mulch around plants and in heavy-use pathways. Mulch doesn’t have to be beautiful and perfectly matching. Try woodchips, straw, hay, grass clippings, or old leaves.

Use Your Shade

Shade isn’t usually a vegetable gardener’s friend. However, in the middle of a hot summer, plenty of cool-season crops will benefit from a bit of shade. Use the spaces around fruit trees or sides of buildings to experiment with getting better summer production from tender crops like green mixes.

Save Seeds

Each year, you have an opportunity to adapt your favorite varieties to your climate. Take it. 

You may not have the time or energy to save all the seeds for your garden, but you can probably pick a few favorites. Maybe there’s a tomato you couldn’t live without or a pole bean your family has enjoyed for years. If you save seeds from the plants that performed best each year, you will shape that crop’s future to be specifically adapted to your growing conditions. 

Gardening has never been easy, and it isn’t getting any easier! Climate change brings warmer temperatures, drought, new pests, and more. Hopefully, these tips will help you adapt your garden strategy to climate change and have a productive year.