Sow the Right Seeds

February 7, 2013 | By | Comments (7)
Sow True Seed

Photo courtesy of Sow True Seed.

Nothing pleases Grumpy more than spreading the word about a Southern gardening company that performs a valuable service for all the right reasons. So ladies and gentlemen, cats, dogs, and chickens, please make the acquaintance of Sow True Seed from Asheville, North Carolina.

Founded by Carol Koury in 2009, Sow True Seed offers 450 varieties of vegetable, herb, and flower seeds, as well as garlic, sweet potatoes, and grain. But not just any kinds of seeds. Sow True Seeds sells no hybrids. Instead, it specializes in heirloom, certified organic, and traditional varieties from Southern Appalachia. All are open-pollinated, non-GMO varieties that are never treated with insecticides or fungicides. Like this gorgeous passalong here — ‘Grandpa Ott’ morning glory.

'Grandpa Ott' morning glory

‘Grandpa Ott’ heirloom morning glory. Photo courtesy of Sow True Seed.

Open-Pollinated? What’s That?
Unlike hybrid plants, open-pollinated plants are not the result of deliberately crossing two different species or selections. Instead, open-pollinated plants stay true to their parents. If you save the seeds and replant them, they will produce the same plants as the originals. On the other hand, if you save the seeds from hybrids and replant them, you’ll get nothing like the originals. And they may not be good plants.

Why should you care? Well, many hybrids today, especially food crops, are patented varieties owned by huge, multinational corporations. These companies set the price and availability and can tinker with the seeds’ genetics any way they choose (for example, making vegetable crops resistant to Roundup herbicide, so that whole fields can be doused with the stuff to eliminate weeds). And any time they want, they can withdraw a patented hybrid from the market, even if it’s your favorite variety of corn, tomato, etc.

Open-pollinated varieties aren’t owned by anybody but the Big Boss Upstairs. The only way they can disappear is if people stop growing them in favor of the hybrids. We can’t let that happen. There are too many treasured heirlooms and passalongs at stake. Like these.

'Mortgage Lifter' tomato

‘Mortgage Lifter’ tomato. Photo courtesy of Sow True Seed.

How’s this for a big tomato? ‘Mortgage Lifter’ (originally known as ‘Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter’), was created by mechanic Cletis Byles in Logan, West Virginia in the 1930’s. He earned the nickname, “Radiator Charlie,” because he fixed so many broken radiators during the Depression.

In an effort to develop a big, beefsteak tomato that could feed hungry families, Cletis hand-pollinated ‘German Johnson’ with three other tomatoes in his garden, grew the seedlings, saved seeds from the best seedlings, and planted them. After 6 years of this, he created a stable, huge tomato and began selling seedlings of it for $1. He sold so many that he paid off his mortgage with the proceeds. Today, ‘Mortgage Lifter’ is legend. Heat- and disease-resistant, it bears tomatoes weighing up to 4 pounds (1-2 pounds is average).

More Treasures
Like okra? Grumpy does, especially fried, so you should too. Here’s a goody from Sow True Seed’s catalog:

Red okra

‘Aunt Hettie’s’ red okra. Photo courtesy of Sow True Seed.

‘Aunt Hettie’s Red is a burgundy-podded heirloom from Tennessee featuring beautiful red stalks and leaves. Plants grow about 4 to 5 feet high. How could anyone resist a plant named after Aunt Hettie? Fry me up some now!

Just one more for you diehard Southerners who know what to serve up on New Year’s Day.


‘Georgia Southern’ collards. Photo courtesy of Sow True Seed.

Dating back to 1880, ‘Georgia Southern’ is a heat-tolerant collard green with big, dark-green leaves and a mild flavor. Eating collards, rice, and black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day brings all faithful Southerners good luck.

Where to Get Sow True Seeds
You can use one of three methods to procure these wonderful seeds.

  1. Drop into the Sow True Seed retail store at 146 Church Street in Asheville.
  2. Look for Sow True Seeds at seed racks at various stores in western North Carolina.
  3. Go to their online catalog and order seeds through the mail. Or you can request a printed catalog if being on a computer scares you. (In which case, why are you reading this?)

Full Disclosure — Grumpy receives absolutely nothing in return for writing about Sow True Seed other than personal satisfaction. That’s enough.


  1. Steve Bender

    Tomatoes like moist, well-drained soil that contains lots of organic matter, such as composted cow manure, chopped leaves, and peat moss. To prevent a physiological problem called blossom-end rot that ruins the fruit, make sure the soil has a pH of about 6.5 or higher. If the pH is lower than this, add lime to the soil to raise it. During the growing season, use a slow-release, organic fertilizer such as Espoma Tomato-tone to feed your plants.

    February 25, 2013 at 10:36 am

    what should your soil contain nutrient wise, to make tasty tomatoes?

    February 21, 2013 at 9:45 am
  3. Rudie

    Reblogged this on The Garden Dude and commented:
    Excellent overview of hybrid vrs. heirloom seeds and why gardeners should care that we keep heirlooms going.

    February 10, 2013 at 1:13 am
  4. Steve Bender

    Peg & Irene,
    If you want a catalog, click on the link “online catalog” (in red) above. Onealia, this could have been due to weather conditions in your area. Many people swear by ‘Mortgage Lifter.’

    February 8, 2013 at 1:45 pm
  5. Onealia

    Well as for the mortgage lifter, Found it to be very tough, not much moisture in the top of the tomato.
    Would not plant them again.

    February 7, 2013 at 8:13 pm
  6. Irene Webb Capps

    Do you have any Catalogs you could send out? If so; please send to 42 Villa Rosa Dr. Temple Ga. 30179

    February 7, 2013 at 12:17 pm
  7. peg Edel

    Please mail me a catalog – 270 Frenn Avenue Red Wing Mn 55066. Thanks

    February 7, 2013 at 11:03 am

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