Cucumbers are one of the most iconic veggies of summer! There’s nothing like a cool, crisp cucumber that you’ve grown yourself. If you love cucumbers as much as we do, you might want to consider saving some seed from your favorite variety. Cucumbers are an excellent plant to start with if you’re new to seed saving.
Make sure you’ve isolated your varieties.
If you planted multiple cucumbers and want pure seed, they need to be isolated. You can use time to isolate them by growing one variety early and another late. You can also use distance, keeping varieties separated by 1/8 mile for home use and a minimum of 1/4 to 1 mile for pure seed.
However, if your varieties aren’t isolated perfectly, you can save seed anyway. You may end up with a cross you love.
Make sure you have enough plants.
You can save viable seed from a single cucumber plant. However, to maintain a variety over time, it’s best to grow at least five plants. If you’re saving seeds to preserve a rare variety, we recommend you grow and save seed from at least 25 plants.
Select your best plants.
You should try to save seed from plants that have performed the best through the season. Select those that are healthy, vigorous, and disease free with good-tasting fruit. You can find a list of other traits you may want to consider when saving seed here.
Let your cucumbers ripen fully.
Don’t pick seed cucumbers at the same time you pick them for eating. For seed saving, you want cucumbers to be fully ripe. They should be large, rounded, and yellow to orange.
It’s best to leave them on the vine for a few weeks after the color change. They’ll begin to soften and should pull easily from the vine. If that isn’t possible, you can let them continue to ripen and soften in a basket out of direct sunlight. When you cut the cucumber open, the seeds should appear large and full.
Harvest your seeds.
To harvest the seeds, it’s easiest to cut the cucumbers lengthwise and scoop the seeds out with a spoon. Place all of the pulp and seeds into glass jars. Mason jars are ideal for this.
Ferment and clean your seeds.
In order to remove all the pulp from the seeds, you need to let them ferment a bit. Add a little water to your jars of seeds and pulp. The containers need airflow into them, so don’t put a lid on. However, you can cover them with a bit of cloth or coffee filter and a rubber band to keep out fruit flies.
Let this mixture ferment for three days, stirring it once a day. It’s okay if you notice some mold growing on top. After three days, add a more water and stir the mixture again. The viable seeds will sink while the pulp and bad seeds will float, and you can pour them off the top. Drain your viable seeds.
Dry your seeds.
Lay your seeds on a single layer on paper towels, coffee filters, old window screens, or dehydrator screens (don’t dehydrate them, though). Let your seeds air dry naturally until they can be snapped in half.
Store your seeds.
Store seeds in an airtight container in a cool dark place. Cucumber seeds will remain viable for five years or more under the right conditions.
This gorgeous red dent corn is a Virginia variety that dates back to 1845! The stalks grow 10-12 ft. tall and produce two ears per stalk. Bloody Butcher is great for flour, cereal, or roasting ears and makes excellent cornbread.
An Italian heirloom from the Tuscany region, this tomato was one of the most heat tolerant and productive varieties in a 2011 U. of Georgia trial. It’s richly flavorful for sauces and stuffers or just slicing!
Prior to the Civil War, one of the most commonly grown and best-documented tomato varieties in the country. Listed in the 1843 Shaker seed catalog at New Lebanon, NY, the Large Red tomato is vital for antebellum garden recreations and historic farms. Fearing Burr in his 1865 book stated, “From the time of the introduction of the tomato to its general use in this country, the Large Red was almost the only kind cultivated, or even commonly known.”
We introduced Large Red for historical reasons, but we were surprised and pleased during our 1996 trials to find that it became a favorite of a local restaurant’s chef.
Always a favorite at our tomato tastings, Matt’s Wild is from seed collected in the wild near Hidalgo in eastern Mexico. The plants bear loads of intensely sweet, tart, and flavorful, ½ in. deep red cherry tomatoes. They are vigorous, disease-resistant, and sprawling, and self-sow readily.
A beautiful addition to any garden, Ruby Red is worth growing for the color alone. The foliage is dark green on ruby-red stalks. It’s more frost tolerant than other chards, and the plants are especially striking in cold weather.
An excellent carrot variety, Danvers is widely adapted, productive, and heat-tolerant. The dark-orange roots grow 6-7 inches long and 2 inches at the shoulder, tapering to a blunt point. They’re especially suited to growing in clay soil, and the strong tops aid harvesting.
These 1-2 lb orange beefsteaks are delicious and perfect for a tomato sandwich! This variety is a West Virginia family heirloom that was passed to Darrell Kellogg of Redford, MI, who selected and named it.
This pre-1700 cultivar of Native American origin is still the most popular variety of large Halloween pumpkins. Also called Big Tom or the Yankee Cow Pumpkin, it produces 15-20 lbs fruits that are bright orange, slightly ribbed, and vary in shape and size.
It’s good for canning, baking, and pies. Try making pumpkin spice waffles!
Roughly translated as “Southern Unrefined,” Cateto Sulino produces ears up to 8 in. on 5-8 ft. stalks. The kernels are such a bright orange, inside and out, that Farm and Sparrow bakery in North Carolina says it’s caused customers to ask why they’d put cheddar cheese in the bread they’d baked using it!
Cateto Sulino is a blend of Argentine and Uruguayan landraces, selected in Tennessee by Joshua Gochenour for insect resistance, virus resistance, and bright orange color that indicates high carotene content. You can find more information on the history of this corn in its product description.
One of our personal favorites for its rose orange color and rewarding flavor, it produces beautiful persimmon-colored, rose-orange fruits. The fruits are typically 12-16 oz though early ones can weigh up to 2 lbs. The plants are well-branched, vigorous vined, and Late Blight Tolerant.
Renick Yellow offers high yields of small melons with sweet yellow flesh. It has much tastier rinds than most watermelons have. This unique variety comes from the Renick Family of Ashville, OH, via Linda Roberts, Bill Ellis, and SSE. It was introduced in 2020 by SESE.
Introduced by SESE 2018, this pepper is fruity and flavorful, with medium-high heat. It’s a heavy yielder and a favorite in our 2016 pepper taste test. Aji Chinchi Amarillo ripens from green to golden yellow.
Aji Amarillo peppers are a key ingredient in Peruvian cuisine. This rare “Chinchi” strain bears smaller peppers, about 3 × ½ inches, much earlier in the season than the standard Aji Amarillo. Thanks to Chris Watson for providing our seedstock.
This variety grows wild in Veracruz, Mexico! It produces ½-inch pale yellow fruits on vigorous plants. The fruits are very sweet with unusual flavor overtones, including notes of vanilla. It was a favorite in our 2015 tomato tastings.
Our earliest tomatillo and one of our sweetest, it produces heavy yields of 1½ inch cheerful yellow fruits plus an occasional cheerful purple fruit. It comes from the collection of Dr. John Wyche of Hugo, OK, one of SSE’s earliest members.
Lemon Cucumber is an excellent, never-bitter, old-fashioned cucumber flavor with a hint of nuttiness. It produces 7-foot vines covered with crunchy round yellow fruits. Harvest cucumbers at 1½ inches for pickling or 2 inches for salads.
Buhl produces 6-7 foot stalks that bear two ears of amazingly uniform sweet yellow corn of superior quality. You’ll have to fight the raccoons to enjoy it! It comes from Sandhill Preservation Center via SSE member B.W. White 1981.
A heavy yielder of light yellow pods, this bean has the unusual characteristic of tasting somewhat like mushrooms when cooked. Tender when picked at 5 inches, this bean is a true treasure. The original seed came from Marge Mozelisky, given to her by her grandmother.
The emerald flesh of Green Zebra has good flavor. The 3-5 oz fruits ripen to yellow-gold with alternating dark-green zebra-like stripes and are gorgeous sliced or in salads. Well branched vines provide good foliage cover and have some resistance to septoria leaf spot.
This variety was developed in 1985 by Tom Wagner and was chosen by Alice Waters for the famous California restaurant Chez Panisse.
A highly productive variety, Cisneros Grande produces large fruits up to 2½ inches making for easy harvest and processing. Most fruits ripen to yellow, while some stay green throughout. Fruits average about the size of a golf ball.
For a tart salsa, use the bright green fruits while the husk is still green; for a sweet and fruity flavor, wait until the husk dries. Plants grow 4-6 feet tall.
Marketmore 76 is an excellent high-yielding, 8-inch, bitter-resistant cucumber. This dependable variety grows well in the Mid-Atlantic region as well as the North and is a good choice for market and home gardeners alike. The dark green fruits are white-spined.
Black-Seeded Simpson dates back to 1850 but is still a popular variety! This old standard is one of the earliest loose-leaf types. It’s good for early spring planting for the first lettuce of the season, but quality declines in heat or late plantings.
A 1920 Ohio heirloom, this variety was selected from “Rotten Clarage.” It’s a highly uniform, semi-dent corn. Blue Clarage produces solid blue, two 8-10 inch ears on each sturdy 10 foot stalk. It has excellent Corn Rootworm resistance and tolerates crowding and smut better than many other open-pollinated corns.
Originally developed as a meal and feed corn, it has a higher sugar content than most dent corns and may be used fresh in the milk stage. As cornmeal, it has a sweet flavor. It mills easily and makes speckled blue and white flour, but white flour is obtained if the bran is sifted out. Older farmers who use this corn to feed chickens claim that the chickens will eat more, lay more eggs, and put on more meat.
A beautiful blue and white corn with a red cob, Cherokee White Eagle occasionally produces an all-blue ear. Some people can see the image of a white eagle in the kernels! This variety produces 8-10 foot tall stalks, mostly two ears/stalk, and 6-7 inch stocky ears. It was the first variety deposited in the Cherokee Nation Seed Bank!
Borage is a bushy herb with bright blue edible flowers. It’s a good choice for attracting bumblebees and other pollinators to garden plots. The plants fade in the deep summer heat and humidity but can be reseeded for late summer/early fall harvest.
The leaves can be used sparingly to add a cucumber-like flavor in salads or for flavoring cool drinks. Medicinally, the seeds contain over 20% GLA (gamma-Linolenic acid), which is extracted and used commercially as an economical substitute for evening primrose oil.
Vates Collards have stunning large blue-green leaves with good flavor. It’s slow bolting and produces high-quality frost-resistant greens especially suited to the Mid-Atlantic and the South. Plants grow up to 32 inches tall.
Developed in 1957, these productive purple beans have a natural blanching indicator. When prepared for freezing, the purple pods blanch to green after 2 minutes of boiling. They’re easy to pick too! The purple pods are easily visible against the green foliage.
The plants have short runners and need either wide row spacing or a fence for climbing. They produce 5-inch pods that are slightly curved. They’re very meaty and flavorful, great for vegetable soup. The buff-colored seeds germinate well in cool soil.
This Taiwanese variety produces shiny deep lavender fruits that can grow to 11 inches or longer. If plants are kept upright, the fruits can be kept straight for over ¾ of the length, making for impressive filets.
Ping Tung Long is a disease-resistant and high-yielding variety, producing over 20 fruits per plant in our garden. It also has excellent flavor.
The Purple Bumble Bee Cherry Tomato produces striking 1½ inch cherries, dusky purple with vivid lime-green streaks. They have a nice balance of sweetness and flavor. The tall, vigorous plants bear til frost. This tomato is widely adapted and has good splitting resistance.
This small kernelled variety makes surprisingly large pops, yielding a low hull/ corn ratio. It has great flavor and is highly ornamental. The 5-7 inch ears have many shiny colors, including red, blue, orange, white, and yellow. Stalks grow 6-8 feet tall.
The seedstock came from Merlyn Niedens, combining several strains of long ear Cherokee popcorn sent by Carl Barnes of Turpin, OK. Carl has helped save many of the Cherokee corns that came west over the Trail of Tears.
As most of you probably know, we’ve been inundated with orders this last month. We’re thrilled that folks are looking to our seeds during this challenging time but we’ve also had trouble keeping up. We’ve had to suspend taking new orders several times now while working to get seeds packed and shipped. We thought this would be an appropriate time to take a look behind the scenes at Southern Exposure.
The graph below compares the number of daily orders for some days in March and April from 2013 to 2020. Not shown in this graph is that we also saw an increase in order size. Folks that maybe would normally purchase just a few packets ordered more packets and larger packets (bulk sizes) this year.
The graph below compares some of the 2019 and 2020 sales by category.
Our Network of Growers of Small Growers
Did you know SESE gets approximately half of our seeds from our network of small growers? These are the seeds you see marked with a purple “S” on our website and in our catalog.
That’s a really high percentage of seeds! Most larger seed companies buy most of their seeds from wholesalers – it’s a ton of work to fill all the seed orders that come in, and directly contracting with seed growers adds a lot of extra work on top of all that order fulfillment.
Each year about 60 small farms grow seed for us. Most are family farms with few if any employees. Some grow as little as one variety while others grow as many as 40.
Before each growing season, we make a list of seeds we need and send it out to our growers. We include a price per pound or ounce of seed and a range of how many pounds/ounces we’d like. The lower end of this range is estimated to be about 1 year worth of seed and the higher side is about 2.5 to 3 years of seed. The range may be different depending upon the crop type and how well it stores.
Almost all of our farmers, aim for the high end of the range. Different varieties need to be isolated from one another, so it benefits farmers to get the most they can out of each isolation plot. For the most part, we provide the option for growing one year of seed to avoid penalizing farmers who have a bad crop due to pests or weather.
Small Growers and the Pandemic
As far as the pandemic is concerned, we see a few benefits from our network of small growers. The first is that we purchase more than 1 year of seed. This helps us be prepared for years like this year when we received more and larger orders than expected. Also, on small family farms with few employees, we don’t see workers crowded into tight conditions that you see with larger industrial-scale operations.
However, many of our seed growers are older folks who would be considered at relatively high risk of experiencing serious side effects from COVID 19. We love our seed growers and are hoping they all have a healthy, happy, and successful growing season.
We also purchase wholesale seed. These seeds don’t have the purple “S” in our catalog and on our website that seeds from small growers do.
We strive to work with companies that value organic agriculture as we do. Terra Organics, Seven Springs Farm, and A. P. Whaley Seeds are great examples of our wholesale sources.
Partially because of the quantity of seed we purchase at a time, we have a lot of seed storage. We keep our seeds in a walk-in freezer and climate-controlled storage room.
Seeds can remain viable for many years if properly harvested and stored. As we only want to provide our customers with quality seed with high germination rates, we only store for a few years at a time and test our seed each year.
What does the future bring?
If sustained, our unusually high sales mean that we might sell out of half of the varieties grown by our small growers. First, we’d run out of seed grown and then shipped to us in the fall of 2018, which we sold in 2019 and 2020. The seed grown in 2019 is expected to last through 2020 and 2021.
We expect our wholesale seeds already on hand to last until the fall of 2020 (some until late 2021).
We may sell out of certain varieties but we won’t sell out of whole crops.
Beans and southern peas were most affected by the sales surge. Pole beans in particular are difficult for growers because they require trellising which involves extra work and expense.
We had a few crops that were removed from the 2020 catalog due to lower sales that may be back for 2021 if we run out of other varieties.
We’ll be asking our growers if they’re interested in increasing their production by 10% this year.
You might see a change in the size of our seed packets to make things easier on our supplier, Cambridge-Pacific.
While not all of our seeds come from small growers, we feel supporting these farms goes a long way to making our company more sustainable and resilient. Thanks to all of our customers for joining us in supporting family farms each year.