Category Archives: Vegetable Gardening

Food – It’s Complicated

By Kathy Torres

We spend a lot of time these days reading labels on food products for the health and safety of our families, and also to satisfy our taste buds.  At Wingard’s Market, we continue to provide fresh produce and gourmet food items, with the same ideas in mind.  We thought it might be a good idea to expand on some of the categories, labeling and certifications you will observe when you shop, for instance Heirloom, Hybrid, Organic, Non-GMO.  You’ve probably become familiar with these terms in our market, as well as your local grocery store, but maybe you have found them to be a little confusing.

Heirloom vegetables are old varieties that have been passed down from generation to generation.  Native Americans have been saving seed since the pre-Columbian era while old European crops may be over 400 years old. They have a history, and are a tribute to families who have planted, harvested and passed the seeds on.  To be capable of being saved, all heirloom seed must be open-pollinated, so that it will grow true to seed.  Open-pollinated plants are nearly identical to the parent plant because it (the parent plant) was pollinated by wind, birds, or insects—not from a neighboring plant.  The big advantage of OP plants is that gardeners can save their own seed. If you grow an Heirloom variety you particularly enjoy, that does exceptionally well in your garden, it is nice to be able to save some seeds, plant the same variety next season and enjoy the same results.  The more you save the seeds and replant, the better adapted future plants will be to your growing conditions.  While Heirloom vegetables are grown for their superior flavor, they typically have a shorter shelf-life and may not be as disease resistant as hybrid varieties.

A Hybrid vegetable is created when plant breeders intentionally cross-pollinate two different varieties, with the intention of producing an offspring that contains the best traits of each of the parents.   Pollination is carefully controlled to ensure that the right plants are crossed to achieve the desired combination of characteristics, such as dependability, early maturity, bigger size, higher yield or better disease resistance.  Seed from hybridized plants tends to revert to the qualities of the parents, so saving the seed and replanting is not advisable. Hybrid seeds/plants should not be confused with genetically modified (GMO) seeds/plants, which have been genetically altered using molecular genetics techniques such as gene cloning and protein engineering. 

Organic is a certification that indicates that the food has been produced through U.S. Dept. of Agriculture approved methods. These methods integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering may not be used.

With some minor exceptions, organic meat, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are not given antibiotics or growth hormones. While the term “natural” can be used on any product label without third party verification, a product must be certified by USDA if it is to be labeled as “organic.”

The emphasis is on farmers using renewable resources and mimicking natural ecosystems to conserve and maintain the soil and water without polluting the environment.  Some examples of organic farming practices include using compost, manure, and crop rotation to keep the soil healthy naturally. The healthy soil helps keep the plants resistant to disease and pests. Crops are usually grown according to the climate and organic farmers often grow a variety of crops instead of one. While organic farming doesn’t allow many dangerous chemicals to be used, certain pesticides derived from natural sources are allowed in producing organically grown food. Organic farming helps to prevent soil erosion and protects local wildlife, streams and watersheds instead of conventional farming which can harm local ecosystems with chemical fertilizers and pesticides.  For additional information, go to this USDA webpage.  What is Organic.pdf (

The use of genetic engineering, or genetically modified organisms (GMOs), is prohibited in organic products. This means an organic farmer cannot plant GMO seeds, an organic cow can’t eat GMO alfalfa or corn, and an organic soup producer can’t use any GMO ingredients. To meet the USDA organic regulations, farmers and processors must show they aren’t using GMOs and that they are protecting their products from contact with prohibited substances, such as GMOs, from farm to table.  

Non-GMO suggests that all ingredients were derived from plants, animals, or other organisms whose genetic material has not been artificially altered in a laboratory.  Meat, poultry, dairy and eggs with a Non-GMO claim are from animals that were not fed a diet containing genetically engineered crops.  Non-GMO, however, is NOT certified by the USDA.  As indicated above, all certified Organic foods are Non-GMO, however, all Non-GMO foods are not necessarily Organic.  For more details on recent USDA allowances and labeling regarding Non-GMO foods, click HERE. 

Food is complicated and highly regulated, but for good reason.  The more you know and understand, the better equipped you are to make decisions on what you grow in your garden and what you buy for you and your family to eat. 

Here are additional resources for more on this subject:

Heirloom Vegetables | Home & Garden Information Center (
GMO Crops, Animal Food, and Beyond | FDA

There’s Always Something Blooming at Wingard’s!



Plan to make this year’s vegetable garden the best one ever!

The key to a successful garden …is planning.

Plan to make this year’s vegetable garden the best one ever!

It’s the start of a new year and with it comes new dreams for a successful garden. While planting is still a couple months away, there are many things you can do now. To be a successful vegetable gardener, you’ll need to understand what it takes to keep your garden happy and healthy. Here are the basics.

  • Choose a Location – When choosing a place for your garden consider the following:
    • Water supply – Having access to a water source that is easily reached with a garden hose is a must. Providing your garden with consistent water will produce better results. Soaker hoses and drip irrigation systems that can be attached to a water timer make watering less of a chore.
    • Drainage – A loose, fertile, level, well-drained soil is ideal. Avoid heavy clays and very sandy soils, unless adequate organic matter and minerals are added.
    • Sunlight – According to the Clemson Cooperative Extension, South Carolina gardens should receive at least six hours of direct sun each day. Leafy vegetables can tolerate partial shade; vegetables that produce fruit, such as peppers and tomatoes, must be grown in full sun.
  • Build Your Soil’s Health – Never underestimate the power of adding organic matter to your sleeping garden. Focus now on adding dead plant material, herbicide free (safe) aged manure, and a rich, healthy compost.
  • Balance Your Soil – Soil is your vegetable’s food, so balancing it gives you great results. The mineral makeup of your soil is just as important as adding rich organic matter. A typical mineral combination for a healthy soil is a mixture of sand, silt, and clay, with equal parts of each. A balanced soil needs equal parts of organic matter and minerals. There are very few gardeners that have a perfectly rich, sandy loam. Even the best conditions need to be analyzed and improved upon yearly.
  • Test Your Soil – Take the guess work out of trying to figure out what your soil needs by testing your soil. We carry Clemson’s soil test collection bags.  You can pick up a bag and drop off your sample here, along with $6.00 cash or check payable to Clemson University.  We will get it to Clemson for you.  We can also help you with instructions on how to gather the soil sample and interpret the test results.  The Clemson Extension Office will analyze the soil and send your results, along with fertilizer and lime recommendations for your garden.

Paying attention to your garden now will help you have a successful garden later. Remember, a soil test is your road-map to better soil…“Poor soil yields weak plants, so test now!”

  • Layout & Design – If you have traditionally planted your garden in long rows you may want to try planting raised beds or earth boxes.
    • The EarthBox Gardening System is the ultra-efficient way to grow vegetables and flowers in limited spaces. Get “great results no matter what color your thumb is,” This maintenance-free growing system controls soil conditions, eliminates guesswork, and more than doubles the yield of a conventional garden-with less fertilizer, less water, and virtually no effort. EarthBoxes are available at Wingard’s.

If you consistently have trouble controlling your soil’s health, raised bed planting will concentrate your compost and soil amendments to a confined area rather than wasting it on the paths between the rows. Raised beds, such as square foot gardens will also improve drainage issues and will allow the soil to stay warmer in colder months, such as early spring. By switching your planted areas to raised beds, your plants will shade and cool the ground below and require less watering, less weeding, less mulching.

Check our workshop schedule for our next planned Limited Space Gardening Workshop.

Two excellent mixes (both can be found at Wingard’s) for raised beds are:

Square Foot Garden Mix

  • 1/3 peat moss
  • 1/3 compost
  • 1/3 vermiculite

Wingard’s Vegetable Garden Mix for Raised Beds

  • pine bark
  • compost
  • peat moss
  • compost
  • lime
  • gypsum
  • organic
  • fertilizer
  • Rotating Crops – If this isn’t your first year gardening you may want to plan to rotate your crops. Disease-causing organisms gradually accumulate in the soil over time. Different vegetables are susceptible to certain diseases, so rotating crops help avoid this problem. Crop rotation means planting the same crop in the same place only once every three years.

Whether you have a patio or a lush backyard, you can easily have a successful garden by following these few steps and planning early.

Here at Wingard’s Market we specialize in providing outstanding customer service, offer professional gardening advice, and answers to your every day gardening questions.  Stop by and visit our beautiful Gift Shoppe, Fresh Produce Market, and take a stroll under century-old pecan trees through our Garden Wonderland!

Located at 1403 North Lake Drive in Lexington, SC. Call us at (803) 359-9091

Top Fall Produce Picks

The days are getting cooler and a variety of new crisp fruits and vegetables are showing up at the Product Market.

Fall Produce Picks
We are a couple weeks into fall and pumpkins and winter squash can be seen everywhere! The smell of fresh pumpkin and pecan pies, along with crisp apples are filling our harvest baskets.

Here at Wingard’s our baker is in the house for your all holiday baking needs! During the holiday’s, we take orders for pumpkin and pecan pies. We need a lead time of 4 business days to fill an order.
Call Wingard’s at (803) 359-9091 to place you holiday pie order!

Our produce choices are the perfect excuse to get you cooking on a brisk fall evening. Potatoes and pecans, along with the classic apples and squash, are just a few of the many Fall favorite produce picks you can use in your cooler weather recipes.

Fall produce is at its peak flavor and highest value right now. Try incorporating one or all of these top picks into your menu this month.

Everyone has heard the phrase “An apple a day helps keep the doctor away,” but there is nothing better than biting into a crisp fall apple. The sweet, crunchy taste is at its best in the fall. With such a large variety, you can choose from sweet to tart. And if you don’t know what would work best for your dish, ask our experts at the market for their recommendations.

When choosing apples pick ones that are firm and free of blemishes or bruises. Apples emit ethylene, which speeds up ripening, so always store them in a cool place away from bananas or citrus. If kept in a cool dark place apples can last up to 6 months.

This favorite purple root vegetable may be available all year-round, but they are best in the fall. You can find many varieties that produce white and even a golden yellow roots, but the reddish-purple color is our favorite.
Look for firm, smooth bulbs with crisp green tops. For the best flavor don’t wash the beets until you are ready to use them. And don’t throw the beet greens away use them in a salad to capture all their healthy benefits.

Brussels Sprouts
For such a tiny vegetable, Brussels sprouts are full of nutrients. Just one cup provides more vitamin C and vitamin K than most other vegetables. They have a mild somewhat bitter taste and are best roasted.
Look for small firm heads that are bright green and have no blemishes. Avoid those that are light and airy. They will keep in the refrigerator for up to five days.

Even though onions can be found all year long, most onions are harvest in late summer and into early fall. A staple in most dishes onion adds the finishing touch to most savory dishes. Onions have a juicy flesh, covered with a papery skin and come in a broad range of sizes, shapes, and flavors.
When buying onions, be sure to look for firm onions that are free of cuts and blemishes. Onions can last for several weeks if stored in a cool, dry, well-ventilated place.

Pears are the most overlooked sweet fruit of fall. Like their cousin the apple, pears can work great in any dish apples would typically be used. They come in a variety of flavors from tart to sweet. Pears are a healthy source of soluble fiber, which helps your body maintain healthy cholesterol levels.
To slow the ripening process store them in the refrigerator. When stored in a similar condition to apples, pears will last for a few months.

A member of the squash family, pumpkins are rich in history and healthy benefits. Unlike summer squash, winter squash is finely textured and slightly sweet. Because of its thick skin, pumpkin can be stored for months, although you probably won’t wait that long to eat it. Its nutty flavor goes best with other fall flavorings like cinnamon and ginger.

A low-calorie food, pumpkins are full of dietary fiber and is brimming with vitamin A are rich in beta-carotene. It’s enough to make you think twice about turning down that second piece of pumpkin pie.

Sweet Potatoes
These nutrient-rich potatoes are awesome in both sweet and savory dishes. These naturally sweet root vegetables are equally delicious in desserts. These orange beauties have the best flavor during fall. Like squash, sweet potatoes are rich in beta-carotene.

Choose uniform sized sweet potatoes that feel heavy in your hand and buy them shortly before you plan to use them. Store whole potatoes in a cool, dark place and toss any that have started to sprout tubers.

Winter Squash
From acorn to butternut nothing screams fall like squash. They are a fall favorite for roasting, mashing and pureeing. Winter squash are one of the best plant-based sources of Omega-3s and beta carotene, making them the perfect veggie to consume during cold and flu season.

Choose squash that remains firm when pressed, contains an entire stem, and feels heavy for its size. Winter squash can be stored in a cool, dark place for several weeks if kept in its tough exterior. Kept refrigerated for a few days if cut or raw.

White potatoes
Who does not love a big bowl of buttery mashed potatoes? They’re inexpensive, filling, and they can last all winter long with the proper storage—now is a great time to stock up on them.

Here at Wingard’s Market we specialize in providing outstanding customer service, offer professional gardening advice, and answers to your every day gardening questions.  Stop by and visit our beautiful Gift Shoppe and Fresh Produce Market while you stroll under century-old pecan trees.  It’s truly a Garden Wonderland!

Located at 1403 North Lake Drive in Lexington, SC. Call us at (803) 359-9091

Simple Guide to Composting

Simple compost only requires three ingredients

Every gardeners biggest challenge is the quality of their soil. Some struggle with clay while others struggle with sand. Some fight wet soil and some wage war against drought. Whatever your challenges are, many can be overcome by adding compost to your existing soil.

Simple Guide to Composting

Compost is nature’s way of adding nutrient-rich additives that fuel your plant growth and restore depleted soil. It’s easy to make, good for the environment and a much-needed soil conditioner.

The organic matter in compost provides food for microorganisms which keep your soil healthy. Nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus will balance out your soil naturally by the feeding of microorganisms.

Simple compost only requires three ingredients:

  • Browns in the form of dead leaves, twigs, and branches.
  • Greens in the form of grass clippings, fruit and vegetable scraps, eggshells, and coffee grounds.
  • Combined with water, the greens and browns will produce healthy compost.
Material Color
fruit & vegetable scraps green
eggshells green
leaves brown
grass clippings green
garden plants green
shrub pruning brown
straw or hay brown
pine needles brown
flowers, cuttings green
seaweed and kelp green
wood ash brown
chicken or cow manure green
coffee grounds green
tea leaves green
newspaper brown
shredded paper brown
cardboard brown
dryer lint brown
sawdust pellets brown
wood chips / pellets brown

How it works:

The browns provide carbon for your compost, the greens provide nitrogen and the water provides moisture to break down the organic matter.

Tips for your compost area:

  1. If you are using the compost pile method keep your collection no smaller than 3’ x 3’.
  2. Aerate your pile every couple of days by turning it over with a pitchfork.
  3. Don’t let it dry out completely, it needs moisture to heat up and keep the composting process active. You don’t want it to be soggy; if it starts to stink it is too wet.
  4. Keep your pile balanced. Feed it equal parts of greens and browns.

Benefits of Composting:

  1. Improves the Soil Structure – A healthy soil should be crumbly to the touch. If your soil is hard and clay-like, young plants will struggle to get the nutrients they need to grow. If your soil is sandy, it won’t hold the nutrients required to survive. Adding compost will allow room for air and water to move more freely through the soil.
  2. Adds Nutrients – A thriving soil that is full of organic matter will produce vital nutrients for healthy plant growth.
  3. Retains Water Better – By adding rich compost to your soil, heavy soils are better equipped to hold water and reduce runoff and erosion. Compost added to sandy soils will increase the chances of the water reaching the roots where it is badly needed.
  4. Wards off Disease – Soils enhanced with compost tend to produce plants with fewer diseases. Composting will help control diseases and insects that might otherwise develop in sterile soils.

Creating healthy plants is simple and the advantages of using compost to improve soil quality by allowing it to retain air, nutrients and moisture will result in more vigorous, thriving plants.

Think of it this way…compost is black gold for your garden!

If you are not ready to jump on board to create your own compost pile, stop by Wingard’s and pick up a couple 40# bags of our ready-made compost.

We carry the following products:

  • Stout OllieMushroom Compost – Mushroom compost is a type of slow-release, organic plant fertilizer. The compost is made by mushroom growers using organic materials such as hay, straw, corn cobs and hulls, and poultry or horse manure.
  • Black Kow Compost – Black Kow is organic cow manure and contains nutrients that are released slowly without burning tender roots.
  • Stout Ollie Compost – A local South Carolina Company, Stout Ollie, starts building their compost with an annual plant material like the cotton plant. Stout Ollie adds two materials during the composting process that have proven their worth to mankind over millenniums. They are cow manure and fish. The manure is from their own herd of grass fed cows and the fish are trimmings from wild catfish caught in the Santee Cooper Lakes. They provide a wide range of those hard-to-get minor elements without the harsh chemicals used by so many producers.


Here at Wingard’s Market we specialize in providing outstanding customer service, offer professional gardening advice, and answers to your everyday gardening questions.  Stop by and visit our beautiful Gift Shoppe and Fresh Produce Market while you stroll under century-old pecan trees.  It’s truly a Garden Wonderland!

Located at 1403 North Lake Drive in Lexington, SC. Call us at (803) 359-9091

Classic Heirloom Tomato Varieties

Add to Your Summer Vegetable Garden

The taste, the smell, the classic heirloom tomato will not let you down.  Seeds that have been preserved throughout generations will leave your mouth watering for more!


Here is a list of our favorite heirloom varieties …many you can find in our Fresh Produce Market throughout the summer months.

1. – Mortgage Lifter is a classic heirloom tomato with a terrific tale. In 1940s Logan, West Virginia, a radiator repairman crossed four of the biggest tomatoes he could find to produce this beauty. He sold seedlings of it, using the proceeds to pay off his $6,000 mortgage in six years. All these years later, it’s still a popular tomato among West Virginia gardeners—and does very well in other parts of the country, too. Plants bear extra-large beefsteak tomatoes with few seeds and mild flavor. Fruits are pink when mature and perfect for slicing onto sandwiches. Mortgage Lifter bears fruit all summer long. Plants definitely need staking or tall caging; gardeners report this tomato to grow as tall as 10 feet.

2. – The Cherokee Purple was rediscovered by tomato grower Craig LeHoullier. LeHoullier claimed that it was more than 100 years old, originated with the Cherokee people. The Cherokee Purple tomato has a unique dusty rose color. The flavor of the tomato is extremely sweet with a rich smoky taste. The Cherokee Purple has a refreshing acid, is watery, thick-skinned and earthy with a lingering flavor. The Cherokee Purple plants are very prolific making this plant a good heirloom for gardeners and farmers.

3. – German Johnson: German Johnson (also known as German Johnson Pink) is an heirloom that came with immigrants to Virginia and North Carolina.  It is one of the four ‘grandparents’ of the Mortgage Lifter tomato.  It is indeterminate with large fruits that are ‘rough’ (not nice and smooth like a Celebrity, but kind of ridged) and way ¾ to 1.5 pounds.  They have pink skin with yellow shoulders, mild taste, low acidity, and are a very meaty fruit with few seeds.  They have heavy yields.  They are good sliced or for canning.

4. – Black Krim: This heirloom tomato originates from the Isle of Krim in the Black Sea, near the Crimean Peninsula of Ukraine. It is believed that soldiers returning home from the Crimean War, in the late 19th century, gathered these seeds and began sharing them. As a result these seeds were later widely distributed throughout Europe.   The Black Krim is highly regarded for its excellent, yet bold taste, and medium to large size. This tomato can vary in color ranging from a reddish brown hue towards the bottom of the fruit, then darkening to greenish-dark purple shoulders. Just a pinch of salt is needed to enhance the flavor, since this tomato already has a slight salty taste.

5. – Paul Robeson: These taste bud tantalizers are native to the southern Ukraine, a relatively small area on the Crimean Peninsula and were limited to only a handful of recognizable varieties. Their seeds were later distributed throughout Western Russia after the Crimean War by soldiers, returning home, during the early 19th century.   Through the years, new varieties of all shapes and sizes began to appear throughout the Imperial Russian Empire. They were also known to be grown in modern-day Mexico by the Aztecs. Eventually, they spread north. We know that Alexander W. Livingston, a legendary tomato seedsman and tomato breeder from Reynoldsburg, Ohio, described purple tomatoes he had collected as a child during the 19th century.    “Black” tomatoes are not really black. They cover a range of dark colors including deep purple, dusky deep brown, smoky dark mahogany with dark green shoulders and bluish-brown.   The depth and darker range of coloration seems to be encouraged by a higher acid and mineral content in the soil or higher temperatures. In northern climates the greater the amount of exposure to and the intensity of UV rays, the darker the color of fruit that will be produced.   Besides their extremely dark colors, black tomatoes are especially noted for their exceptionally rich, earthy tastes. Among all colors, black tomatoes are blessed with the strongest taste and are typically the most admired among true tomato aficionados.

6. – Pruden’s Purple: Many folks find this tomato variety comparable in every way to the favorite Brandywine. It has even ranked higher at times in my taste trials. Great for hot day and cool night climate. Large potato leaf vine produces lots of 1-lb., slightly flattened, pretty, blemish-free, purple-pink fruits with few tomato seeds and excellent flavor.

7. – Homestead: An old favorite dating from 1954. Developed by the University of Florida especially for hot climates and known for its reliability to set fruit at high temperatures. Produces firm, meaty tomatoes. Large vines help shade fruit to protect from sunburn, and will need to be staked or caged. Plants in our test garden, where the growing conditions are ideal, bear an average of 50 pounds of fruit over a 6 to 7 week period.

8. – Arkansas Traveler: Originating before 1900 in the Ozark Mountains, Arkansas Traveler is prized for very flavorful, medium-sized tomatoes that resist cracking and keep on coming, even in drought and hot weather. Taste is mild, like the pink color of the fruit. Popular in its home state and beyond. Indeterminate vines do best in tall cages.

9. – Tennessee Britches: From a gardener named Buckley in Dresden, Tennessee who passed the seed on to Joe Atnip who named it “Britches” after his oldest daughter when she was a little girl. Ruffled dark pink beefsteak tomatoes, sweet flavor, 1-2 lb fruit with thick skin. Ripens from beautiful cream yellow to red.

10. – Belgium Giant: An heirloom variety from Ohio dating back to the1930’s, although its name and shape suggests roots in the old Belgian ribbed tomatoes. Plants produce large quantities of huge fruit; with some as large as five pounds (my personal best is 3.3 pounds). Tomatoes are very sweet, meaty, and turn dark pink when mature. A low-acidity tomato that is excellent for salads, sandwiches, and canning. The pink skin occurs as the result of clear skin over red flesh, while most red tomatoes have a yellow skin over red flesh.

11. – Marion:  Developed by the USDA vegetable station in Charleston, South Carolina in 1960, Marion is open-pollinated and well adapted to the South. A Rutgers type, but earlier and more disease-resistant. Indeterminate vines bear smooth, deep-globed, and crack resistant fruit all season. High yielding and vigorous, so be sure to stake or cage. A great slicing tomato.

12. – Purple Dog Creek:  This seed is a rare old family heirloom from Dog Creek in Hart County, Kentucky. Their deep purple-pink fruit can grow up to 1 to 1½ lbs. each. Hardy and disease resistant, they stand up to the hot temperatures of South Carolina. According to Amish Land Seeds, there is an interesting story behind the seeds that were given first as a thank you gift to church volunteers. 

13. – Hazelfield Farm: Found as a chance seedling at Hazelfield Farm, a modern organic farm in the Lexington Kentucky area, where it was out-performing many named varieties surrounding it at the time!  Believed to be a chance cross between Carmello and Marmande. Medium-sized plants produce abundance of good-tasting, 8 ounce, slightly flattened red tomatoes, even under adverse conditions of hot, dry summers.

14. – Earl’s Faux: A fantastic heirloom Tomato! From Earl Cadenhead who found the seed for this potato leaf tomato variety in a packet of Red Brandywine from a seed trade. Following continued grow outs and additional success, he chose to share these seeds with members of Garden Web. The TomatoFest seed trials proved this variety a WINNER! Our organic tomato seeds produce big, vigorous plants that yield abundant crops of 12-16 oz., beautiful rose-pink, smooth skin, beefsteak tomatoes with a rich, complex and wonderful flavor. The flavor so outstanding that this tomato has won awards in tomato tastings. A great sandwich tomato. We couldn’t get enough BLTs this summer!


Here at Wingard’s, we offer a variety of heirloom tomato plants throughout the growing season. Stop buy and pick up a few to add to your summer vegetable garden.  Interested in growing heirloom vegetables? 

 Are you new to Vegetable Gardening?  Check out our collection of gardening videos.

Growing Heirloom Vegetables

Seeds Handed Down from Generation to Generation

Hopefully you have memories of the sweet taste of summer tomatoes, picked and enjoyed right in the middle of your grandparent’s garden. No store-bought hybrid, hot-house grown tomato can compare to the deep rich flavor of this summer fruit! The vegetables our grandparents grew were most likely from seeds handed down from generation to generation. Heirloom vegetables are indeed defined as ones that have been preserved over time. They also can be defined as any vegetable that has been grown for a certain length of time. However, they are specially categorized and their flavor is superior in taste and tenderness.

Growing Heirloom Vegetables

In recent decades fewer people saved seeds from year-to-year. They lost their connection to their heritage. Today, most vegetables are grown to please the consumer who prefers uniform shapes and the ability to purchase vegetables year-round throughout the country.

Heirloom seeds that have been open-pollinated in a particular region become adapted to the area’s soil, climate and pests. Many heirloom gardeners save money and avoid having to purchase new and expensive seeds each year. ( Hybrid seeds cannot be saved since they will not produce similar plants from year to year.)

The best seeds to save.

If you want to start your own seed bank, there are many self-pollinating seeds that produce plants like the parent plant. Here are a few that grow well in the South:

  • Beans
  • Peas
  • Peanuts
  • Lettuce
  • Eggplant
  • Peppers
  • Tomatoes

Insects that visit your garden will cross pollinate your plants, so it is a good practice to plant them at least ten feet apart for varieties.

Certain vegetables that are pollinated by the wind need to be raised with at least a few hundred yards or more between them to preserve a true heirloom variety. Those vegetables are:

  • Onion
  • Cucumbers
  • Corn
  • Pumpkins
  • Squash
  • Broccoli
  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Melons
  • Radishes
  • Spinach
  • Swiss chard
  • Turnips

If your garden space is small it is best to only grow one variety of each vegetable at a time to prevent cross-pollination that will alter a true heirloom vegetable.

Harvesting seeds.

After you have picked and harvested most of your fresh vegetables, be certain to save seeds from 3 or 4 of the healthiest plants. Allow your seeds to ripen fully on the plant before you harvest them.

To extend their storage life, only harvest your seeds on warm dry days. Bring them inside for their final drying time before storing them. Heirloom seeds have a shelf life of 3-5 years if stored properly. Place your dried seeds in glass jars with secure lids in a cool dry place.

According to Clemson University you can add diatomaceous earth to the seeds when storing them to help prevent insect damage. Also, if you store seeds in the refrigerator you can increase their life expectancy.

Before using seeds the following year, test for germination. Sprout seeds between moist paper towels; if germination is low, either discard the seeds or plant extra seeds to give the desirable number of plants.

Taste test.

Growing heirloom vegetables is becoming more popular as many gardeners are dissatisfied with the taste and quality of hybrid varieties. Although slightly more expensive than hybrid seeds, there is no need to ever purchase more than one packet of heirloom seeds of each variety you want to grow.

Heirloom seeds do have a few drawbacks. The mature vegetable will bruise more easily, and they can’t be stored as long, but their flavor is by far tastier than any hybrid you can grow.

In the long term, heirloom seeds produce a higher quality vegetable. Once you find the varieties that work best in your southern garden, treat your seeds like gold and you will always have a successful garden.


Here at Wingard’s we offer a variety of heirloom tomato plants throughout the growing season. Or, you can stop in and check our Fresh Produce Market for fresh heirloom tomatoes to take home and enjoy with your next meal.  Click here for a list of some of the classic heirloom tomato varieties you may find during the summer months here at Wingard’s.

 Are you new to Vegetable Gardening?  Check out our collection of gardening videos.