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Time to crack open the seed catalog and start planning

I love nights like this: snow falling outside, fireplace keeping us warm inside. Cuddled up on the couch, dogs at our feet and a highlighter in hand.

A highlighter? Yup. How else do I remember what vegetable and flower varieties I want to plant next year if I don’t dog-ear the pages and highlight the ones I want?

With the arrival of the seed catalog, we begin the next gardening season. However, I want to caution all of you before you start your seed selection:

  • Know what you want to plant (for us, we go off what the family likes to eat – pretty simple).
  • Determine how much space you need/have to plant into (do not forget to include the containers).
  • Don’t be afraid to sketch it all out. You can do this on a piece of paper or a fancy computer program. But one of the biggest mistakes I see when it comes to people planting their garden in the early summer is that they overplant it. Their eyes (or their dog-eared seed catalogs) are bigger than their garden beds. These overzealous gardeners convince themselves that it is fine when they plant their seeds and transplants: “look – there is a ton of space between the plants.” But come August, they can’t find the cilantro, or the carrots, because the squash or potatoes have overwhelmed them.

Gardeners also need to fully understand what they are dealing with. Tomatoes and peppers, in our climate, need to be transplanted. Corn, beans, those tomatoes and peppers, eggplant and all the squashes and melons are warm-season crops. They hate the cold and will let you know when the temperatures reach freezing.

Carrots and lettuce are notorious for being a challenge to germinate in the spring. They are seeded just below the soil surface, take a long to come up, and need decent soil moisture as soon as they start to push new growth. You need to be patient and water often for short intervals.

And while they are a great crop to grow here, beet seeds (both red and golden) are typically packaged as the fruit, not just the seed. Those spiky creatures in the envelope are actually called “nutlets” and contain four to five seeds in each one. So, when you see five seedlings come up in one spot, don’t question your seeding acumen and think you dropped a bunch in each hole unknowingly.

Lastly, before you throw your credit card at the company with color photos and romantic descriptions (I really believe that some love song writer was commissioned to describe okra in some of these catalogs), think about other means of acquiring seeds this year. I am committed to:

  • Looking at what I have left over from last year and do a simple germination test – 10 seeds in a moist paper towel placed in a sealable bag, wait to see to any germinate. If they are still viable, then I can plant what I have left.
  • Finding a seed exchange (the Animas Valley Grange holds one every year) and see what others are planting in our area.
  • Learn how to do a better job at saving my own seed, especially with the heirloom or open-pollinated varieties.
  • And lastly, look locally. I’m going to seek out some Colorado-based seed companies online and will purchase at least half of my seeds from them.

Let the season begin!

Darrin Parmenter is the director and horticulture agent of the La Plata County Extension Office. Reach him at darrin.parmenter@co.laplata.co.us or 382-6464.