Catalogs anyone?

County Agent’s Corner



These winter days can be long and dreary, especially when it rains every other day. I like to pick up my seed catalogs and browse through them to see what is new and different in the plant world. Of course I start with new vegetable varieties being offered for the upcoming season, especially new tomato varieties. I might as well get prepared to create the best tomato sandwich possible come July, and it begins with choosing a good tasting variety that I can grow in my garden. There are so many to choose from! I like to select seed of my old standby favorites like Better Boy and Bella Rosa, but I may also select a new variety, just to satisfy my curiosity.

Once I get my seed ordered, I try to find my new best friend that has a greenhouse, to see if they mind if I borrow some space to get my plants started. Sometimes, especially if I have large numbers of seed that need to be planted, I contract with a greenhouse owner to grow my plants for me. That’s not a bad way to ensure you get the plant material you want, whether its vegetables, flowers, or herbs.

If you are not willing to purchase your seed and grow – or have someone else grow – plants for you, you will have to settle for what you can find locally at farm supply stores or box stores. They are all pretty much supplied by Bonnie Plant Farms, which is one of the largest vegetable plant producers in the U.S. Bonnie Plant Farms has its beginning and headquarters right here in Alabama, and is a good plant provider. They are limited in what they offer due to the fact that they are mass plant providers. It is more difficult and expensive to plant a wide range of different varieties, plus seed cost has to be a factor in their company’s operation. I get it.

I like fresh cucumbers. A bit of salt and a pinch of black pepper and they are good to go with just about any meal. I personally like the slicers harvested when they are about half grown, before they develop a large seed. I have noticed over the years that most of the folks on local markets grow the pickling types. When asked why, they typically answer that they sell 2-to-1 over the slicing types. Last year I grew Straight Eight which is a slicing type with a very aggressive vine. I had limited space and they became crowded. It was a jungle. I couldn’t find the cukes in that mess and most of the fruit got large and had to be discarded. What a waste of time and effort.

It was getting along in the season, about mid-August, and I happened to be looking at a Burpee catalog. I found a little cucumber called Bragger, which matured in 45 days. I decided to give it a shot and ordered some seed. It turned out to be a great little cucumber that could be harvested at about four inches long and was very high yielding. I grew it and gave some plants to my sister to grow on her back porch. She picked cucumbers until Thanksgiving!

This is a great example of utilizing catalogs from seed companies to get varieties that can allow us to be successful in the garden.

The catalogs are full of pretty pictures to entice you to purchase. You hope that your results are similar to the pictures, but remember, they are in the seed selling business, not the produce business. Some of the information provided in catalogs is critical to being successful in your efforts. Pay attention to the disease resistance packages of vegetable varieties such as tomatoes, pumpkins, and squash. Depending on your location and disease pressure you may be required to purchase a certain variety. An example would be selecting Bella Rosa tomato variety because it has resistance to Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus. This disease can take out varieties lacking resistance. Or you may have a nematode problem and may need a variety that is resistant to root knot nematode.

Also pay attention to the days to harvest (DTH) on varieties. Jot this down somewhere in your records, along with planting date, because some folks have a hard time trying to determine if, for example, a melon is ripe. DTH will at least give you an idea of when to expect your fruit to ripen.

The next cold, rainy day we have, get yourself a blanket, a cup of hot chocolate and snuggle down with a good garden catalog! What a day for the true gardener.

The Extension office is currently unable to issue Growers Permits due to the lack of a notary. We are working to address this situation and will let everyone know when the issue is resolved. If you need a Growers Permit from Extension immediately, go to an office in an adjoining county. If you have questions give me a call at 274-2129.

Dan Porch is County Extension Coordinator with the Blount County Extension Office. Dan lives in and loves Blount County and is available to answer your questions about conservation, agriculture, natural resources, and gardening. He can be reached at (205) 274-2129 or