I don’t usually make any New Year’s Day resolutions, because if the new practice is worthwhile to consider and put into place, it’s done “on the fly” throughout the year. I’m also not a good resolution keeper, being more full of good intention than actual resolution.
But one resolution for me that has withstood the test of time is to learn new approaches, practices and variety favorites for our home’s ornamental and edible gardens. Every year, I add new proficiencies to grow something well that I haven’t before. Sometimes those forays don’t work out well, but success occurs often enough to fuel more learning.
Since the active gardening season is still several weeks away, there’s time for you to learn some great things and to further increase your “gardening game” — no matter how long you’ve been working the soil or how much you currently know.
We have a robust gardening community in our valley, and for anyone who wants to learn and improve, there is no lack of resources where you can get great help in your horticultural efforts. Here are some tools and resources that are readily available to you.
First, ‘tis the season for garden and seed catalogs. I’m aware these are companies that want you to buy things from them. Good companies put a robust amount of information in their catalogs. Photos show you prime specimens, and give you an idea if something is of interest to you. Once something piques your interest, check its hardiness zone rating. Tooele Valley is somewhere between Zone 4 and 5. If something has a hardiness rating of Zone 6 or above, it likely won’t survive here, at least without a lot of extra resources and effort being consumed. Next, see if the variety prefers or needs acidic soil. If so, don’t bother. We have an alkaline environment, including soil and water.
My favorite seed catalog is Johnny’s. It has a wide range of varieties for most vegetables. I can select from onions, tomatoes, melons, peppers, cabbage, eggplant, corn, etc. The catalog is also packed with information that makes me a better food grower: days to germinate, seeds per pound, days to maturity, seed starting and cultivation information, and optimum growing conditions, both for soil and temperature.
Next, the USU Extension Service offers an annual Master Gardener course. This 13-week course begins Jan. 31 from 6-8:30 p.m. It will run every Tuesday night until the final class on May 1. Cost is $150 per person, or $180 per couple. You’ll learn a lot about gardening topics, including soils, fertilizers, insects and control, basic botany, weed control and pesticides, vegetable and fruit tree cultivation, turf grass and lawn care, irrigation and small fruits. Great resources are included and you’ll meet other gardeners who will assist you for years to come. It’s great camaraderie, and you’ll meet several specialist USU Extension Agents along the way. To get more information or to register, contact the Extension Office at 435-277-2400.
Utah State University, being the state agricultural college, also has a robust online offering of publications, topic papers, and workshops on a variety of horticultural subjects. Want to know what are some of the best trees to plant for shade, or a particular color, shape, or leaf? They’ll have info on that. Want to know what are some of the most successful berry or grape varieties for your yard? There’s help there as well. What about some of the most popular or robust veggie types to plant? Yep, it’s all there. There are also free advisory services you can sign up for that will help you with turf, veggies, fruit trees and weed control. To get started, visit extension.usu.edu/yardandgarden.
Locally, the Tooele County Master Gardeners Association offers ongoing, free public seminars on a variety of subjects. These sessions are about an hour long, and are typically offered the fourth Wednesday evening of each month at 7 p.m. at the USU Extension Office at 151 N. Main in Tooele.
Here are some of the topics that will be offered this year. The first session, on Jan. 24, will be a real spirit lifter. You’ll enjoy a pictorial tour of the beautiful Arnold Arboretum, located in Boston, MA. The tour will be conducted by Ginny Hooper, Master Gardener and Landscape Architect. You’ll get some ideas for your own landscape, and enjoy some greenery while it’s still winter around here.
Later sessions will include seed starting how to’s, 2018 All-American Selections, how to control “critters” in your garden, gardening in small spaces, top tips for successful gardens, growing microgreens, how to set up a high tunnel and grow herbs, and later in the year, how to put the garden and yardscape to bed for the season. This is good stuff! Watch the “Bulletin Board” section of the Transcript Bulletin for announcements on these events or visit Facebook and look up “Tooele County Master Gardeners” and ask to be a member. You’ll be informed of upcoming events, and you can post your gardening questions there as well.
Another great resource is the Master Gardener’s Spring Expo. This year, it will be offered on Feb. 24 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Registration is from 9-10 a.m. and is only $5 per person — a bargain for a lot of information in a short time. Plus, the Expo always features a great guest speaker. This year’s special guest is landscape architect Kevin Shields, who is responsible for landscape planning and layouts for many of the LDS temples. He’ll share his approaches and insights.
Earlier in the day, sessions will be offered on choosing the right plants, trees or veggies for locations in your yard, as well as our locale; landscape design concepts; small space gardening, landscape approaches and plants for curb strip improvements; and hands on tool sharpening sessions where you can bring one of your gardening pruners or loppers to sharpen.
Mark your calendar now and make plans to attend! Watch for more details in the Transcript Bulletin and on the club Facebook page as well.
Lastly, there is no substitute for practical experience. Several years ago, I learned a maxim that has served me well in many areas of life: “The work will teach you how to do it.” There is nothing like attempting new skills and trying unfamiliar things to learn quickly and memorably. I strongly recommend you attempt new gardening approaches, plants, trees, and veggie varieties.
But there is a bit more to this. If you do this one thing, it will strongly maximize your results for future growing seasons: keep a gardening journal. There is no way for you to remember from year-to-year what you planted, along with the weather, temperatures, location in your plot or yard, and how much you liked the taste, color and texture of edible plantings.
When all this information is captured, you will get smart over a short period of time and you’ll repeat and solidify successes and avoid repeat mistakes.
Let this be the best year yet for your gardening learning. You’ve got lots of local resources and encouragement, and you won’t regret it.
Jay Cooper can be contacted at email@example.com, or you can visit his channel at youtube.com/dirtfarmerjay for videos on the hands-on life of gardening, shop and home skills, culinary arts and landscaping.