As spring turns into summer, it’s time to turn your attention to your urban homestead and garden. For those residing in zones 6a, 6b, 7a, and 7b, May marks the start of a busy gardening season. This is THE busy season when it comes to gardening and homesteading with garden, livestock, and general maintenance piling up! With a little planning and elbow grease, you can ensure your homestead and garden are productive and beautiful all season long. From sowing seeds to maintaining your compost pile, there are plenty of essential tasks to tackle this month. In this article, we’ll cover some of the key May garden and urban homestead chores to help you make the most of this exciting time of year.
Let’s start with some gardening and homesteading checklists and then move on to resources to help you get the most out of your urban homestead and garden. This is a big month, with a big list, don’t get overwhelmed and check off what is applicable to your garden and urban homestead.
May Urban Homestead and Garden Chore Checklist
Harden off seedlings – Gradually expose indoor seedlings to outdoor conditions over the first two weeks before transplanting. This helps them adjust to the outdoor environment and reduces transplant shock.
Transplant seedlings – By Mother’s Day weekend, it’s typically safe to transplant seedlings outdoors in most regions. Make sure to plant them in nutrient-rich soil and provide adequate water and sunlight. You may think you can plant before Mother’s Day, but as my Great-Granny always said: ‘No’.
Direct sow seeds – Sow 1/2 to 1/3 of your corn and bean seeds directly into the ground to ensure a succession harvest throughout the summer. Also, consider sowing a second group other succession veggies like beets and carrots.
Watch for pests – Keep an eye out for common garden pests like cabbage worms, aphids, and squash vine borers, which can damage your plants. Consider using natural pest control methods like companion planting, neem oil, or insecticidal soap.
Plant flowers to attract pollinators – Flowers like marigolds, zinnias, and cosmos attract pollinators like bees and butterflies, which help to fertilize your plants and increase yields. Marigolds also help deter pests and make your garden look pretty.
Sow radishes – Sow radish seeds in between your other plants to help fill in empty spaces and deter pests like cucumber beetles. Radishes are fast-growing and can be harvested in as little as 30 days.
Fertilize your plants – May is a good time to fertilize your plants with a slow-release fertilizer to provide them with the necessary nutrients for growth. You can also top dress with compost as you plant.
Water wisely – As the weather heats up, it’s important to water your plants deeply and infrequently to encourage deep root growth. Consider using a soaker hose or drip irrigation system to conserve water and reduce evaporation. Seedlings are at their most tender and usually need some additional moisture to establish good root systems.
Urban Homestead Checklist:
Clean out coop – If you didn’t get to this in April give your chickens a fresh start for the new season and make sure they have a clean and healthy environment.
Clean out compost bins – turn and mix your compost to ensure proper decomposition and make room for new materials. We usually use 90% of our compost when prepping my beds. This is a great time to clean them out and repair any issues before filling them again throughout the growing months.
Build infrastructure – take advantage of the mild weather and build new trellises, raised beds, or fencing before the summer heat sets in.
Clean bedding and pack away clothes – pack up your winter clothes and bedding to make room for summer items. This is a wonderful time to line dry blankets and get that fresh spring smell into all your items before packing them away.
Store winter tools – put away snow shovels, sleds, and other winter tools to free up space in your shed or garage. Don’t be like us and end up with a pile of dirty sleds behind the house in June.
Start a worm bin – create a worm composting bin to help reduce food waste and create nutrient-rich soil for your garden. It will be warm enough to get worms shipped to your house if you don’t have a local supply
Check irrigation systems – If you didn’t get to this in April, inspect and repair any leaks or clogs in your irrigation system before the summer heat sets in. You will need the irrigation in May or June to get that garden rooted deeply enough to handle smaller droughts of rain.
Mulch Paths- apply a layer of mulch to well used pathways to keep weeds at bay and reduce mud during spring rains.
Start moving chicks outside – Depending on the temperature and when you got your chicks it may be time to start introducing them to the flock. Once they have enough feathers for warmth we move them to a sectioned off area of the run so they can see the flock for a week or two before learning to free range with the rest of the chickens.
Maintain your livestock – If you have goats, bees, chickens, or other small livestock this is the time to check for mites, deworming, etc. Pests start coming out of the woodwork this time of year.
May is a busy time for urban homesteaders and gardeners, but with a little planning and effort, you can ensure a bountiful harvest and a healthy, thriving homestead. Use this checklist and resource list to help guide your efforts and make the most of this exciting time of year. Happy gardening and homesteading!
As spring settles in, it’s time to turn your attention to your urban homestead and garden. For those residing in zones 6a, 6b, 7a, and 7b, April marks the start of a busy gardening season. With a little planning and elbow grease, you can ensure your homestead and garden are productive and beautiful all season long. From sowing seeds to maintaining your compost pile, there are plenty of essential tasks to tackle this month. In this article, we’ll cover some of the key April garden and urban homestead chores to help you make the most of this exciting time of year.
Let’s start with some gardening and homesteading checklists and then move on to resources to help you get the most out of your urban homestead and garden.
April Urban Homestead and Garden Chore Checklist
Prepare your soil – Remove any weeds and debris from your garden beds and add a layer of compost or organic matter to improve soil health. If you have left last years seeds and leaves to sustain wildlife now is the time to clean it all out
Plant cool-season crops – April is the perfect time to sow seeds for cool-season vegetables such as peas, lettuce, and spinach. If you live in the mountains consider row covers to assist with late frosts. No matter how warm it gets and how much you want to plant those tomatoes outside… DON’T. You will regret it.
Start fast growing warm weather crops – If you have managed to hold out this long, it is finally time to start your fast growing warm-weather vegetables like squash and cucumbers. They only need 4-6 weeks to be ready to plant out (Just in time for Mother’s Day!)
Prune fruit trees and shrubs – Prune any dead or damaged branches from your fruit trees and shrubs to promote healthy growth and a bountiful harvest. Be careful not to prune out limbs or remove plants that haven’t leafed out yet. Some species like figs and paw paws leaf out much later.
Divide and transplant perennials – Divide and transplant overcrowded perennial plants like day lilies, hostas, and irises.
Clean garden tools – Clean and sharpen garden tools to ensure they’re ready for use. If you are anything like us, its also a good time to sort out that piled up garden shed or greenhouse.
Install birdhouses and feeders – Set up birdhouses and feeders to attract beneficial birds to your garden.
Urban Homestead Checklist:
Maintain your compost pile – Keep your compost pile well-maintained by adding a balance of “green” (nitrogen-rich) and “brown” (carbon-rich) materials and turning it regularly to ensure proper decomposition. If it has been sitting all winter this is a great time to get it stirred back up and finished off in time for planting in May.
Check on your bees – If you’re keeping bees, now is the time to check on your hive and make sure your bees have enough food and space to thrive. We aren’t bee keepers but we suggest taking a class from Oxx Beekeeping (often at Organic Growers School) and reading more here.
Clean your coop – If you’re raising chickens or quail, be sure to clean out their coop and nesting boxes to keep them healthy and happy. We like to take down window covers, do a full clean out of the run/coop, and inspect for any pests at the end of April to give them chickens and quail a nice healthy place for the summer months.
Purchase and Brood Chicks or Hatching Eggs – This is the time that eggs and chicks are plentiful. You will find chicks for sale at local feed and seed stores, on craigslist, and on mail order. Its a little late to order chicks, but you can find some hatcheries that ship throughout May OR start prepping your list for fall orders. Hatching eggs can be found on facebook groups, craigslist, and Ebay, just note that hatch rates are lower after eggs have been bounced through the mail.
Inspect and Repair Fencing – This is the time of year where your small livestock want to get out and graze and your predators are waking up and looking for food. Make sure fencing is secure and undamaged as all animals start roaming further from dens and coops.
Inspect irrigation and Rain Barrels – Review your irrigation/collection system and make any necessary repairs or adjustments. Specifically look for freeze/thaw damage at taps and connectors
Clean Tools and Outdoor Areas – It will finally be warm enough to start really gardening, lounging outside, and making use of your outdoor areas. Prep for warmer weather by cleaning hammocks, outdoor furniture, and tools. It will make the most of warm days without giving you the latitude to plant those warm weather starts too early!
Clean out jars and review the pantry – Make plans for what you want to preserve this year, what you ran out of, and what canned goods you still have left over. Adjust your planting plans accordingly so you don’t end up with those 15 extra cans of pickled okra this year.
April is a busy month for urban homesteaders and gardeners in zones 6a, 6b, 7a, and 7b. From preparing soil for planting to starting seedlings indoors, there are plenty of tasks to tackle to ensure a successful growing season. Other essential chores include planting cool-season crops, mulching garden beds, watering plants, and harvesting early crops. It’s also important to monitor for pests, prune fruit trees, and maintain compost piles and garden tools. With proper planning and care, you can set up your urban homestead for success and enjoy the bounties of a thriving garden throughout the season.
Remember, gardening and homesteading is a process and it’s important to take it one step at a time. Don’t feel overwhelmed by this list – just focus on the tasks that are most important for your garden and take the time to enjoy the process. With a little effort and attention, you can create a beautiful and productive garden that will bring you joy throughout the growing season.
Are you looking to start a small flock of chickens on your urban homestead? We’ve got you covered! After years of experience, we’ve tried and tested various breeds and have found some of the best chicken breeds for urban homesteads. We’ve also come across some breeds that are not suitable for small urban homesteads, like cinnamon queens (aka Divas). In this article, we’ll share our top 5 chicken breeds for urban homesteads, along with some honorable mentions.
Our selection is based on factors such as their ability to stay confined or small free ranging, friendly temperament, and egg-laying capability. We understand that most urban homesteaders are looking for egg-laying chickens that can produce for several years. Because we aren’t looking for processing chickens we weighed these heavily on temperament. I’m not above culling a chicken, but I prefer almost pet-like for my main flock. I keep quail for meat since they are easy and fast to turn over.
Here are the main factors that we consider when choosing chicken breeds for urban homesteads:
Temperament: We look for chickens that are friendly and get along well with other chickens.
Egg Laying: We consider the number of eggs per year and the number of years they keep laying.
Space Needs: Some chicken breeds need more space than others.
Size: Smaller breeds are better suited for small spaces, as larger breeds require more space.
So without further ado, here are our top 5 chicken breeds for urban homesteads, carefully picked to suit your needs.
Top 5 Chicken Breeds for Urban Homesteads
The Buff Orpington is a personal favorite of ours and is the lead chicken of our flock. These chickens are known for their docile and friendly personalities, as well as their solid light brown egg-laying capabilities. Despite being a larger breed, they are comfortable in confined spaces and won’t stray too far if free-ranged. They may even become your new lap chicken! The only drawback is their size, which may be a concern if you’re tight on space.
Temperament: Friendly and docile, great lap chicken
Egg laying capability 200-280 per year
Space needs: Can be confined or free-ranged, but larger in size
Plymouth Rock (aka Barred Rock)
The Plymouth Rock is a smaller heritage breed that lays large light brown eggs. Despite being one of America’s oldest breeds, they fell out of favor for heavier layers. However, we prefer chickens that can lay eggs for years and our Plymouth Rock girl still lays every 2-3 days during the summer months, even at 5 years old. They have a curious and inquisitive personality and are happy to follow you around the yard. Like the Orpington, they’re comfortable in confined spaces and won’t roam too far if free-ranged.
Temperament: Inquisitive and curious, great lap chicken
Egg laying capability: 200 per year
Space needs: Can be confined or free-ranged, but larger in size
Australorps are smaller black chickens known for their docile and gentle temperament. They’re great egg layers, capable of producing up to 200 eggs per year, even in cold or dark conditions. They’re content to stay close to the coop and won’t venture too far if free-ranged. Their smaller size makes them a good option for those with limited space. I haven’t had the best luck with super sweet, pet-like australorps, but their egg laying capability MORE than makes up for their little more wary nature. Plus they get along well with the other chickens.
Temperament: Docile and gentle: does not mean lap chicken in this case.
Egg laying capability: 200 per year
Space needs: Can be confined or free-ranged, smaller in size
Silkies are a unique and fluffy breed that make great pets. They have a calm and gentle temperament and are known for their broodiness (i.e. tendency to sit on eggs and hatch chicks). Silkies are not the most prolific egg layers, with an average of 100-120 eggs per year, but their friendly personality and charming appearance more than make up for it. They are a bantam breed, meaning they are small in size, making them great for urban homesteads with limited space. Plus who doesn’t want a chicken with an extra toe and black skin?
Temperament: Calm and gentle, great pet
Egg laying capability: 100-120 per year
Space needs: Can be confined or free-ranged, smaller in size
If you’re looking for a chicken breed that’s not only cute but also friendly and easy to care for, the Bantam Cochin might be the one for you. These fluffy little chickens are a smaller version of the standard Cochin, but they make up for their size with their personality. They are gentle, calm, and very friendly, making them great for families with children. They are also excellent foragers, which means they can find much of their own food if given the opportunity to free-range.
Temperament: Gentle and friendly, great with children and other pets.
Egg Laying capability: 150-200 per year
Space needs: Can be confined but prefer to free-range
Welsummer – The Welsummer is a medium-sized breed known for their dark brown, speckled eggs. They are friendly and easy to handle, making them great for families with children. Welsummers do well in confinement but also enjoy free-ranging. If you’re looking for a breed that is both beautiful and practical, Welsummers are a great choice. Our Wellies are super smart and the best at catching bugs and pests
Buckeye – The Buckeye is a medium-sized breed that is good for both egg laying and meat production. They have a friendly disposition and are easy to handle. They do well in confinement but also enjoy free-ranging. If you’re looking for a breed that is versatile and low-maintenance, Buckeyes are a great choice. Also it was the first breed developed by a woman
Brahma – The Brahma is a large breed known for their calm and friendly demeanor. They are good egg layers but are also used for meat production. Brahmas do well in confinement but also enjoy free-ranging. If you’re looking for a breed that is both gentle and productive, Brahmas are a great choice. Who doesn’t want a gentle giant wandering around the yard?
Cuckoo Marans – The Cuckoo Marans is a medium-sized breed known for their dark brown eggs. They have a friendly disposition and are easy to handle. They do well in confinement but also enjoy free-ranging. If you’re looking for a breed that is both attractive and productive, Cuckoo Marans are a great choice. They are pretty human focused and easier to find than their darker egg laying cousin the, French Copper Maran.
Chickens to Avoid if Less Experienced:
Easter Eggers/Americanas/Araucanas – These breeds are known for their colorful eggs, but they can be flighty and difficult to handle. They also tend to be loud and may not be suitable for urban settings. If you’re looking for a breed that is easy to care for and docile, Easter Eggers, Americanas, and Araucanas may not be the best choice.
Olive Eggers – Similar to the Easter Eggers, Olive Eggers can be flighty and difficult to handle. They are also less consistent in their egg laying than other breeds. If you’re looking for a breed that is both unique and easy to care for, Olive Eggers may not be the best choice.
Chickens We Won’t Raise Again on Our Urban Homestead.
Svart Hona (or other land race breeds) – These breeds are not as common and may be harder to find. They are also known for being more difficult to handle and may not be suitable for beginner chicken owners. If you’re looking for a breed that is both low-maintenance and easy to care for, Svart Hona chickens and other land race breeds may not be the best choice.
Hybrids like Cinnamon Queens – These breeds are often marketed as good egg layers, but they can be prone to health problems and may not live as long as purebred breeds. They also tend to be more flighty and may not be as friendly as other breeds. While they can be good for egg production, they may require more attention and care than other breeds.
In summary, there are many chicken breeds to choose from, each with their own unique characteristics and advantages. When selecting a breed, it’s important to consider factors such as temperament, egg production, size, and suitability for your specific living situation. By doing your research and selecting the right breed for you, you can enjoy the many benefits of raising chickens, from fresh eggs to enjoyable companionship.
Can you grow figs in zone 6 or zone 7? Absolutely! I have tips to grow a variety of figs, outdoors, in zone 6 and 7 climates from personal experience. For those of you in even colder (4 & 5) zones I have some techniques to help grow fig trees that are proven to work. For those of you unfamiliar with fresh figs, they are an amazingly sweet, succulent fruit that can be grown on fig plants that are kept as trees, bushes, or espalier. Fresh figs do not ship well, so you may not have a chance to enjoys the nuanced flavor of fresh figs unless you grow them yourself. With a little bit of planning you can have hundreds of fresh figs for drying, canning, baking, jam, and other uses. Let’s jump in to fig growing tips!
In order to keep figs, growing outside in cold climates, you need to look at a few factors, site selection/root preservation, water, pruning, and variety selection. If you live in a climate that is just tooooo cold for figs, don’t worry I have tips/variety selections for pots. Let’s get started:
3 S’s (Site Selection for Figs)
The number one tip for growing figs in zone 6, zone 7, and colder climates is site selection. I keep 3 S’s in mind
Of the three, finding a sunny, south facing location is absolutely key to making a fig happy and the keeping roots survive over the winter. South facing, sunny locations, help to create a warm microclimate that better matches the native, warm climates of Turkey, India, and the Mediterranean. Figs appreciate well-draining soil, but I have found my fig plants do just fine in clay soil too. They do seem to grow a bit slower in super hardpacked clay, but what doesn’t? Just one of the joys of the southern US.
If you want to up your site selection game, it is even better if you can find a sunny, southern location, near a wall. Walls (especially cement, brick, or thick surface) acts as a heatsink. A heatsink, during the winter months, will help regulate heat and keep warmth near the root base of the fig by absorbing the warmth of the sun throughout the day and re-radiating the warmth at night. Preserving the root base is the most important part of keeping figsin cold climates. Even if you have a massive cold snap that kills all the limbs, figs can regrow and produce fruit from the root base in a single year.
Liquid Diet (Water Needs of Figs)
Fresh figs are a plump juicy fruit. In order to make fruit with a high water content, figs, will suck up lots of water. IMPORTANT: This does not mean water your figs all the time. Figs are specially adapted to more arid climates. This means, the roots should not be constantly wet, and you also shouldn’t plant a fig near your water line… It will seek it out. In growing my figs I do not need supplemental water, unless I am newly establishing a planting. If you live in a wetter zone 5, 6, 7 don’t worry. I live in a pretty wet climate, I just made sure that my figs aren’t planted in a low lying area where water pools or stays super damp (like behind my garage).
While we are on the topic of diet, Figs do well with only light fertilization. In fact, I have found I am more likely to get giant leaves and less fruit if I give a fig too much nitrogen. So frankly, I don’t. Why waste my awesome compost on a tree that does worse with it? If you have poor soil or sandy soil I suggest topping with a good compost each spring. Only add more fertilizer if the growth slows or leaves show signs of nutrient deficiency otherwise like the infomercial “set it and forget it”.
Cut Them Out (How to Prune Figs)
Hear me out: Pruning figs is both important and not important all at once. Figs produce two crops a year. The first one (called Breba) grows on the previous year’s wood. This harvest is smaller and in early summer. So if you prune all your limbs in the fall, you are not going to get much of a breba crop. However, in my experience the breba crop is not much of anything in cold weather climates. We have variable last frosts, and strangely hot and cold springs in zone 6 & 7 in the mountains. So at most I’m only getting a few figs and would rather have nice tame trees. If you live in a more stable climate then maybe a Breba crop would work better for your figs. In which case, ignore everything I said and very carefully prune old growth in the spring.
The second ‘main’ crop of figs happens in late summer/early fall on new wood. This means you need to be selective on pruning new growth. That being said, I keep my figs trimmed because I have my main “big boy” right beside the house (well away from my water line :)) and he grows like whoa… I need to be able to walk around him and harvest the figs without climbing a 10ft ladder. Some of my secondary figs I want to keep more as bushes and less tree like, so, I let the roots send up shoots and I top off the branches when they get about head high. One I grow along a wall and trim back the limbs that grow outward. Long story short, trim as you like, but make major cuts when the fig is dormant (all the leaves have been shed). Also, before you go “cleaning out dead wood” in the spring WAIT. Figs, in colder climates, leaf out well after a lot of other plants… I cannot tell you the number of times I have thought limbs were dead and then ended up sprouting leaves.
Variety is the Spice of Life
Now for my favorite part of this article, varieties adapted for cold weather. Over the years, growers have developed fig varieties that are better suited for colder climates like zone 5, zone 6, and zone 7. Or varieties that do better in containers that could be brought inside in very cold climates. If you do grow in pots you will need a cool location to stash the pots during the winter so they can have a dormant time. I keep mine in an unheated greenhouse. Please note, all varieties listed are self pollinating as most cold climates do not have the necessary fig wasp for pollination. Now on to the varieties (all Ficus carica), here are a few options below:
Chicago Hardy (Zone 5 (Sheltered),6,7,8,9,10) The most well known of the cold weather figs, Chicago Hardy was thought to be brought over my immigrants from Sicily, Italy to Chicago, Illinois USA. This brown fig does exceptionally well dying back to the roots and re-growing year after year.
Celeste (Zone 5 (Sheltered),6,7,8,9,10) Lighter brown/purple fig with sweet flavor. Makes a good bush variety. Does not do quite as well with constant dieback so see the tips/tricks for helping overwinter figs.
White Marseilles (Zone 6,7,8,9) Brought over from France and a favorite of Thomas Jefferson this greenish to yellow fig is sweet and does well outdoors in cold climates. While I purchased a Celeste fig, I am fairly certain this is what I am actually growing as my “big boy”. The fruit stays green and I look for ripeness when they start to hang down. Delicious, these are also good for using in cooking as they won’t darken the color of whatever you are making.
Brown Turkey (Zone 6,7,8,9,10) We are fairly certain this smaller brown fig is what my mother grows. Supposedly, the fruit is less tasty compared to other varieties. We have not found this to be the case. It produces TONS of small brown figs that make excellent jam or quick bitesized snacks.
Dr. Monticello (Zone 6,7,8,9) This fig was brought over from Italy via Dr. Sam Monticello’s grandmother when she immigrated to Kansas and Missouri. Supposed to have a richer flavor the Celeste
Letizia (Zone 6,7,8,9,10) Amber to Dark brown fig brought over in the early 1900’s from Marche region of Italy. It was grown in a semi-protected garden area in Pennsylvania and propagated. Smaller than a Chicago hardy but produces a more solid breba crop. Young trees need more protection until established.
Olympian Fig (Zone 6,7,8,9)
A newer (2014) fig variety discovered in Olympia, Washington, USA. Purple skinned crop known for surving temps down to zero F or (-18 C).
Violette de Bordeaux/Negronne(Zone 6,7,8,9) Smaller purple fig with dark purple to red flesh. This is also a fig that does well in containers.
Fig Container Varieties
The following aren’t great for cold climates but they are all proven/bred specifically to be productive in containers.
Petit Negra/Negri (Zone 7,8,9,10) Although this one doesn’t do quiet as well in cold, it remains small and does great in containers. With deep purple to black fruit it can be kept small with good production.
Fignomenal (Zone 8,9,10,11) Why is this one listed? This fig is especially created for containers and indoor growth. In theory you don’t need to let it chill and can just bring it indoors as the weather cools. I am growing this one, but it is my first year, so I cannot comment on production and if it really does well with no chill periods
Little Ruby (Zone 7,8,9,10) Good grower of tiny bitesized red figs. I won’t go into all the reviews I read, but it looks like it isn’t quite as sweet but does have a deep ‘fig’ flavor.
Little Miss Figgy (Zone 7,8,9,10) This dwarf fig is a great bush type fig. It can be used for ornamental purposes but will also grow small brown figs with red centers in containers.
Extra Tips & Tricks for Growing Figs
Now that we know how to site, prune, care for, and pick a fig variety for our cold climate it is time for a few tips and tricks for making them even more cold resistent in marginal zones like 5, 6, & 7.
Mulch: You will want to layer a good few inches of mulch around the roots in fall. Don’t bury them so deep that you run the risk of rot, but three to four inches will act like insulation. I read about folks adding a foot of mulch. Maybe this works in much colder/dryer climates, but for a damp zone 6 you run the risk of essentially composting the roots over the winter.
Low Water: This is incredibly important for container plants. Do not irrigate in-ground figs during the winter. And only water pots sparingly while the fig is dormant. Let the top 2-3 inches go dry before watering again.
Ignore all this advice and go full insulation: In zone 6b and zone 7a with a good south facing site I have never had to do a full on insulation. However, folks have had success keeping figs outdoors as far as zone 2-3 with trenching and/or insulation. I personally, have trouble picturing a great harvest simply due to the length of time it takes to ripen a main crop of figs, but please feel free to educate me in the comments below. Here are two comprehensive tutorials on insulating figs and trenching/burying figs (an old Chicago tradition).
Harvest Time (Harvesting Fig Fruits and Leaves)
Once you have a fig that is growing for a two to three years you are going to find that you have a LOT of figs. Harvesting is a cinch.
Ripe Fig Fruit: Depending on the color of fruit you may need to look at a couple of factors to decide on peak ripeness. For green/white fruits I look for when the fruit swells and starts to hang down from the branch. For Brown and Purple fruit you can gauge ripeness by the deep color. In both cases if the fruit looks pretty ripe and it is about to rain pick it! Ripe fruit will split quickly if it rains. Split fruit is immediately attractive to bugs and mold, so, as soon as the fruit splits grab it! Fruits on the counter will last a day or two, you can stretch the lifespan in the fridge a couple more days, but figs need to be eaten or processed pretty quickly.
Note: If figs have started to ripen you can bring them in and let the process finish. If they are still green they will NOT finish ripening. I prefer peak ripeness. Lightly press the flesh to see if the fig is ‘ripening’. If softer then it has started. If very soft you are probably near/at peak ripeness.
Fig Leaves: Fig leaves are edible! These can be harvested throughout the growing season. You can easily sun dry them for tea (it makes a nice coconut flavor to tea) or blanch them and use them like grape leaves.
Green Fruits: Inevitably in cold climates you will be left with green fruit at frost time. You can pick this fruit and use it in recipes.
Preserving the Harvest
Now that you have your ripe fruit, green fruit, or leaves you may want to make it last. I have linked some articles with recipes for preserving/using figs. We LOVE to make ripe fig jam in late summer to tide us through to fall.
Fig Jam: We used this recipe last year. The flavor was divine but it was a little runny. I might look at adding a tiny bit of pectin or maybe some citrus zest.
Dried Figs: I love to simply halve my figs and plop them in my handy Ronco food dehydrator (Oh yeah I can’t make that shit up) until they are like fig jerky. Here is probably a better way to do it…
Fig Leaf Tea: When I prune my figs I let the leaves dry in the sun (They dry quickly) and then crush them up to add a coconut/tropical flavor to herbal tea.
Pickled Green Figs: At the end of the season you will most always have some green figs left over that didn’t ripen in colder climates. I am going to try this recipe for pickled green figs right before my first frost.
Do you have a favorite type of fig or fig recipe? If so, please share in the comments below:
Ordering seeds for your garden is one of the most exciting ways to find new varieties of plants you wouldn’t be able to simply get as starts nearby. But ordering seeds, especially heirloom seeds, can be overwhelming. Below we will go over the differences in heirloom, organic, open pollinated, and other seed types. As well as what factors you should consider when picking a seed company to place orders with. We have marked our top eight companies for ordering heirloom seeds so you can figure out the best place to order seeds for you and tips for making those seeds last. Finally, we have a comprehensive list of the best places throughout the United States to order heirloom, organic, and open pollinated seed. Spoiler: We are NOT affiliated with any of these companies except one. We have just spent years ordering and trialing seeds.
What Is The Difference Between Heirloom, Organic, and other seed types?
When you begin looking through seed catalogs and ordering seeds you may see a lot of different terms. It is going to be hard to select your particular best place to order seeds unless you know what type of seed you want to order. Let’s go over a few of these and explain that when ordering heirloom seeds not all definitions are the same.
Open Pollinated Seed: Open pollinated seeds are sees that when you grow a plant you can then save the same seeds off that plant and have it come out like its mother plant. For example, if you grow an “Amish Paste” variety of tomato and save seed from those tomatoes than you should come out with an “Amish Paste” tomato the next year. Please Note: There is a lot more that has to occur to save true seed, but being open pollinated versus hybrid seed is the start.
Heirloom Seed: All heirloom seeds are open pollinated and non-GMO by their very nature. There is no exact definition of what makes something an heirloom, but generally it means the seed is open pollinated, and saved seed varieties that originated BEFORE World War II. However, I will often see heirloom added to any open pollinated seed regardless of how long the variety has been in existence.
Non-GMO Seed: Labelling a seed non-gmo means that it has not been genetically modified in a lab. Most varieties of seed have been genetically modified by careful selection in a garden over many years, so non-GMO speaks specifically to not have genes altered or added directly through gene modification techniques. FUN FACT you should NOT be able to order GMO seed for non-commercial operations. That being said, there is a real problem with GMO drift. Corn is one of the worst culprits for accidently having GMO genes passed on. If this is an important issue to you as a garden you will want to buy seed that is non-GMO Certified. They will have tested a certain sample of the seed to make sure it didn’t accidently end up with GMO traits.
Hybrid Seed: Hybrid seeds sometimes get bad rap because they aren’t “pure”. Hybrid seeds come from crossing two very specific and different parent varieties to create a plant that has different characteristics than the parent plants. The drawbacks are if you save seed from hybrid plants you probably won’t get the same plant you started with. But I don’t hate on hybrids. Hybrids can offer a lot of cool properties like disease resistance or high yield that you might not be able to get out of an open pollinated type. Also, many folks aren’t equipped to both grow in a small garden and meet the necessary rules for pure seed saving (like distance). So if you aren’t set on saving a particular seed, then give hybrids a look. They can be particularly good for new gardeners as many hybrids are grown to be a bit tougher than their open pollinated cousins.
Organic Seed: Organic seeds can be hybrid or open pollinated seed types BUT heirloom and open pollinated seeds do NOT have to be organic. The organic label means the parent plants of the seeds had to be grown in organic certified conditions. I’ll save my rather negative opinion of the organic certification process for another post :). It is ONE method to insure you start with seed that hasn’t been around non-organic pesticide. But I personally think finding a reputable seed supplier who follows your ethics is probably a better indication.
Pelleted Seed: This is seed that has been coated in… something. The purpose is to make smaller seed larger and more uniform in size for easier sowing (via hand or seeder). Depending on the seed type they may use clay or some other ‘seed safe’ coating. Pelleted seed is great for carrots but it is often hard to find for heirloom varieties.
What To Look For When Ordering Heirloom Seeds?
Spoiler: There isn’t going to one BEST place to order heirloom and organic seeds. But there is going to be one or two best places for you specifically to order seeds. To figure that out you need to understand what seed type you want to order (above) and some other factors.
Cost: Unless you are Richey McRichison cost is going to be a factor. Specialty seeds aren’t cheap. Organic designation can add to the cost. Some companies like to work with farmers or resellers and give good discounts to bulk orders. Which leads to our next consideration–>
Scale: Are you going to be a small hobby gardener or scale to market? Maybe even full time agriculture. Seed sellers generally cater to large or small scale. However, there are a few vendors that sell to both.
Location, Location, Location: One of the joys of buying heirloom seed is that it has been saved over many years. Which means varieties can often acclimate to a particular region. Finding a seed source near your area can often mean less work as a gardener. The varieties will be used to your weather and pests with natural defenses for both.
Variety: One of the joys of buying heirloom seed is getting something not found in every store! I like to find seed sellers with enough variety of choice to satisfy my “oooh and awwwweee” factor. But buyer beware, sometimes a more targeted seed seller is going to fully understand the exact varieties they are selling. Their advice and commitment to those varieties can get your garden really going. They have picked things they know are reliable and tasty.
Seed Health: Let us say it again: GERMINATION RATE. All those fancy peppers I was trialing last year…. 1 whole packet never even germinated. Also open pollinated seeds have to be kept in special conditions in order to make sure the seed you get will grow up like the parent plant. One year all my tomatoes were not what was on the packet. :(. The company refunded all my money when I sent them pictures, but what a waste of a growing season when you end up with some tasteless paste tomato when you really wanted a rich slicing variety
Mission and Values: A number of heirloom varieties disappeared over the years when hybrid and “easier” vegetables came on the market. There are companies DEVOTED to preserving these varieties. Other companies work with local communities or other charitable activities. I always think it is nice to work with a company doing good things when I can.
Shipping: Based on exact cost of weight and zip. via USPS.
Often free order +$49
Free in-store pickup
Unknown: International Shipping
Why we love them: There are sooooo many reasons to love Sow True Seed. My top reason is that they trial the seeds they sell. You know you are going to buy seeds that work well in the Southeastern United States. I have, personally, great germination rates that result in tasty vegetables. They are small, give tons of seeds away for school and community gardens, and are just generally nice people. Over the years their website has evolved to make it easy to order heirloom seeds as well as open pollinated varieties. They also have signed the safe seed pledge so you know they do their utmost to keep clean, non-gmo seed.
Things to consider: They ship all over the US but their physical location in Asheville, NC is where their focus is involved.
Why we love them: Do you need a cucumber that looks like a dragon egg? What about a bean that grows over 4ft long? Cause they will have it. If you want to find unusual varieties from around the world this is the place to go. Added bonus, the yearly catalog might as well be plant porn.
Things to consider: The seed packets can be really small. Like barely have enough pepper seeds to double plant a small tray (12 peppers?!). The germination can be dubious at best. They do try to mark seed packets with low germination and add more seeds, but that is only after you receive your order. Finally, they are getting varieties from all over the world. It makes them really, really cool but it also means I’ll be trying to grow a blue butterfly pea plant for the 3rd year in a row (Yeah, I don’t give up easily) because it just doesn’t like something about Western North Carolina. Honestly, I would hesitate to base my entire garden on their seeds but I use them as an add-on every single year.
Shipping: Just depends. We order Prime if we can for free and many Etsy sellers offer free shipping.
Why we love them: We combined these two as the same because of the key reason we like them. FYI, We are Amazon Affiliates (link above is an affiliate link), but that isn’t the reason we suggest Amazon. Amazon\Etsy can have things you just can’t find anywhere else. Both locations can connect with you with small independent sellers who carry items that you just cannot find other places. I have found that costs can be higher than expected as items get padded in shipping costs
Things to consider: Amazon and to a lesser extent Etsy are large corporations that are platforms for other sellers. This can be great in giving a small seller a larger online presence, but it can also mean they take a lot of money out of the small seller’s profit. Call it a love-hate relationship with this type of big corporation. Additionally, you rarely know what type of seed you are getting. These aren’t the common seed markets so reviews are limited in some cases, and you are just taking a chance at the quality. I will say though, I have an awesome banana tree I ordered as a teeny tiny plant from Amazon. I also had to throw out a bag of Jerusalem artichokes when I was trying to source bulbs a few years back because they were rotten (Sow True carries these now). I have had some success with seeds, but also have gotten packets of dubious nature when ordering heirloom seeds. Its a buyer beware area.
5 Other Really Awesome Places to Order Heirloom Seeds
Johnny’s Selected Seed: Especially great if you are looking at bulk orders for farming. Their focus is more commercial in nature but they are open for home gardeners ordering heirloom and organic seeds.
Botanical Interests: We picked up a few packs from them on sale at Ace hardware a few years ago and they did wonderfully. Their packets are meant to help new gardeners and are beautiful and informative. Their website has specific areas for organic and heirloom types seeds.
Seed Savers Exchange: I have NOT personally used their seed, but I am familiar with their mission. They are one of the big groups to help preserve heirloom seeds for future use. They also help facilitate seed exchange among seed savers. They are on m to-try list if I ever get past the first five I have listed.
High Mowing Seeds: They are another company I am familiar with but don’t use regularly. The nice thing is being out of Vermont they offer a lot of good varieties for the East Coast of the US. They have also been in the organic seed business a LOOOONNNGGGG time. You know you will be getting real organic seed when you order from them.
Burpee: You may be appalled by our last choice since Burpee is more synonymous with big box gardening than organic and heirlooms, but I stand by them. I like to meet gardeners where they are and not everyone is ready to go hunt down esoteric packs of strange and delightful white tomatoes. (Trust me, you will get there if you get hooked in gardening). Burpee has entire lines of organic and heirloom seeds. Often you can find some of these lines at Lowes, Home Depot, and other big box stores. They focus on lines of seeds that give good consistent results and provide seed that is accessible to a lot more folks. I will often fill my vegetable needs from Burpee seeds and they grow great plants.
Need Even More Options?! See the list at the bottom of the post for even more specialty locations to order heirloom seeds, as well as organic and open pollinated seeds. Please add your favorite seed places in the comments and I will update the list.
How to Keep Your Seeds Organized
Now that you have figured out how to locate the best places to order heirloom seeds don’t forget to keep them organized and safe! People often do not realize you do not need to order $100’s of seeds each year. For a small family a single packet of tomato seeds can generate enough plants for 3-4 growing seasons. There are really three things to keep in mind:
Keep up with what you order
Keep them dry, cool, and safe
Keep up with what you order (It is worth saying twice)
I always THINK I am going to remember what I ordered, what I liked the previous year, etc. I don’t unless I literally MAKE myself. Now, I keep a nice online inventory. I make notes at the end of the year and before I allow myself to order anything new. Added bonus, it is easy to simply hit “share” and let my gardening friends see what extras I have on hand. Here is a handy link to our seed inventory and printable seed saving guide. This can help you keep your heirloom seeds organized and determine when seeds are going out of date so you can plant them accordingly.
Finally, remember to just have fun and enjoy ordering/planting these unusual heirloom seeds. You may not get every seed to become a beautiful plan but it is one of the best ways you can help preserve and taste history!
THE List of Places to Order Heirloom, Organic, and Open Pollinated Seeds