Hi! I’m Suzanne Cathey from Beans to Blossoms here in Murray, KY.
Now that the hustle and bustle of the holiday season is past, it is time for one of my favorite gardening activities. This ritual into spring doesn’t require any mud, sweat or tears on my part. All it requires is my no-line bifocals and a flick of my wrist and I am transformed into my dream garden. It is the arrival of the first seed catalogues of the year that magically start appearing in my mailbox in January that gets me all pumped up and ready to start another growing season. While the fire crackles in the wood stove, I sit in my recliner with my morning coffee and drool over those beautiful flowers and luscious vegetables.
I remember many years ago when I first started receiving those beautiful catalogues in the mail, it was hard not to order one of everything. Most seed companies publish color catalogues these days and, admit it, that is what really grabs your attention, isn’t it?
If you are an experienced gardener you know that more than likely the photographer hired by that company are taking pictures of the best of the best. Most especially if you grow heirloom tomatoes, you know that it is almost impossible to grow an heirloom without some kind of crack or blemish.
“But”, you protest, “The catalogue description says the tomato is bright red with green shoulders”. In your mind, that sounds like a beautiful tomato at the end of the vegetable garden rainbow. In reality, that means that you will be cutting about 1/3 of that tomato off before you can eat it. Another hint-if the tomato description says “plants should be staked for best result” that means it more than likely grows to about 10 feet tall. That variety is probably not one you would want to grow in a container on your patio.
It wasn’t until we started specializing in heirlooms that we realized that it was going to take more than just your regular tomato cage to keep these plants under control. We now use an elaborate system utilizing fence posts and cattle panels- if that tells you anything about the size of some of them.
So now try to get past those beautiful, touched-up photos and concentrate on the description of the seed or plant you are interested in. Keep in mind that the company who published that catalogue is in the business to get you to buy that item. Try to overlook those adjective like splendid, lovely, exotic, and stunning.
In the spring, especially in our area, pass over those that are described as “cool season annuals” as they are not going to last very long in our wacky weather. Instead, look for those that are described as drought resistant and heat tolerant. If the description says the plants reseeds readily then you have to decide if you want to have a plant in your garden that is going to absolutely take over as more than likely that is what is going to happen . There has been occasion in my retail store that a customer specifically asks for something that will just take over a problem area and I usually have a solution but only before they understand that once out of control a self-seeder is just what the catalogue says.
If you are focusing on growing vegetables, then be sure and check what disease resistance the variety has. Most hybrids these days have some kind of disease resistance bred into them and it’s helpful to know what the different codes stand for. Most heirlooms only have whatever natural resistance has been passed down from generation to generation. Also helpful is to look at the days to maturity as this gives you an idea when to expect to receive the reward from your plantings.
If you start your own vegetable transplants, don’t make the mistake of counting from the day you seeded as you will be sorely disappointed. Days to maturity actually means counting from the day you transplant into the ground. If you buy your transplants from a reputable garden center they should be able to tell you the maturity dates on any vegetable plants they carry. Growing several different varieties of the same vegetable but with different maturity dates or staggering your plantings can give you a continuous supply of fresh produce all summer.
To start off, you should probably already have your list made out as to what spring flowers and plants you want to grow in your garden. From experience I have learned to purchase all the seed I think I need for the year right at the beginning of the year. Most stores that carry garden seed usually have a ton of it in the spring but tend to run out fairly quickly and then do not reorder once it is gone. Because we were gardeners long before we were garden center owners, we realize the need to have access to seeds and plants from spring all the way through fall. We hope you check with us first before ordering from a mail-order company as it helps your local economy and supports your community.
If we are not in the middle of ice storm or blizzard and you just have to get your hands dirty then what can you be seeding now to get a jump on spring? Starting in mid-January, you can sow your onion seeds indoors in flats so they can be at transplant size by March. For green onions, the evergreen hardy onions are the easiest to grow and they are winter hardy. From the 1st of February you can begin sowing your flats of brussels sprouts then moving on to broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kohlrabi, leaf lettuce, romaine and Chinese cabbage.
By March 1st you should be in full swing sowing spinach, mustard, beets, peas and edible podded peas outdoors in your spring garden. Mid-March is the time for transplanting in the ground your previously started cabbage plants and also when you can sow your first sowing of tomatoes, peppers and eggplant indoors.
If you are a new gardener just starting out or even a seasoned one, there is a publication put out by the UK Extension Office that is called Home Vegetable Gardening in Kentucky. It has been a very valuable tool to me for planning what to plant and when to plant it. Despite being an avid gardener for decades and growing vegetables for the public, I still refer to it through the year to help me get organized on paper and in my mind as to what I need to be doing and when. Anyone can pick one up at the local extension office along with lots of other information. I know that over time you will use this book so much that will become dog-eared and dirty just like mine.
Also, it is important to have a local garden center that has a knowledgeable staff to help you navigate through all the different aspects of growing flowers or vegetables. As my elders always told me-experience is the best teacher. By the way, some of my favorite companies to order seeds from are Baker Creek Seed for heirlooms, Johnny’s Select Seeds for organic and Germania Seed Company for flowers. There are literally hundreds of companies out there and it usually boils down to who gives you the best value for your money. You have to take into consideration the size of the seed package and don’t forget to factor in the shipping charges also.
It’s a new year and time to forget about last year’s failures and look forward to an awesome spring. I think for most people, especially gardeners, when those first crocus bulbs or March flowers start poking through the garden it gives us a renewed sense of hope and energy. Hope not just for whatever goals we have in our gardens , but how we can grow to be a better person also.
Happy gardening and thanks for listening, Suzanne from Beans to Blossoms!