- Author: Alison Collin
Here they come! Gardening catalogs are appearing in our mailboxes fast, so rather than immediately tossing them into the recycling, why not take the time to open them and learn from them by studying the wealth of information that many of them contain?
Reading the information carefully may well prevent wasting time, money, and effort in attempting to grow plants that are destined to failure because an inappropriate choice has been made. There is little point in planting 200 Walla Walla onions because you have seen them in the local supermarket and it is a name that you recognize, when in fact they often do not bulb well at our latitude (37.36° in Bishop), nor do they store well.
Falling in love with the description of a tomato variety that has been specially bred for cool climates may give you a very poor yield in the desert. If your tomatoes have been afflicted by blights, viruses or any other identifiable diseases you may be able to find varieties that are resistant to these clearly labeled. Likewise, if root knot nematodes have got a hold in your soil, there are various vegetables that are resistant to that problem.
Good seed and plant catalogs contain an almost encyclopedic amount of knowledge regarding their offerings, while other, less than helpful ones with glowing descriptions of enormous vegetables or spectacular flowers contain scant amounts of horticultural information about even the basic growing requirements.
Of course there is a long tradition of seed catalogs describing plants' characteristics with particularly optimistic language; however, most reputable seed companies want you to succeed with their plants, so they give as much detail as space allows on how to provide the best possible conditions for each plant.
The best catalogs will also mention any problems with a variety, such as being susceptible to rotting or not being reliably hardy, or even that they have low yields. Most catalogs use abbreviations and the key to these will be explained somewhere in the text, but a useful overview can be found at: https://s3.wp.wsu.edu/uploads/sites/2086/2014/05/howtoreadseedcatalog1.pdf
Perusing the “Onion” section of one of my current catalogs, I learn the following about Allium cepa:
- Type and pH of the soil, sun exposure needs, whether to direct seed or start indoors, what time of year to transplant, how far apart to space them and how deeply to plant.
- Water requirements both during growing and bulbing.
- Days to maturity for both direct sown and transplanted specimens.
- Diseases associated with them.
- How to store and how long they will store in ideal conditions
- The importance of daylight length in growing different types of onions.
- Then there is a key to various abbreviations used for disease susceptibility eg HR= highly resistant and then the diseases (BO for Botrytis), (DM for Downy Mildew) etc.
- There is a graph showing how long germination will take at different soil temperatures.
- There is then a photograph of all the onions on offer side by side for comparison
- The onions are categorized by daylight length – Long day (not suitable for southern gardens), short day or, Intermediate day, and then further broken down into color – white, red, or yellow.
- Each variety is then described separately as to the latitude at which they will grow, days to maturity, size, yield, flavor and pungency, storage capability and disease resistance, etc.
All other vegetables are treated similarly - from beans to watermelons, as well as herbs, cover crops and cut flowers!
Some of us enjoy the challenge of experimenting - pushing the boundaries of growing, or trying plants new to the area and with the information provided we can go into these projects with our eyes open, knowing what problems are likely to occur.
Of course we will still get carried away by the photograph of some magnificent specimen in a catalog and find that we cannot resist trying it - surely curiosity is one of the most important qualities of a gardener!
- Author: Carmen Kappos
Have you ever found an old seed packet and wondered what to do with it? Seeds deteriorate as they age which can give variable results. Fortunately there is a simple way to see if seeds will germinate. You can use this easy rolled paper towel test to check for seed viability.
This seed viability test takes seven to ten days and will give you an idea of how well your seeds will germinate.
- Lay a moistened paper towel flat
- Place a row of ten seeds starting along one edge
- Roll up loosely
- Carefully place the damp towel in a plastic bag and seal it to hold in the moisture
- Place the bag in a warm spot (On top of the refrigerator is ideal as that area is generally a consistent seventy degrees)
- Check every couple of days: if the paper towel is drying out, gently mist with water, but as the bag is sealed, it should not dry out
- At the end of seven days, unroll the towel and see how many seeds have sprouted. (Some seed will need ten days to two weeks to germinate. The seed packet may have this information.)
The recommendations are that if less than seven out of ten (seventy percent) seeds have sprouted, then you are probably better off getting fresh seed. If seventy to ninety percent have sprouted, it should be fine to plant but sow the seed a little thicker than you normally would. If all the seeds have sprouted, plant as you normally would.
If it is time to plant, you can use the sprouted seeds if handled carefully. Often the roots have grown into the damp towel. If so, cut the paper towel between seeds and plant with a little bit of toweling. That way, the roots and growing tip will not be damaged. If not grown into the towel, handle carefully by the top so not to damage the root, planting right away so that it does not dry out.
I was surprised to see that five- and seven-year-old flower seeds that I tested had germinated. Keep in mind that fresh seed usually gives the best results. Vegetable seeds should be no more than two to three years old with some exceptions. Onion, chive, parsnip and parsley seeds are recommended to be stored for only one year.
- Author: Dustin Blakey
To me December represents the nadir of garden activity. It's cold, the days are short, and frankly I'm too worried about surviving Christmas with the kids to think about plants. As far as gardening is concerned, January is a huge improvement over the preceding month.
Maybe you get them sooner, but the companies I buy seeds from send me their propaganda in January. I can't think of anything that instills more of a sense of optimism and confidence in one's ability to raise a garden than a seed catalogue. Thankfully my lousy soil and uncooperative weather conspire to ensure I am fully humble by August when I'm left with not much more than some basil, cherry tomatoes, and maybe some sunburned peppers.
But today I'm excited! August is a long way off.
This weekend I'll probably put in my order for seeds for 2014 if I don't have to put in too much time toward child supervision.
This is the time of year you need to start thinking about what you want to grow and where you'll get the seeds or transplants. I usually just use what ever tomatoes and peppers I can find transplants for locally, but when I want a specific cultivar, then I will need enough lead time to grow the transplants in order to have them ready in time for spring. The time to sow vegetable transplants is getting close. If your seed order is still a to-do item, you may miss your chance to grow your own transplants. Don't delay! Operators are standing by.
You probably need to sow about 6 to 8 weeks before transplants are set out in the garden. If you grow cole crops from seed instead of buying transplants that means you need to be sowing soon!
Be sure when you make your seed order that you get enough for your fall crops. It is hard to find seeds or transplants in late summer and the seed companies may be sold out of the kind you want.
Remember that seed companies' writers always describe their offerings as amazingly super-awesome, but clearly not all can be. I recommend experimenting a little because that's fun, but don't be afraid to grow tried-and-true cultivars that worked for you in the past. Likewise when you can't find your favorite, don't worry about it. They usually drop poor sellers that either perform poorly compared to their other cultivars, or are just too hard to produce. In other words, there's usually a good reason you can't find it.
You can always ask a Master Gardener or a friend what they grow, as well. In some cases it just doesn't matter at the small scale of a home garden what you pick. I've always been impressed with eloquent descriptions of items like radishes. Is there really a radish worthy of a J. Peterman treatment?
Most seed companies buy many of their seeds in bulk from suppliers and repackage them. If you see the same cultivar available elsewhere–and it's packed for the current year–don't be afraid to go with the cheaper option. Sometimes you're just paying for a fancy seed envelope, shiny catalogue, or great story. (Ask me about kiwanos some time.)
Finally, plant what you like to use. If you don't like turnips, they don't need to be in your garden. Plant more of what you like instead! I find myself planting radishes, eggplant and squash each year because that's what you grow in a garden, but I really don't like them. Every spring I think that this will finally be the year I like squash, but it has yet come to pass. As I'm fighting squash bugs in July I annually conclude that I would have been happier with that space planted in bell peppers.
Maybe this will be the year I only buy seeds for what I like and will grow, and do it early enough to plant on time. But don't bet on it.
I'm sure you'll do better than me.