For us gardeners, we certainly know what time of the year it is. It’s catalog time! About now, our mailboxes and email inboxes begin to fill with many different gardening offers, seed catalogs, and nursery directories about all sorts of trees, shrubs and ground covers.
I enjoy a movie with a good time warp plot. I’m a sucker for flicks like “Frequency” with Dennis Quaid and Jim Caviezel. “Source Code” with Jake Gyllenhaal is a thriller that takes the time genre in another direction. Let’s not forget Denzel Washington in “Déjà Vu.” I was noodling that one for days.
Shifting of time is not limited to the cinema. Oh no. The American consumer has become accustomed to living outside of the actual season. You know what I mean. Seeing Halloween items in the store by the end of August. Christmas themes rumbling to life the day after Halloween. Summer clothing appearing on the racks while I’m still wearing base layers. It’s no different for us gardeners. Heck, I was in Walmart the other day and all their seed displays are set up, and there’s a definite shift in product offering in the section back by the garden center. I suspect it’s the same with my friends over at Home Depot.
I have to admit I’m a bit conflicted about all this. Always looking for the next thing, or the upcoming season, can distract you from truly engaging in the present; where you are now. For us A.D.D types, this isn’t a good thing because we tend to not show up for our own lives — as we are always paying attention to what is “out there” or what’s coming up, rather than who and what is in front of us NOW.
But there’s also a positive side to this, because thinking about enjoyable future things allows you to experience the activity more than once; first mentally in the imagination, and later when you actually get to do what you’ve been waiting to do. It’s the stuff of delayed gratification — something that all of us, young and old, could use a bit more of.
So, when I get that beautiful gardening catalog (or the customary stack of them), it’s like science fiction just became reality and time machines really do exist. Suddenly I’m transported from the cold and all that goes with it, to warmer days and greenery. Optimism (a euphemism for self-delusion) springs eternal, because in my mind’s eye, everything is lushly growing, there are no bugs, and all the plants are fruitful. The temperature is perfect, and I’m leisurely tending my weed-less garden; I’m basically living in a Norman Rockwell painting.
So knowing my tendencies, and likely yours, I offer these suggestions to get some good use out of those catalogs to ensure that the actual experience aligns a little more closely to the imagined one.
First, enjoy the experience. This isn’t about speed reading or drudgery. A well done catalog is a thing of beauty. Having said that, remember that the company is actually working to sell you something. Only the best of each crop is on display, photographed beautifully and enhanced for printing. What you’ll get in your garden will be similar, but not exactly what you see in the catalog just because there are many variables. So, enjoy the read, but remember it’s a blend of fact and fiction.
Read for education as well. If you find something that is intriguing, read more of the detail. Many of the better catalogs not only work to sell you product, but to provide facts that will help you be more successful. You can learn a lot about growth habit, taste characteristics, disease resistance, fertilizer, soil type needs, when to start the plant, and how much water it needs. All good stuff to know.
Keep planting your dependable varieties, but try a few new ones as well. It’s fun to add new items to the list of things that you are proficient at growing. This can include additional varieties of something you already grow, such as peppers. But why not take it further and try growing something that you haven’t grown before? This is a practice of mine. Every year, I aspire to become good at a couple of new crops. Last year, I worked to take my potato game to a new level. I plan to have a good crop this year. We also planted arugula, which is a leafy, nutty-tasting early crop that is excellent in salads. We found that its only tasty, it grows readily and quickly. This year, I plan to get better at cantaloupes (I had limited, but encouraging success last growing season), as well as watermelon. I’m sure you have some aspirations you can pursue this upcoming season as well.
Keep it real. I think every vegetable gardener has overbought at one time or another. We end up with all sorts of packets of seeds that we can’t make use of because we don’t have the time or energy to plant them. Consider order splits with others — can you really eat all the cabbage from three varieties of seeds?
Look for varieties that will work well in our area. Rather than searching through the catalog, you can look online using the search phrase “best vegetables to grow in northern Utah” to find prime choices and recommendations for our area. A couple of good links to try are extension.usu.edu/files/publications/publication/HG_313.pdf, or http://www.co.utah.ut.us/dept/exten/Data/vegetableutah.pdf.
Once you have the list of recommendations, see if you can locate them, or similar types, in your catalog. Approaching your seed selections this way really bumps up the probability of good results.
Be sure to order in time to get the seeds here when you need them. This is especially important for cool weather crops, or those that greatly benefit from starting indoors and then hardening them off to get a jump on the season. I’ve seen many a gardener plant cool weather crops too late and the plant comes to maturity just as the brunt of summer’s heat comes to bear. Spinach just doesn’t do well when it’s in the high 90s!
If you receive a catalog that you no longer want to get, say so! You can either contact the company at the phone number they provide, or on their website. Why waste postage, shipping resources and put more paper in the landfill when you can simply request to be taken off the list?
I’m heading out to the mailbox now. Maybe there’s a new jewel-of-a-catalog waiting for me. I can only hope. Because if there is, I’ll strap in, put on my goggles (aka readers), and jump forward a bit in time. I’ll be back in a few minutes, with dirt under my nails, a bit of sun on my neck, smudges of green and brown on my knees, and a smile I can’t wipe off my face.
Jay Cooper can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can visit his website at dirtfarmerjay.com for videos and articles on gardening, shop skills, culinary arts and landscaping.