Tag Archives: heirloom varieties

10 Mini Vegetables You’ll Adore

Bigger isn’t always better! These ten mini vegetables provide incredible beauty and flavor in little packages. They’re great for folks looking to add something unique to their garden or work within a small space.

1. Chires Baby Sweet Corn

Do you know the little ears of corn popular in Asian stir-fries? That’s what Chires is great for. Harvest your Chires soon after the silks emerge, and they make a tasty, crunchy addition to salads, stir-fries, and kabobs. If allowed to mature and dry on the plant, they can be used for popcorn. These little guys can also be blanched and frozen or pressure canned for winter use. 

This variety produces 3-5 foot stalks, with 8-12 ears per stalk. The ears are 2-3 inches long. Chires are easy to grow, as corn earworms don’t have time to do damage, and corn smut is rarely a problem.

2. Doe Hill Golden Bell Sweet Peppers

If you’ve struggled to grow large bell peppers, you might want to try these Doe Hill Golden Bells. They’re high-yielding, widely adapted, and disease resistant. We love the miniature (1 x 2¼ in.) flattened, orange bell peppers they produce. The peppers have sweet, fruity, multidimensional flavor and keep well.

This pre-1900 family heirloom came to us from the Doe Hill area in Highland County, Virginia. It was introduced by SESE in 2000.

3. Plum Granny (Queen Anne Pocket) Melon

Interestingly, these melons aren’t typically grown for eating. While they are edible, their flavor is rather bland. Instead, these tennis ball-sized melons are usually grown for their incredible melon fragrance. They’re also quite beautiful. Their skin is yellow with maroon stripes. 

Plum Granny Melons are an Appalachian heirloom that was brought to Appalachia with European settlers. In Victorian times, these melons were sometimes carried in pockets to mask unpleasant odors.

4. Mexican Sour Gherkin (Mouse Melon, Sandita)

These tenacious vines bear many 5⁄8 in. x 7⁄8 in. fruits with skin like tiny watermelons. They’re a sure conversation piece for your garden, and they taste good too! Immature, they taste like cucumbers; when fully mature, they taste like pickled cucumbers.

We recommend you trellis Mexican Sour Gherkins. Kids and adults will love snacking on these if planted along a garden path. They’ll bear until frost.Tom Thumb Lettuce (mini vegetables)

5. Tom Thumb Bibb (Butterhead) Lettuce

This space-saving miniature butterhead dates to before 1850! It’s perfect for those with tiny gardens or individuals who only need a little bit of lettuce at one time. Just make sure to sow several successions!

Tom Thumb heads are about the size of an apple and feature tender, crumpled, medium-green leaves. Popular in some restaurants, the heads can be used whole in individual salads.

6. Everglades Cherry Tomato

Many people don’t have the time or space to grow large rows of tomatoes, but most people could find space on a patio or balcony for a potted plant. A single, potted Everglades Cherry will provide you with a surprising amount of fresh tomatoes throughout the season! These vigorous, disease-resistant plants will bear right up until frost. 

Everglades Cherries produce sweet, dark pink, ½ in. fruits. They’re similar to Matt’s Wild Cherry, but pinker, with some differences in flavor. A relatively new variety to SESE, the seedstock for Everglades was provided by Melissa DeSa of Florida.

Check out our other post, Grow Anywhere: Tips for Container Gardening.

7. Roseland Small White Pickling Cucumbers

SESE introduced this North Carolina heirloom in 2016. In the early ’70s, Gordon Shronce’s sister Evelyn Allran received seed from a neighbor in the Roseland community near Lincolnton, NC.

Roseland Small produces loads of early, blocky white cucumbers. Gordon likes to pick them at 3 in. or less, but they’re still mild and tender to 7 in. long, great sliced or pickled.

8. Morden Midget (Morden Mini) Eggplant

The Morden Mini is an excellent short-season variety for those farther north! It was developed in 1958 by Morden Experimental Farm, Manitoba, Canada. In our rare cool summers here in Virginia, it produces better harvests in June and July than our other varieties.

The short 18 to 30-inch plants also perform well in containers for those with limited space. Morden Mini produces 3 to 4-inch dark purple fruits.

9. Aji Ayuyo Peppers

This Peruvian heirloom is both beautiful and tasty. It would excel in edible landscape producing multicolor 1 inch by 1-inch peppers with a beautiful, shiny, glassy look. The plants grow to about 3 feet in height.

The Aji Ayuyo Peppers ripen from purple to cream to orange to red. They have a sweet, juicy exterior and very hot seeds.Black Cherry Tomato (mini vegetables)

10. Black Cherry Tomato

Cherokee Purple Tomatoes are always a favorite. They’re delicious and beautiful, but they require a lot of space and effort. These little Black Cherries have a similar flavor and appearance in a smaller package. 

The plants are vigorous and produce dusky purple 1-inch fruits with black highlights and full-bodied flavor. They’re an indeterminate variety and are generally ready to harvest in just 63 days.

Whether you just love adorable vegetables or are trying to save space, giving a few of these ten tiny varieties might be great for your garden. Fall in love with the incredible fragrance of Plum Granny Melons, the gem-like appearance of Aji Ayuyo Peppers, or the complex flavor of Black Cherry tomatoes this season!

10 Easy-to-Grow Heirloom Flowers

When most people think about planting heirlooms, they think of colorful, quirky tomatoes and other vegetables. Of course, we love heirloom veggies, but there’s a lot to love about heirloom flowers too! Growing them helps support pollinators, wildlife, and beneficial insects. It also preserves biological diversity. Here are ten easy-to-grow heirloom flowers that are perfect for beginners.


Poppies are one of our favorite flowers to fall sow. These cool weather loving beauties can also be sown in early spring. They germinate best when soil temperatures are around 60°F and are quick to bring beauty to the garden.

Poppies are an excellent choice for gardeners trying to maximize their garden space. They provide incredible, early-season beauty and seed pods later in the season. The seed pods make lovely additions to dried arrangements and wreaths, and the seeds inside the pods are edible and perfect for baked goods and salad dressings.


Cosmos are some of the least finicky annual flowers. They’ll tolerate poor soils, partial shade, and drought once established. Direct sow cosmos when the soil is about 70°F after all danger of frost has passed or start them indoors about 4 to 6 weeks before your last frost for earlier blooms.

Some of our favorite heirloom cosmos include Mexican Cosmos, Sensation Mix Cosmos, and Mona’s Orange Cosmos (pictured above). They have a long bloom period, and deadheading encourages them to continue. They’ll also help to attract pollinators and birds, which eat the seeds, to your garden. The petals of Cosmos sulphureus are edible.


Zinnias are the queens of the cut flower garden. The great thing about zinnias is that the more you cut, the more they’ll keep blooming. If you’re not using them for cut flowers and just want to enjoy them in the garden, keep up with deadheading to prolong their bloom period.

We carry two heirloom zinnias Peruvian Red and Peruvian Yellow. They’re both easy to direct sown after your last frost. They can also be started indoors and transplanted out after your last frost date for earlier blooms.


Don’t think of sunflowers as ordinary. There is so much variation in sunflower varieties. From the frosted looking Silverleaf Sunflower to the towering 7 to 9 foot stalks of the Seneca Sunflower to the brilliant blooms of Red Torch Tithonia there’s something for everyone.

Sunflowers are easy to grow, and a great choice for gardening with young children; their large seeds are easy to sow. Larger varieties also make excellent trellises for pole beans and other vining plants.


These tall spikes of flowers are biennial, meaning they bloom the second year. They can be started indoors or direct sown. Plant hollyhocks in areas that receive full sun. Check out our post Cottage Garden: Growing Hollyhocks for more instructions. 

Especially in windy areas, hollyhocks may need staking to prevent lodging. You can also grow them along a fence and use twine or fabric to secure them as they mature. Hollyhocks will self-seed and if allowed to naturalize in a bed, can provide blooms every year. 

Heirloom Flowers (Grandpa Ott's Morning Glories)

Morning Glories

An old favorite, morning glories produce vigorous vines climbing up to 15 feet! Their trumpet-shaped flowers are excellent for attracting pollinators, and they look fantastic climbing fences and porch railings. They can be grown in the garden or in large containers. 

Morning glories should be planted with a trellis where they’ll receive full sun. Soak seeds two days before planting, changing the water every 12 hours for best results. Then direct sow or transplant them after frost.

One of our favorite morning glories is Grandpa Ott’s Morning Glory (pictured above), a family heirloom from Diane Ott Whealy. This variety is one of the original varieties that started Seed Saver’s Exchange and the whole heirlooms movement. 


While there are some perennial asters, the heirloom aster we carry, Crego Giant Mixed Colors, is a large annual. They grow up to 3 feet tall and make excellent cut flowers.

Asters can be easily direct sown or transplanted. They germinate best when the soil temperature reaches 70°F and should be planted after your last frost in a spot that receives full sun.

Love-Lies-Bleeding (Amaranth)

Crimson tassels up to 24 in. long “drip” from these showy plants. Love-Lies-Bleeding looks excellent in floral displays, whether fresh or dried. 

This striking heirloom requires little care. Direct sow Love-Lies-Bleeding after the danger of frost has passed. It should be planted in full sun and is rather drought-resistant. Larger plants may benefit from staking for the best display.


A native perennial, coreopsis is excellent for attracting pollinators and birds to your garden. It’s also a great natural dye and yields a broad range of colors. 

Coreopsis is an annual plant, but it self-sows readily and will naturalize in meadow plantings. Direct sow or transplant out coreopsis after danger of frost has passed in full sun or partial shade. 

Jewels of Opar (Fame Flower)

This purslane relative is easy to grow and has a multitude of uses! The mild, succulent leaves are great in salads and sandwiches or as a spinach substitute. Native to parts of the South and the Caribbean, it also has a history of medicinal use. The seed stalks are great additions to dried arrangements with seed pods that dry to shades of orange, red, brown, gold, and grey.

Transplant or direct sow Jewels of Opar after all danger of frost has passed. Self-sowing readily, Jewels of Opar may naturalize. It’s perennial in zones 8 and up.

Find out more about growing Jewels of Opar here.

Growing heirlooms helps preserve biodiversity and makes your garden unique! Plant a few of these ten easy-to-grow heirloom flowers this season. 

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.