Growing Good Seed: A Visit to the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

ping tung long LSSI

Ping Tung Long Eggplant from the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange is a variety adapted to the humid conditions of the island. It is resistant to the Root Knot Nematode prevalent in our soil. Its origin is Taiwan, another island in our latitude that’s hot and buggy too.

You often hear growers preaching the importance of the soil, but equally important is the quality of the seed you put in the ground.  Growing varieties well-adapted to your region, its climate and soil type, sets you up for success each season.

Most of the seed we plant on Little St. Simon’s Island comes from the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange in Virginia. My family recently stopped in on a road trip this summer.


Gardens of the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Much of their seed is sourced from farmers in the Southeast, and that means the seed is conditioned to grow in this hot and humid environment with its abundance of pests.  Many of their varieties specify resistances to particular diseases and pests, as coded in their catalog.

seed packs

When you get your seed where farmers get theirs, its germination rate is likely superior to whatever you might find at your local hardware or garden store.   A farmers’ livelihood depends on it.  They won’t be hoodwinked into buying poor seed with a fancy package that a hobbyist will put in the ground with little results thinking it’s them.

ira master gardener ken in seed fridgesenna in seed freezerLuckily, there are folks out there like Ira Wallace and Ken Bazilla, long-time worker/owners of the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. (And that’s my daughter Senna in the seed freezer :) ) They’re looking out for ordinary folk who want to partake in this ancient and essential tradition of growing food for oneself, family and community.

Keep it up, Southern Exposure!  We thank you for your excellent work.

zinnia and corn

Zinnia and Maize



bean tee pee

Pole Beans

planting seeds 2

Planting beets and peas with Ira

seed fridge

Seed Cooler

seed packer with tomato pack

Seed Packer

seed supply closet

Shopping for seeds!

From the Garden: Seed to Pickle


When the harvest comes on fast and plenty, it’s time for pickling! Seen here the Arkansas Little Leaf Cucumber.

It’s the height of summer and our cucumber and bean production is just wrapping up.  These long, warm days are perfect for indoor food-preservation projects, and nothing gets faster results than quick pickling.  The kitchen has been featuring pickled beans, cucumbers, and peppers from our garden in a variety of styles, both sweet and sour. The empty pickle bowls at the end of meals speak for themselves.


Every good pickle starts with a good brine and includes the freshest produce available.  We pickled two varieties of cucumbers this year, both grown in our garden: the Suyo Long from Asia and the Arkansas Little Leaf.


Suyo Long Cucumbers

Both varieties work well in this environment. We chose them for their pest- and rot-resistance, which is key in this hot and buggy climate.  Growing varieties familiar to your growing region and climate is a trick of the trade among organic growers.  The Southern Exposure Seed Exchange out of Virginia is where we source most of our seeds. Many of their seed growers are farmers in the southeast.

You do your best growing the right variety, but pests often make an appearance anyway. The pickleworm reemerged this year, but we got an early handle on it with the biological pesticide BT.  (Read more about our history with the worm and the pesticide.) When our kitchen is overwhelmed with cucumbers, I’d say we triumphed!

Here’s our recipe for your own home-made quick dill pickle. The whole coriander seeds and sprigs of dill make for a real eye-catcher!

———-Dill Pickle Recipe———-

  • *1.25 C distilled white vinegar
  • *3 tbsp kosher salt
  • *2 tbsp sugar
  • *2 C cold water
  • *2 tbsp coriander seed
  • *6 large cloves garlic, peeled and halved
  • *1 tsp mustard seed
  • *0.25 tsp red pepper flakes
  • *16 sprigs dill
  • *1.5 to 2 lbs cucumbers, cut in spears or sliced in 0.25 inch rounds

Combine vinegar, salt, and sugar in a small, non-reactive saucepan over high heat. (Stainless steel, glass, teflon, or ceramic will work.)   Whisk until the salt and sugar are dissolved.  Transfer liquid into a bowl and whisk in cold water.  Refrigerate brine until ready to use.

Place cucumbers in clean 2 qt. container such as a large Tupperware or stainless steel stockpot.  Add coriander seed, garlic cloves, mustard seeds, red pepper flakes, and dill sprigs, then pour chilled brine over the mixture.  If necessary, add water until the cucumbers are covered.  Cover container and refrigerate for 24 hours, then serve; cucumbers will keep for up to a month.

The Start of Sea Turtle Nesting

The 2015 sea turtle nesting season is off to a busy start on Little St. Simons Island and along the coast of Georgia. As of June 4 we have already found 35 sea turtle nests on LSSI and 545 nests have been recorded statewide this season.

A loggerhead sea turtle nest

A freshly laid loggerhead sea turtle nest on LSSI. Photo Credit: Elise Diehl


Female sea turtles emerge from the ocean to lay nests above the high tide line from May until July. Eggs hatch two months later, and turtle hatchlings crawl from the nest to the ocean under the cover of night. On the Georgia coast, most of the nesting that occurs is from loggerhead sea turtles, but green and leatherback sea turtle nests have also been documented.

On Little St. Simons Island, 123 loggerhead nests were recorded in 2013 and 53 in 2014. These high and low emergence years are normal since loggerhead sea turtles mate every 2-3 years. This year is predicted to be a very active and successful season due to the population rebounding after being protected by the Endangered Species Act and fewer turtles breeding last year (with the mating cycle this should be a higher year).

Elise Diehl is returning for a second season as LSSI’s sea turtle technician. . Elise’s position is part of a long standing, close partnership with Georgia Department of Natural Resources. Sea turtle nesting and hatching has been monitored on LSSI since 1987. Elise bikes the seven miles of beach each morning at sunrise searching for turtle crawls. When a crawl is located she determines if the female turtle laid a nest, or decided to return to the ocean without nesting, known as a false crawl. A turtle false crawls when she feels threatened or does not find the site suitable for nesting. She will often return to the same area within the next few nights to attempt nesting again if this is the case.

Elise marks each nest with a numbered stake, and protective screens to keep predators, like raccoons and ghost crabs, from digging into the nest. If a nest is laid too close to the tide line, Elise relocates it to a higher site to prevent overwashing from tides. Tidal overwash can drown eggs and hatchlings waiting to emerge from the nest.

LSSI's Sea Turtle Technician, Elise Diehl, next to a staked and protected nest.

LSSI’s Sea Turtle Technician, Elise Diehl, next to a staked and screen protected nest.

If you would like to keep track of this season’s sea turtle nesting on LSSI or in Georgia, please visit We are hoping for a record year!

-Lauren Gingerella, Ecological Technician

Conservation Easement

Guests have been visiting Little St. Simons Island to experience its natural beauty, sweeping coastal landscapes, and abundant wildlife since the island opened to the public in 1979.  Although the Lodge has won numerous hospitality awards, the number one attraction has always been the island itself.  Conservation organizations, too, have long recognized the importance of the island’s natural, intact habitats, and healthy populations of rare and threatened wildlife.


Last week the owners of Little St. Simons Island donated a conservation easement to The Nature Conservancy on the entire 11,000 + acre island.  This easement ensures that the preservation efforts that have been practiced by the island’s owners for many years will be permanent.  Our guests and conservationists alike can now rest assured that the natural beauty and the ecological integrity of the island will forever be protected.

Along the southeastern coast, Little St. Simons Island stands out among the barrier
islands as having some of the most intact natural habitat and healthiest wildlife populations. The island has been minimally altered over the course of its human history.00134_DSC_3819
Unlike other coastal properties, LSSI’s live oaks were not extensively harvested, and the maritime forest was not cleared for agriculture.  Major Pierce Butler, the island’s antebellum period owner, set a precedent for stewardship by refusing to sell the rights to timber the island. He stated that he wished “to leave to my children the estate as perfect as possible.” Since the time of the Butler family’s ownership, the island’s owners have upheld this tradition of preservation. After the Lodge compound was built in the early 1900s, the island’s development has been contained within this small footprint, ensuring that over 11,000 acres have remained a fine example of coastal wilderness.

Little St. Simons Island has a long history of active conservation, including the nesting sea turtle monitoring and management program that dates back to the 1987.  In recent years conservation and ecological management efforts have been enhanced with guidance from the island’s Ecological Advisory Council.  00174_DSC_4418The easement ensures that the conservation guidelines and management practices that the island has been following and implementing for years will remain in place to continue to protect the island’s habitats and wildlife. Returning guests will be unlikely to notice any changes, but we hope they will celebrate with us knowing that one of the most significant natural areas on the southeastern coast has been preserved for perpetuity.

Click here to read the official press release from The Nature Conservancy.

Summer Cover Cropping in the Garden

Take care of the sIMAG0322oil and it will take care of you. Cover cropping is an easy way to condition the soil whenever a part of your garden is lying fallow. Cover crops protect the soil, build structure to maintain the microbial life within, suppress weeds, add organic matter and keep nutrients from leaching away each time it rains. Some popular summer covers include: buckwheat, sudan grass, sunn hemp, cowpeas, and velvet beans.  Each one has its particular benefits, so choose according to your needs.  (Here is a comprehensive guide to cover crops of the southeast.)


Buckwheat (photo courtesy of Cornell University)

Some summer covers we’ll be using on LSSI are buckwheat and velvet bean. Buckwheat is a quick-growing cover crop for short sowing windows.  I recently spread some buckwheat seed where I intend to plant sweet potatoes next month.  I cleared the field of winter arugula, but my potato starts were not ready yet. Come June, the buckwheat will have grown shin-high and will be easy to hoe in to make way for my sweet potato seedlings.  You can put buckwheat in for longer, just keep trimming the heads back with some hedge shears or a weed whacker each time it flowers so it won’t reseed itself.  I’ll be seeding buckwheat all season as my earlier spring crops of lettuce and beans quit producing and it’s too hot to plant a second round of snap beans or summer squash.


Velvet bean. (photo courtesy of

We’ll grow velvet beans in the raised beds that need a break this summer.  Giving the soil regular rest is a sound practice in sustainable soil management.  On LSSI, we rotate our production beds, trying to give each bed or row a rest once a year. Think of cover crops as a living mulch, and velvet beans lay it on heavy. It grows a lot of organic matter, and because it is a legume, it will fix nitrogen into the soil for the next crop. Just chop it in with a hoe and let it sit and break down before sowing the next thing.  Velvet bean is an especially beneficial cover for us because it is known for deterring the detrimental soil pest, the root-knot nematode.  We haven’t grown regular tomatoes in our garden for years because this critter binds to the roots and takes soil nutrients from our plants. Look out for an update next summer, as I plant tomatoes in the beds I treated with velvet beans to see its effectiveness in managing that pest.

eggplant in rye cover 2015

Baby eggplants transplanted into a bed of winter rye

And since, we’re talking ‘maters, I want to share this great cover cropping tip for you to experiment with next spring, but in order to do it, you’ll get started late this fall by scattering rye seed. Our cherry tomato and eggplant beds will be nearly weed-free this summer because I sowed this rye last November and let it grow winter-long in order to plant my nightshades into this spring.  I simply cut the rye at soil level and turned the soil where I wanted to transplant my seedlings.  I turned it a few weeks in advance. That’s important or else they’ll compete with the rye and won’t get a good growing start.  The summer heat will kill the rye and I’ll essentially have grown my mulch in place.

As soil biologist Elaine Ingham reminds, “Nature abhors bare soil.” If you’re going to leave it bare, she’ll put something in there that you will probably call a weed.  Spread cover seed.

Another reminder for the more northerly growers in clay-rich soil: Use daikon radish, AKA nature’s plow, to break up that clay. Sow this fall and let it over-winter and rot in the ground.

Shorebird Nesting Has Begun

After weeks of nest searching with little luck, the birds have finally decided that it’s warm enough and they are ready to start laying eggs. In previous years, we documented a record-breaking early nesting attempt by an American oystercatcher pair on March 10, but nesting typically start around mid to late March.   So, needless to say, as March ended and April began, with no discovered Wilson’s plover or American oystercatcher nests, we were ready.

Freshly laid Wilson's plover nest

Freshly laid Wilson’s plover nest

This will be the last of three field seasons for an ongoing research project with the objective of determining how habitat variables can be used to predict nesting location and nest success for American oystercatchers and Wilson’s plovers.  We are also investigating how different nest predators (avian, raccoon, coyote) might influence nest location and nest success, and will incorporate effects of sea level rise, and geological processes, such as inlet dynamics and shoreline change, as well.

During the first week of April, we’d found only one Wilson’s plover nest and several Killdeer nests.  But, as temperatures have risen and spring has finally settled in, nesting has started with vigor!  In the past two weeks, we’ve found 38 Wilson’s plover nest and 7 American oystercatcher nests!  Birds have set up territories and within those territories created scrapes- shallow depressions made by smoothing and kicking out the sand.  They can make several scrapes in a territory, and then the female chooses one and lays her eggs.  The eggs blend in so well with the surrounding beach that they are very difficult for predators (and researchers) to find.

American oystercatcher nest

American oystercatcher nest

Last week, we found one of the coolest nests I’ve seen in the three years I’ve been out on the beaches. This Wilson’s plover pair nested right inside an old horseshoe crab shell!  They will likely lay one more egg and then in about 25 days, hopefully the nest will hatch.

The best nest: A Wilson’s plover nest inside a horseshoe crab shell!

Norm’s Pond Rookery Update

Nesting great egrets at Norm's Pond Rookery. Photo credit: Pete Oxford

Nesting great egrets at Norm’s Pond Rookery. Photo credit: Pete Oxford

Spring has arrived on Little St. Simons Island, and with the warmer weather comes wading bird activity at Norm’s Pond. Great egrets, snowy egrets, and anhingas are strutting their breeding plumage, building nests, and laying eggs on islands in the pond. Nests will begin to hatch in the next couple of weeks.

Norm’s Pond is an active sediment borrow pit, with the sand collected from the area used for island road construction and maintenance. The pit was connected to a nearby artesian well and flooded. An upland peninsula that stretched into the center of the pond was ditched and made into an island to create rookery nesting habitat. Predators, like raccoons, are unwilling to jump or swim to the island to eat eggs and chicks due to alligators that patrol the pond. As a result, the birds that nest on the island have a much higher success rate than those that nest on the edge of the pond.

Recently, we created a new island at Norm’s Pond. Another peninsula, that usually had high predation rates, was trenched and cut off from the mainland. Great egrets and anhingas are currently nesting on the new island. Ecological staff conducts weekly rookery surveys to monitor nests and chicks. From these surveys, we have documented more fledged chicks (chicks that can fly) on the islands than the pond edge. We predict that trend will continue for the new island as well.

Guests have an excellent opportunity to experience the rookery from the Norm’s Pond tower. The tower provides close views of courtship, nest building, and chick rearing without causing stress to the birds. Many guests have also observed the large alligator, famously known as “Norm”, sunbathing along the pond’s edge. Several other bird species roost, or rest, at Norm’s Pond including tricolored herons, black-crowned night herons, yellow-crowned night herons, cattle egret, white ibis, glossy ibis, and roseate spoonbills.

-Lauren Gingerella, Ecological Management Technician

Building Beds With Wood Waste

Dug a trench down the row and filled it with wood.

Hugelkultur, roughly translated from German to mean “hill-culture,” is a soil-building method that raises the growing space by burying wood-waste beneath the soil.   We are rich in rotting wood here on LSSI, including live oaks, pines and some pecans, so we’re employing the method to areas in the garden prone to flooding— the “fields” between the orchard rows. 

After our summer harvest, we plowed the fields for one last time, as it will take years for the wood to rot and we can’t very well push a plow on top of it! Then we dug a trench down one of the rows and began to fill it with wood, mostly downed oak limbs that had fallen in the lodge areas.  (Some kinds of wood you don’t want to use include cedar and black walnut. A Google search yields lively discussions on the matter.)
Next we added, food scraps and other nitrogen sources like bloodmeal and feathermeal to speed-up the break-down of all that carbon in the form of wood-waste. Then we watered the pile before we covered it back with soil.
Added  N: food scraps, blood and feather meal.
Adding nitrogen via food scraps and meals is not necessary, however.  You can just bury the wood and the nitrogen in the soil will work to slowly break it down. But we wanted to hasten the process a little.  The idea is: the rotting wood will be a slow-releasing fertilizer over the years. Initially a lot of nitrogen will be tied up in breaking down the carbon.  But after a few years, it should have broken down substantially to begin releasing nitrogen, which will make your veggies grow.  While you’re waiting for that process to occur, best to plant crops like onions and potatoes which don’t require a lot of nitrogen.  Or legumes that actually fix their own nitrogen from the atmosphere.
I first learned about this old soil-building method in a permaculturecourse a couple years back where its benefits for building fungal-rich berms around fruit trees were highlighted. I am sure the roots of the citrus and fruit trees on either side of our vegetable rows will meander to the beds and benefit immensely as well!
Check out this resource to learn more:

Prescribed Burn: February 2015

Muhly Grass on fire. Photo Credit: Lauren Gingerella

Muhly Grass on fire. Photo Credit: Lauren Gingerella

Along the Georgia coast, muhly maritime grasslands (Muhlenbergia filipes) are a rare, but vital ecosystem for a variety of wildlife. With rising sea levels and coastal development, this habitat is diminishing along with some of the animals that call it home. Island glass lizards and Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes, both species of conservation concern in Georgia, Eastern kingsnakes, marsh rabbits, and cotton rats are a handful of species that utilize these grasslands for protection and reproduction.

A section of Muhly grassland near Mosquito Creek burns. Photo Credit: Kirby Farrell

A section of Muhly grassland near Mosquito Creek burns. Photo Credit: Kirby Farrell


Muhly grass is an early successional plant species, one of the first species to populate secondary dunes. By burning these grasslands, wax myrtle (Morella cerifera) and groundsel (Baccharis sp.) thickets are reduced, and the area covered by grass is increased. Little St. Simons Island uses fire as a management technique, or tool, in an attempt to balance out the loss of these grasslands at other coastal locations.


Lauren Gingerella (L), LSSI's Ecological Technician, and a member of The Orianne Society's fire crew (R), ignite a patch of Muhly grass using a drip torch. Photo Credit: Kirby Farrell

Lauren Gingerella (L), LSSI’s Ecological Technician, and a member of The Orianne Society’s fire crew (R), ignite a patch of Muhly grass using a drip torch. Photo Credit: Kirby Farrell

On February 10 and 11, we partnered with a fire crew from The Orianne Society to burn four grassland locations for Joseph Colbert’s graduate project. Joseph, a Master’s student at the University of Georgia in Dr. Kimberly Andrews’ Applied Wildlife Research Lab, is leading a two-year study on the ecological response to fire in muhly dominant grasslands. He plans on conducting small mammal trail camera surveys, painted bunting point counts, and reptile surveys.

Joseph’s research will aid LSSI and regional conservationists in developing the best management practices for these grasslands.


University of Georgia Master's student, Joseph Colbert (L), and his adviser, Dr. Kimberly Andrews (R) Photo Credit: Lauren Gingerella

University of Georgia Master’s student, Joseph Colbert (L), and his adviser, Dr. Kimberly Andrews (R) Photo Credit: Lauren Gingerella




A Story of Squash: Seed to Table

Tahitian Melon winter squash in the field.
I am happy to report our guests are dining on winter squash from the garden this fall.  But my what it took to get these enormous beauties to the table this year!
It was a long labor of love that began with the patty pan summer squash I planted in the raised beds.  I trimmed the winter rye and cut holes into them where I direct seeded the squash. These dwarf plants came up lovely, green and gorgeous, but just as they began to fruit, the pickleworms bore holes in their vines and their fruit, so there was none left for the kitchen!  The pickleworm is the larval form of a night moth which lays eggs on the leaves of cucurbits and once their eggs hatch, the young bore into the flowers of the squash, into the vines and into the fruit.  We were quick to pull those summer squash plants in an effort to get rid of the worms, but in hindsight leaving them in as a trap crop may have been a better option. Just as soon as they had no more patty pan to feed on they descended upon the cucumbers on the backfield trellis!
“Frass” from hole where a pickleworm bore into cucumber.
I left those cucs in place because right next to them were the winter squash.  Now, pickleworms, according to research, typically aren’t keen on winter squash like they are on cucs and summer squash, but just in case, I covered the backfield with row cover, which also would protect it from the dreaded squash vine borer should it have decided to make an appearance this year.
A pickleworm inching its way through the vine of a cucumber.
Row cover on the winter squash.
When the squash started blossoming, I was faced with some choices: hand pollinate and keep them covered; uncover them by day and let the bees do the job and cover them again by night (when the night moth emerges again); or uncover them and see what happens.  Well, I tried all three options but soon found the last was the most practical, and least laborious!  However, within weeks of uncovering them, I noticed some holes in the vines and some fruit shriveling up with a worm in it eating its way through the flesh. 
After more research, I decided to try a biological pesticide called Dipel. It’s a bacteria that attacks the worms.  The trouble with spraying this stuff on the squash plants is that it has to make direct contact with the skin of the worm.  Now, these guys are borers and are usually protected not only from the cover of the huge squash leaves, but also from their comfy abode hidden in the hollow of a vine and fruit!  So in order for this to work, I had to thoroughly spray at the base of every flower, around every fruit, along as many vines as I could, lifting the protective leaves as I went.  Well, I was determined! And…
Naturalist Rachael harvesting some long-in-coming squash this summer!
To the kitchen!
The chefs have been serving up winter squash off the grill, mashed up as a side dish, and in savory soups for months!