311. Grow Great Vegetables | Ira Wallace | Southern Exposure Seed Exchange | Mineral, VA

Ira Wallace serves on the board of the Organic Seed Alliance and is a worker/owner of the cooperatively managed Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, which offers over 700 varieties of open-pollinated heirloom and organic seeds selected for flavor and regional adaptability. She is also an organizer of the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello, a fun, family-friendly event featuring an old-time seed swap, local food, hands-on workshops, demos, and more. She currently writes about heirloom vegetable varieties for magazines and blogs including Mother Earth News, Fine Gardening, and Southern Exposure.

Tell us a little about yourself.

At this trying time, the number of people who started buying seeds this last week, people with children

we homeschooled

to have a homeschool moment everyday

so much math and science

good nutrition and taste for your amid

Mineral, VA

east coast earthquake

epicenter between Charlottes Ville and

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange,

mid atlantic and southeast

people who have ea. yanking for

With climate change people are growing different things, I’ve heard of people growing okra here in Montana.

Tell me about your first gardening experience?

well, It looks like our internet is a little unstable so that might be a problem but we’ll try to keep going

started gardening with my grandmother about 71 years ago

in Tampa Fl

we had a double lot in one of the lots in the town was our big garden

pecan tree

hot in the summer

summer garden was partially shaded

  • okra
  • southern peas

however we had a 3 season garden in terms of the fall, winter spring

turned around from the way that I am used to now

my grandmother who raised me gardening

passed away when I went off with college

motivated me with my student friends to start a garden, it was a pitiful over by the art studios but we thought it was the best garden ever!

at The New College in Sarasota Florida

private college at that time, since it has become the honors college of UFLA system


so I was lucky that I had been admitted and had a scholarship

when my grandmother passed

How did you learn how to garden organically?

I learned the basics from my grandmother

David Bradshaw

I learned the sensible things from family and back it up from science in college

I took taxonomy classes

I never thought anyone would make a living out of farming, my grandmother said you garden for yourself, but only rich people can make a living at farming. But we small farmers have proved that to be wrong. I was lucky enough to come up in the florida where I grew up to Carolina, I was lucky of the part of the start of the farmers market

one of the early great farmers markets in north Carolina

same time

work with little kids

before I moved into being a crafts person and professional farmer and seeds person I did a lot of volunteering in botanical gardens and local garden initiatives. Especially with kids. The thing that I did with the North Carolina Botanical Garden was plant rescue of native plants so when they destroyed by buildings volunteers would come so with the botanical gardens would try to figure out easy to propagate them and save seeds

Tell listeners about the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

these days the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange,

it is a small seed company

We have as a mission to provide information so customers can learn about seed saving so they have more independence in seed growing!

In the early days there was a lot of the exchanging these were the people who were the early members of the Seed Savers Exchange listening things in the yearbook and exchanging things with each other.

Not really so much thinking of it as a business that was going to be viable

grow heirloom seeds who were not as hard core about it as some of us

the opportunity to read about and purchase and grow some heirlooms

seed company developed

continued providing educational opportunities

about 14 years ago

We approached Monticello 25 miles from us about doing an educational event there heritage harvest festival

which SESE cohost with

Thomas Jefferson foundation

2-4000 people come

  • seed swaps
  • Tours of mr Jefferson’s gardens

now highlight the role of the slave people who made Monticello gardens something to be remembered.

That’s good to hear. Sometimes it’s hard to explain to kids who are in third grade how our history came about. I’m glad to hear they are highlighting more the role of slave people back then.

Tell us about your book series.

Ira Wallace

Wrote my first book was

The Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Southeast

but gardeners wanted more specific info about their individual states.


This last year, taking some of the general knowledge that I have been sharing and honing in for state by state for five different southern states:

Grow Great Vegetables in North Carolina

  • SC
  • GA
  • TN

Ira Wallace

You know the timing makes all the difference with success

with things at the edge of your range

I like to have, I don’t like to tell a tall tale that you can grow anything in the winter but I will talk about growing some greens and roots

I haven’t been out where you are in the west

partner is from Canada so from Florida to Ontario you can have a year round garden.

gardened all winter in ontario

year round garden

give you the specifics about


varieties that will do well in that are

how to overcome some of the challenges with things

how to have more greens in the summer when it’s really hot and humid

natural shade

that kind of thing

able to work on this

and my previous book just had illustrations, this has lovely photographs so you can think about what you are going to have if you do all that work.

did I miss something

varieties that you might want to plant for a certain location.

some are good for people in Florida don’t grow so good for people in Georgia where there is a longer season, so they will generally will plant two crops of early maturing varieties because it’s really hot in July and August

That’s so true and I know that is what my listeners are interested in is my most visited web page is most productive crops in NW Montana so your tips from the south are opposite. Mike and I were just talking that I have records since we first got married back in 1993, almost consistently it is almost always for 25 years April 7-14, for the majority of years, there are some outliers like the beginning of may or as early as March 29th but most things went in around April 7-14.

I can’t hear you … there’s a bit of a delay … I knew something peculiar was going on


One of the things with doing each of these books

looking at zone 7

in zone 7 in GA it might warm up a little bit faster then at zone 7 in Virginia and I didn’t expect that. But it’s one of the things because the you have

  • coastal winds
  • being further south

you get another week earlier of your production or you get stuff being able to winter over! It’s lovely being able to tell people you can plant your bulbing onions in the fall and winter them over

like the bedalia onions you get in the store in GA and maybe in the Carolinas I try to grow them in Virginia and sometimes it works in VA and others not because we’re a little further North

what’s likely to work in terms of the timing for planting them

I like that there’s each month what you can do and what you can do based on the zone and state that you are in!

I like to share little tips for the garden like about attracting pollinators so you have extra fun things to do each month in addition to the traditional gardening chores.

Do you have any tips for attracting pollinators?

one of the things that I like to do is have let my herbs go to flower I like having a variety of edible herbs

so things like chives, that come early in the season of the bed instead of cutting them all back planting enough so you have those early in the season is important even though I’m a seed person I really like things that self sow as well. So I tend to let things self sow

  • calendula
  • nigella
  • poppies

that is fun

you don’t have to have a big area too because some people say my garden is so small

a little small 6 inch border along the edge and have flowers there, you mentioned having water there, the insects need water but the insects are small so a shallow bowl they know they can get water from especially during dry periods and some things they can make a little bit of nest

  • twigs
  • dead foliage over the winter

That allows someplace for your pollinators or beneficials to winter over

You can put it in a little orderly style so it sort of has that dog patch area

Kind of like JM Fortier makes an insect hotel?

The Market Gardener Jean-Martin Fortier.

Market Gardener Book

Market Gardener: A successful Grower’s Handbook for Small Scale Organic Farming

Yeah! I visited their farm once!

My partner’s family lives in quebec, we contacted them when were visiting and got a tour! so cool

this tractor that just sits there

got us all excited about using, have you done any of that occultation

rather than digging for preparing beds, covering it with the silage tarps?

Silage Tarps

I finally just posted the other day about where Mike put his silage tarps and the lessons we learned, because I went down the other day and said do you want me to put rocks on it to hold it down and he said he can’t yet because there is still too much stuff frozen that will poke through that he has to get out of there, and I also scored a billboard vinyl tarp the other day where they were taking it down and they just gave it to me.

I love

right you know

talking about preparing it in the fall

had an area that we prepared in the fall

put that tarp

when we got ready to put the other tarps down in the spring

that are

was beautiful you could just take the rake and things that were too big and branchy to leave there and rake them to the side and it was ready to plant!

compost on

probably would have been done better if we had sprinkled the compost in the fall

we want to do more!!!

I love it

who doesn’t want to reduce the amount of digging we have to do?

I love my walk behind tractor but it’s great not to have to use it so much!

I’m also excited to use it down in this meadow that is full of an invasive weed- spotted knapweed and I think it will work well there, and we need to fence it in first. Those tarps are not cheap so I was so excited to score that one! 

And I love chives! We do similar things with calendula and mike and Patti Armbrister talk about letting radishes and lettuce go to seed because the flowers feed the insects etc.

you know you can take brassicas that have wintered over

that went to

as well

  • tat soi
  • bak choy
  • mixed winter greens

the flowers are really nice in salads in the spring

share some

one thing we do a lot of in the southeast is succession planting

so we have like you were mentioning Lettuce

This starts back from Thomas Jefferson who said from February through September plant a thimbleful of lettuce every Tuesday!

we don’t plant a thimbleful

we plant as much as we think we will eat that week getting into September plant every two or 3 days we want to have enough lettuce to harvest all winter so you put it close together in the seedling beds when the first frost comes we spread it out

row cover has made this job so much better!

when I was first gardening with my grandmother

frost which I wasn’t used to

did all of this mulching to try to keep

when in the 80s when spun polyester row cover and fleece came along it just made wintering over so much easier.

You probably know Lisa Ziegler she’s a flower farmer in Virginia. It does and not only does it help with frost free, it keeps bugs out and moths from laying their eggs at night and then for us also in the middle of hot summer when we’re putting broccolis out, sometimes we need to have them acclimate in the shade of the row cover.

Tell us about something that grew well this year.

something that grew particularly well was roselle

IDK if you can grow it where you are. it’s a 

Hibiscus sabdariffa

I like it because my grandmother when she was young they grew it as jam at thanksgiving was cranberry sauce

didn’t have much in the way of cash

  • they would make tea
  • now you see it as hibiscus tea

then they would make jam

I grow it and make jam out of the swollen calixes it’s so beautiful red and slightly tart!

  • tea
  • jam
  • sauce

really fun

my friends up in Maine have grown some but they grow as a potted plant! A tall potted plant like 3 feet tall!

that goes especially good

another thing that grew really well for us last summer 

Crowder Peas

we got some crowder peas from a young man who is now an intern at so far farm

one of his elderly neighbors

crowder pea a type of southern pea that grows fast and used as a cover crops traditionally fed to the animals as well ~ Crowd out the weeds crowder peas!

I love that!

black eyed peas that cook in an hour

taking a long time

cooking your own bean

the world is probably not going to fall about.


crowd out the weeds

leaves of these are used in stews in Africa as well as the peas as well. It’s something we haven’t, even in the southeast, run out of style. It’s the food that sustained southerners all the devastation of the civil war all these various types of black-eyed peas

built back up the land after the land was destroyed for growing too much cotton

Is there something you would do different next year or want to try/new?

what we are going to do us a big trial of various kinds of pole beans

like them because you don’t have to lean down to harvest them

making these trellises out of cattle panels

ones we are going for are ones where the pod stays tender as the beans are forming in them so you can get both a nice protein rich bean inside and still have a nice crisp pod as well we’re gonna do about 15 of those and compare the taste

this is what they used to make leather britches out of which is to string them up and cook them in the winter as a dish that has both your fresh bean and your dried beans as a part of it.

We do struggle here growing pole beans because he say when he is about to harvest we get a frost so he grows lots of bush beans but I love that you are growing a protein and good for the soil at the saem. Someone else I just talked to said the same thing about growing in the cattle 

they make your garden look so fancy

maybe I saw a picture of it, that’s it!

Tell me about something that didn’t work so well this season.

oh my goodness

you know we try potatoes

we because

oh were you make little potato boxes and you add layers of mulch

it was so dry we didn’t get very good yields from them

It was unfortunate because one of my coop,remember fondly growing them in those boxes in Missouri but it didn’t work so well in VA on the other hand the ones that came out were beautiful and clean and easy to harvest.

That might be a good tip, for people who live in a dryer climate and if you live in a moister climate it might make sense. Mike had a very similar experience but we’re very dry here.

some summers were moist and some are dry so I don’t know if we can count on the boxes but we are going to try one more section

Yeah! getting some of those nice potatoes sounds pretty enticing!

we’ll you know what we did have success with with potatoes

we grew a second crop we planted in June

it was not as productive if we had gone ahead and planted them in march like we did with the boxes but those potatoes we are just finishing them up and they stored so nicely because they weren’t ready till the end of October and the the frost forced us to harvest them. Here in VA because we have such a long season, the early ones are a little shrively in storage so even the potatoes in the South East need their successions.

Now Let’s Get to the Root of Things!

Which activity is your least favorite activity to do in the garden?

I don’t like pulling big weeds I love scuffle hoes

you can go out there and I like mulch and scuffle hoes

anything that will keep my beds clear without getting down on my knees especially now that I am older I don’t like it.

we’re working on some areas where we got a lot of shredded tree bark from an arborist sort of seeing if we can ~ only been at that this last year. In the perennial area it is doing extremely well. 

wood chips

an arborist has brought us truckloads of wood chips and so what we are doing is first mulching the paths for a year or so then using that to mulch the beds. Putting more down in the paths. It’s a kind of self composting area that is also reducing.

The area we are playing around with is about 100 x 100 so it’s a big area to see how this works out.

What is your favorite activity to do in the garden?

I love starting things from seeds! Seeing those little baby seeds and the seedlings pop up and wait and see the true leaves and know that they made it! It’s so exciting. 

So much so we have in our neighborhood, not this year, but we have a little free plant list. All the too many seedlings we started to be shared with neighbors and friends. 

It’s amazing how they seem to populate! 

so when you get a packed of seeds there are lot of plants in that packet! If you don’t control yourself you might start them all. 

I’m excited about your Thomas Jefferson tip because that’s something I struggle with. Every year I say I’m gonna separate the seeds and I never do this way I can just take the thimble full instead of the packet. We just planted arugula sprouts in my room.

What is the best gardening advice you have ever received?

Well, uh, when I first learned about organic gardening, we had been doing many of the things before I learned from a gardener named Jack and he said you may think you are growing these plants but let me tell you, your soil is growing these, so your first job as an organic gardener is building good soil.

Every time

 you take out some plants you need to be putting back in more organic matter and building up the soil

  • look at those leaves
  • grass clippings


think of them as brown gold to be

yeah! Think it’s so true if you work on building your soil you will have good results in your garden!

A favorite tool that you like to use? If you had to move and could only take one tool with you what would it be.

I do, I think a scuffle hoe, and a diamond hoe!

I like the diamond hoe because it’s longer if I am reaching across to get something but I think the scuffle hoe is reliable just quickly going through and getting those little weeds and saving me a world of trouble later.

A favorite recipe you like to cook from the garden?

My favorite recipe is garlicky Brazilian collards

I just honestly I didn’t like them as much cause they were kind of overcooked by my taste that I developed as an adult but then I met someone from Brazil maybe 20 years ago and she says you grow them

  • roll them up like a cigar
  • cut them real thin like chiffonade them
  • peel some garlic chop it up real fine
  • put a little olive oil in the pan
  • garlic gets just lightly tan
  • put in the collards
  • then you scuffle them around
  • you want to blend the garlic into the collards

otherwise all the garlic will be on the bottom and the greens. It’s just like when you are stir frying you want to move it around so they all get to the hot part of the pan then add a little bit of salt

if you don’t eat salt that it’s ok. I think a sprinkling of salt pops the tastes.

A favorite Podcast?

I do listen


I listen to A Way to Garden with Margaret roach

had heard her radio show

i’m not quite up on podcasts

how to keep up with them

I’m learning too!

I think people are going to learn all sorts of new things this spring. I’m so glad to hear about the big interest in gardening!

A favorite internet resource?

well, I like the Clemson website


usda website

all these seeds

Because I’m interested in heirlooms

maintained in their collection

I’ll get out like 10 kinds of Chinese cabbage that were collected in 1930 that will be really fun!

sort of doing research that is a great resource

Have you interviewed Craig LeHoullier?

I have from Epic Tomatoes?

Epic Tomatoes: How to Select and Grow the Best Varieties of All Time

Epic Tomatoes: How to Select and Grow the Best Varieties of All Time

A favorite reading material-book, mag, blog/website etc you can recommend?

well shoot!

In addition to my own books, I like the seed garden

because if someone is wanting to get into seed saving

brings together the information in my old favorite seed to seed

along with 30 years

home seed saver sharing

information to

to do seed saving in a small garden

seed savers exchange had a work with the Organic Seed Alliance

science as well as the practical experience

If you have a business to you have any advice for me on how to get published?

I started out by writing articles and I told my grandmother was s hare cropper

she only had a 5th grade education

we read the encyclopedia for fun!

that was how it was

I didn’t thank of myself as able to write

Mother Earth news had a magazine

regular column

that was regional garden advice

one of my partners at Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, was writing that he and his wife left our coop this needed to be written and then other people asked to write short piece and then years later or so when timber press was looking for someone to write a book about gardening in the

apple person recommended me

I have notebooks full of these one pagers

maybe these can be something

I made an outline

short pieces about something you know quite a bit

newspapers have a lot less resources available to them then the used to

when I first was gardening and paying attention

regular Garden column

You can get them online

we have them at southern exposure.com


order them at your local independent book seller

they ave the same name

Grow Great Vegetables


timber press guide to vegetable gardening in the southeast

helps you get started

tells you about the weather in the particular state

different ways

planting systems you might use


garden planning

month by month tell you what to do in the particular state

each month has a special project like seed saving or growing

edibles A-Z 50 different

growing harvesting

varieties that do well

and then at the end there is a resource section that will help you know where to get more information



theres a lets you know when to start eggplants from seed in a particular state

that you are looking at

there’s a lot of info there for you

And remember when you read it and love it go to amazon and leave a 5star review so other people can read it too!

Final question- if there was one change you would like to see to create a greener world what would it be? For example is there a charity or organization your passionate about or a project you would like to see put into action. What do you feel is the most crucial issue facing our planet in regards to the environment either in your local area or on a national or global scale?

Wow! that is a big one, when I was young I was creating a national organic program a way that eaters could know that Th. food that they were eating was grown using natural organic practices

What I would like to see is that in local areas some kind of mentorship program that puts together local gardener and young people who want to either become more seriously involved in growing food for themselves or as farmers for their communities

There are young people who want to do this and no one in their community to support them as they build a farm. I want to see more of that. 

make a fabulous garden

The other thing people to realize is that seeds matter

charities that I support is seed programs international

you know that thing bout giving a man some fish, so he has food toady

teaching them to fish

for the long term

seed programs international works with women in developing countries

learn how to save their own seeds

How do we connect with you?

Come visit us at SouthernExposure.com 

Ira Wallace

The Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Southeast


Grow Great Vegetables in North Carolina

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About the author, Jackie Marie

I'm an artist and educator. I live at the "Organic Oasis" with my husband Mike where we practice earth friendly techniques in our garden nestled in the mountains of Montana.

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