Tooele Transcript Bulletin – News in Tooele, Utah

February 9, 2017
Where do I get this stuff?

It’s sort of like having several television channels running, picture in picture, in my mind. Sometimes, it’s product I see in the hardware or grocery store that starts up the images and flow of ideas. Other times, it’s one of you asking a question and me realizing I know what I’ve heard about the subject, but it’s hearsay and worthy of further research and verification.

Sources of inspiration, topics, curious facts and origins parade by me endlessly (attention deficit is a real thing!) as I read journals, publications, websites, newsfeeds, enjoy conversations and classes with fellow Master Gardener Association members, as well as checking in on social media.

That last one includes Pinterest. I have to admit at first, I was hesitant to make that public as my impression was that Pinterest would be most appealing, let’s say, to one’s feminine side. Suffice it to say, I’ve gotten comfortable with that, besides there’s a lot of projects and ideas that would appeal to the manliest among us (insert sound effect here: Tim Allen grunt from “Tool Time”).

So, when I encounter common practices, products and approaches in the garden, shop or kitchen, my mind is likely to wander to who first thought about this, and why? Like, who thought for the first time, “I know, let’s let cabbage ferment, get odoriferous, and then eat it!” Kimchi — YUMMY. How about the first parachute? Sign me up (not). Coagulated, caked milk? Think of that first person that sampled such a thing, and declared it good! Look at all the varieties of cheese that have come out of those early adventurous food explorers. But being the first one to try it? No thanks.

All of these subjects and historical encounters are potential grist for a Garden Spot article. I’ve learned to keep a list of subject ideas, because something that flits into my mind and seems especially brilliant can easily flame out a short while later — potentially lost forever. The sentiment has been expressed that the faintest ink (or keystrokes into my word-processing program) is better than the clearest memory, or something like that. You get the idea.

But coming up with ideas and topics is only one part of the equation. Ferreting out verifiable history, scientific facts and interesting anecdotes about a given subject is another. There’s been my fair share of times when what I “knew” was actually an urban legend or an oft-repeated saying that actually had no basis in fact. No, hot water doesn’t transform into ice in your freezer faster than cold water (that’s an actual “fact” that I heard many times as a youngster)!

Obviously, having the web at my disposal has been a boon to accessing information quickly. Wikipedia is especially helpful, as references are usually included at the end of a treatise on a topic. Even so, I frequent a large amount of gardening websites and blogs, as well as food, scientific and history-themed sites.

I can attest firsthand that just because you find it on the internet, that doesn’t mean it’s true! You would think this basic truth would be firmly implanted in our collective consciousness, but it’s not. I routinely find people citing other people as a source, even if they don’t name them. How do I know? Identical or similar approach and precise vocabulary replication are dead giveaways. Citing another source is common practice, and a good one, providing that other source is verifiable and stands up to scrutiny. If not, you get the “echo chamber” effect, essentially declaring something to be true simply because “everyone” says it is, without any original basis in fact (seems like a lot of that is happening in the news lately…but I digress).

Perhaps this anecdote of the early days of railroads and telephones will illustrate the point of circular, rather than external, fact-finding. The story goes that the rail station manager in a small community would call the phone operator about once a week to ask what time it was. Once he got the information, he would set his watch to this time, as well as the large clock on outside of the building. Years later, when both the phone operator and station manager were nearing retirement and needed to train their replacements, an unsettling, but funny fact was uncovered. The new station manager placed a call to the operator and asked what time it was, but added the question, “what are you setting your clock to?” The operator told him that they had been directed to set the time according to the dial on the rail station!

While this story is a bit of a stretch (there are some lapses of logic in this illustration), the point is clear. Without sound external verification, it’s really easy to get off-track (that was clever, huh), sincere or not.

As handy as online resources are, I enjoy tactile reference materials, such as gardening guides, good seed catalogs and trade magazines to provide some great information on what and how to plant ornamental and edible plants in our area. There’s something about having a tangible book in your hands that you can return to, time and time again. It’s like having an old friend that always enjoys it when you stop by.

One of the top sources of great information and inspiration are local classes and workshops that are presented by fellow gardeners and USU professors and extension agents. In fact, I had the pleasure of being a guest in the current Master Gardener’s course, where the topic was soil. Yep, soil. I assure you, some of that content will show up in future articles. For more than two hours, we got all sorts of insights on how soil comes to be, how to help and not harm your soil, the value of adding organic material, how to determine what type of soil you have, and what you can do to correct deficiencies. This is literally gardening from the ground up. If your soil isn’t alive and healthy, you are gonna have one heck of a time being a successful gardener.

It’s appropriate to give a nod to Diane Sagers, my predecessor for this column. I enjoyed her articles for some time, and it challenged me to take learning and research to a higher level when Dave Bern asked me to consider continuing the Garden Spot tradition and Diane moved on to new horizons. One of my great experiences is that I’ve gotten to know Diane through the Master Gardener Association. In fact, Diane continues to use her extensive “gardening chops” and writes a short article each month for our newsletter. She is also our program director, and president-elect for the TCMGA 2018 season. I have the privilege of being the president this year, but when you’ve got classy people like Diane on your team, it’s hard not to have a great experience.

That’s it for now. I just got a few more ideas for some upcoming articles, and I need to jot them down before they’re gone!

But before I go, let me tell you about an event coming up March 4 that you should really plan to attend; the 2017 Spring Expo offered by the Master Gardeners! This annual event has been a great community event for many years, and this time around is no exception. The active gardening season is in the windshield, and this is a great way to jumpstart your horticultural efforts for this year.

You’ll learn from a variety of presenters (including yours truly) on a some great topics such as vegetable gardening, care and feeding of trees, soil types and soil building, future-proof landscape design, 2017 All-American varieties and top tips for great tomato production.

For more information, check out the Bulletin Board section in this paper. We’ll see you at the Expo. Show up and I’ll give you a sample of Maggie’s and my “from scratch” marinara sauce. It’s a great way for you to use all those tomatoes you will be growing in just a few short months!

Jay Cooper can be contacted at, or you can visit his channel at for videos on the hands-on life of gardening, shop and home skills, culinary arts and landscaping.

Jay Cooper

Garden Spot Columnist at Tooele Transcript Bulletin
Jay Cooper is a new contributing writer for the Garden Spot column. He replaced Diane Sagers, who retired in November 2013 after writing the column for 27 years. Also known as Dirt Farmer Jay, Cooper and his wife have been residents of Erda since 2001 after moving to Utah from Tucson, AZ. A passionate gardener and avid reader of horticultural topics, for several years he has been a member of Utah State University’s Master Gardeners Program, and served as chapter president in 2013. Cooper says Tooele County has an active and vibrant gardening community, and the Garden Spot column will continue to share a wide range of gardening, landscaping, home skills and rural living themes.

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