9 December 2009
In The Garden With the Fluvanna Master Gardeners
By Irene C. Burke - Fluvanna Master Gardener
Fluvanna County Extension Office: 434.591.1950
The first seed and gardening catalogs of the 2010 season arrived the second week of November. In all my years of gardening, this is the earliest theyve come. The Stokes catalog won first-place. Though most arrive by email, they lack the seriousness of the hefty print versions. Pages and pages of lusciously described tomatoes with their promises of fruitfulness tantalize and beckon, but this frugal gardener always looks for disease resistance and flavor.
Then theres the gardening supply sections some at the end, some inserted in the center a break from the relentlessly glorious pictures of flowers and fruit. I buy as much quality as I can afford. My goal is to invest in tools for the long term, no cheap disposables.
How does one assess a catalog? Which one is the best? Are there differences, and if so, what makes the difference? It depends on what youre looking for. For seeds, I want clearly stated plant performance, expected yield, candid customer reviews with a 1-to-5 rating scale, competitive prices, fair shipping and handling costs, and strong customer service. I look for and use the 800-number whenever there is doubt or a question about any of these basics.
The seed catalogs, which have demonstrated honest practices over time and across products, offer an efficient, pleasant and reliable ordering process. Theyre looking for repeat customers and high ratings from online, garden chat rooms, which can devastate their business with negative reviews. When surveying these online discussions look for rational and objective comments from those whose soil and climate conditions are consistent with yours. Emotional rants have limited value.
If youre shopping at local seed retailers go armed with information about your garden growing conditions and the results you anticipate. Ask lots of questions. A little homework goes a long way.
Online, check http://www.ext.vt.edu/; better still, ask the on-duty Master Gardener at your nearest Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) office for help sorting through and finding the VCE publications that match your interests and needs. One of the best starting points is publication 426-480 Vegetables Recommended for Virginia. Partner that knowledge with 426-711 Building Healthy Soil. Along with suitable site selection youll have much of your planning and prep work done.
Even if you dont have a computer at home, public libraries usually maintain a quiet room with several, so familiarize yourself with the online gardening world. Check also the library bookshelves and magazines for additional literature and start now. Give yourself time to mull over what you think you should have.
When you factor in your time and money, each future tomato may cost more this summer than what youll pay at the farmers market or grocery store, but the price will diminish with each subsequent growing year, until your only cost is time. With composted soil-building, seed saving and a sunny window or a few fluorescent bulbs, most costs will be the result of sweat equity.
The key components to your successful gardening enterprise will always be effective effort built on a foundation of science, research-based information along with experience especially from those precious Aha! moments.
Tip of the Week
Autumn rains may have run-off instead of soaking in, leaving landscape plants vulnerable to leaf damage; so water shrubs on warm winter days especially if the soil feels powdery. Mulch 6 inches deep.