Tag Archives: heirloom

10 Heirlooms Perfect for the Fall Garden

It’s hard to believe it’s already July! If you’re hoping for fall and even early winter harvests from your garden, now is the time to start planning, prepping beds, and starting some seeds. While we love talking about heirloom tomatoes and other summer crops, today we’re sharing ten heirlooms that could make up the backbone of the fall garden.

January King Cabbage

This northern European heirloom dates back to 1897 and is probably one of the only crops you’ll be harvesting mid-winter. They’re slow-growing but super hardy, producing 3 to 5-pound heads in 110 to 160 days. We love their firm heads with light green inner leaves and beautiful semi-savoyed purple-tinged outer leaves. Plant them in early fall for a January or February harvest.

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Amber Globe (Yellow Globe) Turnip

What’s a fall garden without a few turnips? These heirloom turnips date to 1840 and excel in the cool fall weather. They have sweet, creamy yellow, fine-grained flesh and are best harvested around 3 to 4-inch diameter though they will grow to a 6-inch diameter.

Buy seeds.

Kohlrabi (fall heirlooms)Gigant Winter Kohlrabi

Gigant is another heirloom that’s great for winter storage. It can even stay in the garden in warmer areas all winter, especially if you protect it with mulch. This variety is a Czechoslovakian heirloom that E. M. Meader reselected at UNH. It was introduced in 1989 by SESE and is resistant to root maggots.

This kohlrabi typically grows 8 to 10 inches in diameter but remains tender. It has grown to 62 pounds but is typically between 15 and 20 pounds. It’s delicious used fresh or cooked in any size, small to large. The leaves are also good and can be used like kale.

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Lutz Green Leaf (Winter Keeper) Beet

Developed before the days of refrigerators, Lutz is a great choice for stocking the larder. These beets are excellent keepers and retain their sweetness and texture even when large (unlike most beets, which become woody when large). Just peel off the skin.

We also enjoyed the tender fall greens in salads. We’ve had problems finding good “true” seed for Lutz Green Leaf, but finally, this is the good stuff – thanks to the fine folks at Uprising Seeds for sharing theirs!

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Nadmorska Rutabaga

This exciting variety is from seed collected in Lithuania in 2007 by the Seed Ambassadors Project. They’re large, vigorous, and early maturing. They produce green tops and long, oval-shaped roots with sweet golden flesh. They’re great for midsummer planting for a fall harvest.

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Crawford Bibb (Butterhead) Lettuce

This tasty lettuce is a Texas favorite. It was originally brought to Texas from Oklahoma by the Crawford family. It’s famous for its great flavor, heat resistance, and fast growth. In Texas, it’s normally planted in fall and winter, but we’ve had luck with Crawford during the summer and winter here in Virginia. It’s a favorite of SESE founder Jeff McCormack.

Crawford produces Bibb-type heads with slightly savoyed leaves. It features some red/brown on the leaf edges.

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Black Spanish Round Fall Radish

This 1846 heirloom is very hardy and an excellent winter keeper. One of my favorite fall radishes, it produces round roots that grow 3 to 4 inches or larger in diameter. The roots have thin black skin and white flesh that’s crisp and pungent.

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Shallots (fall heirlooms)Grey Griselle Shallot

French gourmet chefs prize grey griselle. It produces these small, teardrop-shaped (1 x 1½ in.) bulbs with hard, grey skin and tender, pinkish-white flesh. They’re ready for harvest in 180 days.

Grey griselle has a distinctive, rich, earthy smell and mild, delicious flavor. Grey shallots are considered by many to be the only “true” shallots.

Buy seeds. Ships in the fall.

Green Glaze Collard

Introduced in 1820 by David Landreth, this unique collard variety produces smooth, bright green leaves. They grow 30 to 34 inches tall and have excellent resistance to cabbage looper and cabbage worm. 

Green glaze is heat- and frost-resistant, slow-bolting, and non-heading. We recommend it, especially for southern and warm coastal states.

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Oxheart Carrot

These unique-looking carrots date to 1884. They’re a great storage variety that produces thick, sweet “oxheart”-shaped carrots, 5-6 in. long and 3-4 in. wide, weighing up to a pound!

While they require more space than other carrot varieties, oxhearts are particularly suited to rocky or heavy clay soils. The shorter, broader roots tolerate shallow soils that most carrots won’t like.

Buy seeds.

When asked to name our favorite vegetables, many of us will name one of the quintessential veggies of summer. We’ll say summer squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, or sweet corn. The more we garden, the more apparent it becomes that all of these are best in their season. While we may be able to preserve some, it’s also nice to have other crops that are the flavors of fall and winter. These heirlooms provide their unique, homegrown flavors to all of our winter meals. 

What’s In a Seed: Open-Pollinated vs. Hybrid vs. GM

If you’ve found your way to the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange blog, you probably have at least the basic knowledge that not all seeds or seed companies are the same. However, if you’re new to gardening, you may not understand what makes seeds different. In this post, we’ll discuss open-pollinated, hybrid, and genetically modified seeds. We’ll also touch on heirlooms seeds and what makes them special. 

Open-Pollinated

Open-pollinated refers to how the seeds are bred. In an open-pollinated system, plants are pollinated by other plants of the same variety, creating seed that will produce “true to type” or display the same characteristics each season. 

This type of seed makes up most of the seeds we carry at Southern Exposure. Many of the open-pollinated varieties we carry are also heirlooms, but we’ll get into that later.

Open pollination is the oldest method of plant breeding and is generally done by isolating a crop. Typically, a crop is isolated from other varieties by distance. However, they can also be isolated in greenhouses or by time or technical methods.

At Southern Exposure, we believe everyone has the right to save seed and grow food. Open-pollinated varieties allow gardeners and farmers to save seeds from their own crops. This helps adapt varieties to their local growing conditions and encourages food sovereignty.

When you save seed from only the best 50% of the plants, you can improve the variety over time. Learn more about what seed growers look for when choosing plants in our post, Selecting Plant Characteristics.

Hybrid

Hybrid also refers to a type of breeding. Two open-pollinated varieties are grown side by side. Using hand pollination, corn detasseling, or another technical method, growers ensure that every seed has received pollen from one breed (the father) and is grown on a distinctly different breed (the mother).

The seed from that breeding process is what’s known as an F1 hybrid. If F1 hybrids are grown and bred with each other, the resulting seed is known as an F2 hybrid. 

F1 hybrids often display what’s known as hybrid vigor. This means they may display better vigor, disease resistance, earliness, or other characteristics than their open-pollinated parents. Unfortunately, while the F1 generation is typically very uniform, the F2 generation often displays wide variation in traits. 

This wide variation in the F2 generation is the biggest drawback with hybrids. It means that seed saved from hybrids isn’t reliable, forcing growers to purchase from seed companies each year.

As I mentioned in my previous post, 8 Steps to Saving Corn Seed, we carry a few hybrid sweet corns. Hybrids can be helpful for market growers and farmers because of their uniform harvest time. That said, 98% of the seed we carry is open-pollinated (and hybrids are clearly marked) because we believe being able to produce your own seed is essential.

GM

GM stands for genetic modification. It’s the process of creating seeds by taking a gene, through laboratory means, from one species and implanting it into another species where it would have never naturally occurred. 

At Southern Exposure, we have many concerns about these types of seeds. GM seeds cannot be saved year to year, meaning that gardeners and farmers must rely on the big companies that produce them and have the financial ability to purchase new seeds each year. 

These huge companies produce just a few varieties which are now grown all over the United States. The switch to just these few varieties has significantly decreased seed biodiversity. This loss in biodiversity has negatively impacted our food system and could have unknown ramifications in the future. As we lose biodiversity, we may be losing genetics resistant to certain diseases or that could handle the effects of climate change better. It’s also a loss of culture.

“The number one threat to seed biodiversity: corporate takeover of commercial seeds by major chemical/biotechnology companies.” – The Center for Food Safety

GM seeds also come with other drawbacks. Many GM varieties are specifically designed to be grown in combination with chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides. These chemicals negatively impact farmers’ health and force them to rely on these companies even more. They also harm water quality, wildlife, and soil health.

Many studies have also shown that these crops are detrimental to our health. The chemical herbicides and pesticides don’t just wash off; they make it into consumers’ systems. These crops also tend to have lower nutritional values than those open-pollinated varieties grown in gardens and on small farms.

In 2011, Southern Exposure joined nine other members of the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association and over 80 total plaintiffs in taking a stand for the protection of organic seed. Plaintiffs include agricultural organizations, seed companies and farmers. Read more about this landmark lawsuit here.

So What’s an Heirloom?

There’s no official definition of an heirloom. Heirlooms are just open-pollinated varieties that have been saved for generations. At Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, we consider those open-pollinated varieties bred before 1940 to be heirlooms. 

We love heirlooms for many reasons. First is their incredible flavor. Farmers and gardeners saved heirlooms year after year primarily because they tasted good. Sure, there were other considerations such as size, storage ability, and earliness, but generally, vegetables that didn’t taste great weren’t saved.

Many modern varieties and hybrids, on the other hand, also have to meet other standards. They must be uniform, ship, and store well, and be easy to grow. This is a great thing for large growers, but as anyone whose eaten a supermarket tomato will tell you, it’s not always great for their flavor.

Heirlooms are also important parts of our culture and heritage, help diversify our diets, can be adapted to our local growing conditions, and much more. Read more about why we love heirlooms here.

What Should You Do?

So, now you understand the importance of open-pollinated and heirloom seeds. You can support and join the movement of growers, foodies, and activists working to protect these varieties.

This year, if you’re growing a garden, we encourage you to choose open-pollinated varieties and try saving seed. We created a list of 22 reasons you should save seed in 2022!

Then you can share seed with others. Go to seed swaps or share some of your favorite open-pollinated varieties with neighbors and friends. You could even try to sell some seed and earn a little extra cash from your garden.

Lastly, even if you don’t have the space for a large garden, you can support those who do. Visit your local farmers market and ask if anyone has any heirlooms for you to try or encourage your local community garden to grow and save seed from open-pollinated varieties. 

7 Steps to Saving Cucumber Seed

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.

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.



  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

    Learn how to do a germination test here.

Are you saving seeds this year? Tag us on Facebook or use the hashtag #southernexposureseed on Instagram to show us your projects