Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
January, 2011
Regional Report

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These beets are all heirlooms, varieties that have grown for more than 100 years.

Catalog Talk

Now that seed catalogs are arriving on our doorsteps (or in our email in-boxes), it's time to start lusting after the spring garden. My catalogs already have pages turned down so I can go back in a week or so and start placing seed orders.

I thought it might be helpful to do a quick primer on exactly how to read a seed catalog, to refresh my memory and yours. Of course, the descriptions of taste and color are usually pretty self-explanatory, but there are some more technical terms that might need explaining.

Heirloom, the tag phrase of the 21st century, simply means a seed type that has been handed down through generations. It generally designates an open-pollinated variety or naturally occurring hybrid.

Open-pollinated seeds are pollinated naturally by insects or wind rather than being manipulated in a lab or seed production fields. Their characteristics are stable and reliably reproduce similar plants year after year. You can save your own with good results.

Hybrids, usually designated by the term "F1", are the result of controlled cross-pollination of two varieties with specific characteristics. The parents of a hybrid are developed and controlled by the company selling the seed. Seeds from hybrids rarely "come true" or produce offspring like the parent. They are often more expensive than open-pollinated varieties.

Days to Maturity
Days to maturity indicates the average number of days a plant will take from germination to its harvestable stage (under ideal conditions). Use this figure with the planting out date to make certain you are choosing a variety that will mature in our growing season.

Days to Germinate
Days to germinate is the time from planting the seed to the emergence of tiny leaves. If your plants haven't germinated in the proper time, you should re-seed.

Hardy or Tender
Hardy annual, half -hardy annual, and tender annual are designations for the frost tolerance of flowers. For example, pansies are considered hardy annuals because they will tolerate frost. Impatiens, on the other hand, are called tender annuals since they will not tolerate any frost.

Treated Seed
Treated seeds are dusted with a chemical fungicide to prevent rotting when planted. Most companies allow you to choose if you want untreated seed. Most organic gardeners request untreated seed. Some bean seeds are treated with a bacterial inoculants to assist in their growth.

Pelleted Seed
Pelleted seeds are coated with a clay coat to make them larger and therefore easier to plant at appropriate spacing. This avoids wasting tiny seeds and cuts down thinning time.

Disease Resistance
VFN and M are notations of disease resistance. They stand for verticillium, fusarium, nematodes and mosaic. These are diseases or pests that certain plants are prone to, and to which the plants have been bred to be resistant. For example, tomatoes are prone to verticillium wilt. A seed with a V in the description is be resistant (but not immune).

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