Sowing outdoors during high heat can be tricky, but if you follow these tips you’ll find it’s worth the effort:
1. Sow in a closely-spaced nursery bed and transplant later. This lets you concentrate your efforts (keeping the soil moist and weed-free) on a small, more manageable area. (Don’t do this for crops that don’t transplant well, like carrots.)
2. Choose a location with afternoon shade. This will protect the sprouting seeds from drying out.
3. Sow under lightweight row cover or the newer temperature-neutral proteknet. Both protect from insect pests and help retain soil moisture.
4. Sow successions! Two weeks after your first sowing make another planting of the same varieties or other, earlier-maturing types.
5. Count backwards. Plan for cool-season crops to mature when cool weather hits, and use the days to maturity to plan when to sow.
6. Transplant and/or thin your plantings. Giving plants more space helps their roots access enough moisture. Young seedlings grow faster in hot weather, so plan for quick turn-arounds. Summer-sown brassicas may be ready to transplant in 4 weeks or less (they should have 3 true leaves).
What do a kale, a spinach, and a mortgage lifter tomato have in common? They are some of the best sellers of all the varieties offered by Southern Exposure. Each one has a story and reasons you should consider adding it to your garden.
Many factors go into breeding a great spinach. You want a plant which is disease-resistant and if you live in a temperate zone like we do, you want something which can handle the colder nights. We strive to find varieties which have both nutritional and health advantages and are also tasty to eat. The Organic Seed Alliance (OSA), working with various organic farmers, seem to have succeeded in meeting all these criteria with the Abundant Bloomsdale Spinach.
Abundant Bloomsdale is a cross between the open-pollinated Winter Bloomsdale Spinach and Evergreen Spinach. As the name suggests, the tasty Winter Bloomsdale is hardy in cold weather and the Evergreen is resistant to multiple diseases. Having originated from the OSA breeding project in the Pacific Northwest, this variety performs well in the mid-Atlantic and is a most welcome and popular addition to our line.
Southern Exposure wants to credit and support this type of selective breeding program, so we contribute 10% of all the revenue from bolt resistant Abundant Bloomsdale to OSA’s ‘open source’ breeding program. This programallow gardeners to use these plants in any way they like, including breeding projects, as long as they agree not to restrict others’ use of these seeds or their derivatives by patents or other means.
What is in a name? Lacinato Kale has many, we also call it ‘dinosaur’ on the seed packet label because of the bumpy leaves which some think resemble what dinosaur skin might have looked like. There are many other names you might hear it go by including: Tuscan kale, Tuscan cabbage, Nero di Toscana, Italian kale, black kale, flat back cabbage, palm tree kale, or black Tuscan palm.
In 1777, Thomas Jefferson recorded his success with Lacinato at his famous Monticello estate at Monticello (the venue for the Heritage Harvest Festival, held this year on 10 Sept.) On the longer history of this plant Seed Savers Exchange tells us, “These curly leafed cabbages that were grown in ancient Greece are thought to be the ancestors of kale plants. By the Middle Ages kale was one of the most common green vegetables in Europe.”
The list of advantages for Lacinato Kale is quite long and spans the spectrum of desirable characteristics for a food plant. One advantage is that it grows well in almost every regionof the US. It is a cold-hardy vegetable, which should be planted 3-5 weeks before the last frost, and the leaves sweeten after they have been frost kissed. It is hardy in very hot climates as well.
Kale generally reduces cancer risks for bladder, breast, colon, ovary, and prostate. Kale also provides support for our detoxification systems. Steam Lacinato kale to get at its cholesterol-lowering benefits. Lacinato is rich in at least 45 different flavonoids, which have both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits.
Lacinato is a pretty plant with unusual thick dark blue-green verging on black leaves which have a rare bumpy texture. This variety is famous for being an important part of the Tuscan cuisine, especially soups and stews. Because of its slightly bitter and earth taste, this so-called “Black Kale” is the darling of the culinary world.
It is no surprise this is the single best selling variety at Southern Exposure, followed closely by some good old fashioned collards, Green Glaze and Georgia Green. We wonder if some of the newly rediscovered Blue and Curly collards will inch into the top rankings next year. Make sure you are signed up for our 2017 catalog to be among the first to try some varieties described in ‘Collards: A Southern Tradition from Seed to Table,’ a new book by Ed Davis and John Morgan.
The story has it that M.C. “Radiator Charlie” Byles was a capable and colorful guy. Without formal education Radiator Charlie would become a pilot, a wrestler, and a mechanic who strategically located his shop at the bottom of a large hill where trucks often overheated and needed his assistance.
But the great depression hit Radiator Charlie, as it did most of the country in the early 1930s, and he was looking at losing his house because he could not pay the bills. Radiator Charlie had no experience breeding or growing plants, but decided he would try to come up with a larger meaty tomato that families could grow to feed themselves.
He looked for tomatoes regionally available and started with four large fruiting varieties: German Johnson, Beefsteak, an unknown Italian variety, and an unknown English variety. Using a baby ear syringe, he carefully hand pollinated these varieties for 6 years, choosing the best year after year. He sold the seedlings of this very large, flavorful, and popular tomato for $1 each for another 6 years and paid off most of his $6000 mortgage.
Commonly, people wonder why supermarket tomatoes don’t have the same great taste that these heirloom tomatoes do. The answer lies in the goals of the breeder. Supermarket tomatoes are bred for uniformity in size, bright red color, and tough skins which allow them to withstand being shipped thousands of miles to your neighborhood store. Flavor is not a priority. In contrast, Radiator Charlie is a pink tomato bred principally for its large size, reliability, and flavor. It is not uniform in color and is not designed for long haul shipping, something you don’t need when getting food from your garden to your kitchen.
Spring is the perfect time to start a “Salad Garden.” Start harvesting fast with our quick guide to cool-weather-loving, fast-growing salad crops for the spring garden.
LETTUCE. In the summer and fall, starting lettuce seeds can be a struggle because the soil temperature is too high, but in early spring the seeds start readily, long before the soil has warmed enough for other crops. If summer heat comes on fast and early in your garden, you’ll want to choose heat-tolerant varieties, like sweet Jericho romaine, long-holding Cosmo romaine, the old-standard Oakleaf looseleaf, or the buttery butterheads Capitan and Buttercrunch (pictured). You can also choose fast-growing early varieties (any of the crisphead varieties, including favorites Loma and Sierra). If you still have a good window of cool-weather, there are several varieties with excellent flavor and texture that only grow well with cool spring weather: the heirloom Black-Seeded Simpson is highly recommended for early spring.
OTHER GREENS. Try these excellent spring salad greens in your lettuce mix, or leave out the lettuce altogether. Arugula, spinach, endive, highly nutritious cress (including the southern traditional creasy greens) and fast-growing, mild mustard greens like tatsoi and mizuna are all excellent choices for spring-growing.
CARROTS. Many carrot varieties have their best flavor in the spring. Even soil moisture makes spring the easiest season to grow high-quality, crack-free carrots. Blocky Danvers 126 (pictured), Scarlet Nantes, and the heirloom Chantenay Red Core are all forgiving of different soil types, although it’s still important to loosen your soil to a good depth. Carrot seed is slow to germinate, so be patient, sow very shallowly (a quarter inch down or simply rake and water in the seeds), and keep the soil moist but not damp until the seedlings emerge. Sow every 1-2 weeks and harvest on the small side for the most tender carrots for salads.
RADISHES. Choose fast-growing spring radishes and harvest small for the best flavor and texture. Sow small successions frequently (every 1-2 weeks) for the highest quality roots. Try Cherry Belle for classic red roots or Easter Egg for pretty mixed colors.
BEETS. Beets can take 2 weeks to germinate and they shouldn’t be transplanted, so sowing in the spring when the soil is cool and moist is your best bet for good germination and high-quality roots. Lutz Green Leaf (pictured) is an unusual heirloom that can be sown in the spring and harvested at any size, without becoming woody. Soak the seeds overnight, tamp them down well, and expect to thin the seedlings (each “seed” is a multi-seeded dried berry). For quick harvests, try fast-growing Early Wonder Tall Top (the tops make good salad greens when young) or rose-hued Chioggia.
PEAS. A classic early spring crop, snap peas are at their sweetest when eaten raw (and they’re also great for getting kids to eat raw vegetables). I prefer growing dwarf plants like Cascadia or Sugar Ann. They only need minimal support/trellising, and the fast growing plants tend to outpace any pest damage.