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Fireside gardening: plan your perfect garden for 2008 with Dr. Jeanine Davis.

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One of my favorite activities on a cold winter evening is to settle into my comfortable armchair in front of the woodstove with a steaming mug of hot cocoa and a big stack of seed catalogs. As I listen to the wind howl outside, I conjure up images of my next vegetable garden with big ripe tomatoes hanging on trellised plants, bushy basil plants covered in dew, and giant sunflowers swaying in the breeze.

You can, of course, look at seed catalogs online, and that's how I order most of my seeds; but, when it comes to the planning and dreaming stage, I much prefer the old paper catalog method. I enjoy looking at the pictures, comparing the offerings in the different catalogs, taking notes, and sketching out my garden. By the time I'm done, most of the catalogs are bristling with brightly colored strips of sticky-notes marking the pages with vegetables of interest.

Every year, I try to select at least one vegetable I've never grown before. For example, next spring I will grow scorzonera, a root vegetable that is supposed to be quite tasty. I also experiment with varieties

I've not heard of before. This year, I found the heirloom Czechoslovakian tomato variety stupice to be a very productive, sweet, small-fruited variety that I will surely grow again. I also like to order from catalogs I've not ordered from before, particularly small, family-owned companies and seed exchanges. Be sure to check out the sidebar below for a list of more than a dozen seed companies to investigate this season. And, be sure to take a risk and try something new from these catalogs.

If you plan on trying out seed stocks of unusual and heirloom varieties, remember that they are often limited, so order early. Ordering early also gives you time to grow your own transplants, which saves money, gives you a much larger selection of varieties to choose from than if you buy transplants, and lets you plant your garden as early as you want.

The best way to grow transplants is in a small greenhouse, but you can also grow them right in your own home. Here's my easy system: get one or more two-bulb fluorescent shop light fixtures. You can pick these up at a home improvement store for about $30 (or borrow the one hanging over the workbench in the garage!). Put grow light tubes (expensive) or one warm white and one cool white tube (cheap option) in each fixture to provide the best light quality for growing plants. Put a timer on the fixture and set it to "on" for 16 hours each day. Spread a piece of plastic sheeting on the floor in an area free of drafts and where the temperature will stay in the low- to mid-70's day and night. For me, this is in the living room or bedroom. Position the light fixture so the tubes are only four to six inches above the plants. I support the fixture on a stack of books at each end so it's easy to raise the fixture as the plants grow.

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Growing containers can be anything from standard plant growing flats to yogurt containers, as long as they have drainage holes in the bottom. Set the containers in some kind of tray for the water to drain into. You can make a simple one out of aluminum foil. Fill the containers with a high-quality, organic potting media available at most garden centers. Then, plant your seeds as directed on your seed package. Water carefully, striving to keep the growing media moist, but not wet. Early on, this is best accomplished with a spray bottle. If the media is kept too wet, the seeds will rot or the young seedlings will get damping off disease and die. Fertilize lightly every week with an organic liquid fertilizer like deodorized fish emulsion. When your plants are large enough to go outside, you need to harden them off so the move to the garden doesn't shock them. This can be done by gradually exposing the plants to cooler temperatures and reducing watering. I move my whole growing system to a cooler room in the house and then start taking the plants outside for a few hours during the afternoon. When I set my transplants in the garden, I cover them with little hot caps made of plastic milk jugs with the bottoms cut out and take the caps off during the day then put them back on at night.

Growing a vegetable garden is one of the most basic and satisfying activities for both individuals and families. And what can be more satisfying than getting ahead of the game? The early bird catches the worm, as they say; so, gather up your catalogs, dream, sketch, plan and transplant, and soon you'll be enjoying fresh, buttery lettuce and crisp, juicy radishes. Until then, enjoy your fireside gardening!

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SEED CATALOGS

The following websites can help you make your garden dreams a reality. You can browse online, or if you're like me and prefer something in hand, many of these sites give you the option to request a catalog by mail.

Abundant Life Seed Foundation, www.abundantlifeseeds.com

High Mowing Organic Seeds, www.highmowingseeds.com

Horizon Herbs, www.horizonherbs.com

Johnny's Selected Seeds, www.johnnyseeds.com

Nichols Garden Nursery, www.nicholsgardennursery.com

Ornamental Edibles, www.ornamentaledibles.com

Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply, www.groworganic.com

Pinetree Garden Seeds, www.superseeds.com

Prairie Nursery, www.prairienursery.com

The Redwood City Seed Company, www.ecoseeds.com

Richters Herbs, www.richters.com

Ronnigers Potato Farm, www.ronnigers.com

The Sandy Mush Herb Nursery, www.sandymushherbs.com

Seeds of Change, www.seedsofchange.com

R.H. Shumway's, www.rhshumway.com

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, www.southernexposure.com

Territorial Seed Company, www.territorialseed.com

Totally Tomatoes, www.totallytomato.com

Vermont Bean Seed Company, www.vermontbean.com

Area Farmers'/Tailgate Markets

Alleghany County Farmers' Market Intersection, NC 18N and Gnomon St, Sparta, NC sat 8am-12pm

Tailgate Markets at Greenlife, Greenlife Grocery, 70 Mammon Ave, Asheville, NC Fri 2-6pm | Wed 1-5pm | Sun(grassy area off parking lot) 1pm-5pm, starts May 6th

French Broad Food Coop Tailgate Markets 76 Biltmore Ave, Asheville, NC Sat 8am-1pm | Wed 2pm-6:30pm, starts May 2nd

West Asheville Tailgate Market, rear of parking lot of West End Bakery and Haywood Road, Ashville, NC Wed 3:30-6:30pm, starts May 9th

North Asheville Tailgete Market, parking lots behind Asheville Pizza, Merrimon Ave, Asheville, NC Sat 7am-12pm

Riceville Community Tailgate Market in the parking lot of the Riceville Community Center, Asheville, NC Sat 9am-12pm, starts June 2nd

Black Mountain Tailgate Market, Black Mountain, HC check www.AppalachianGrown. org for location Sat 9am-12pm, starts May 12th

Canton Tailgate Market, at the town hall in the municipal parking lot on Park St, Canton, NC Tue 8am-12pm | Thu 8am-12pm, starts June 5th

Cedar Valley Farmers' Market Downtown Murphy on the square, Murphy, NC Sat 10am-2pm

Franklin Tailgate Market West Palmer Street, Franklin, NC Sat 8am-12pm, starts June 2nd

Graham Henderson County Curb Market, Church St, Hendersonville, NC Tue, Thu, Sat 8am-2pm

Henderson County Tailgate Manet, 100 N King St, Hendersonville, NC Sat 7am-12pm

Jackson County Farmers' Market, in the town parking lot at site of the Bridge Park, Sylva, NC Sat 9am-12pm, starts May 5th

Madison County Farmers' & Artisans" Market, Mars Hill College, off Dormitory Dr, Mars Hill, NC Sat 8am-1pm

Spruce Pine Farmers' Tailgate Market Topaz Street, Spruce Pine, NC Wed 3-6pm, starts May 9th

Transylvania Country Tailgate Market, in the parking lot behind South Broad Park, Brevard, NC Tue, Thu & Sat 7:30am-1pm, starts May 12th

Waynesville Tailgate Market, corner of Walnut and Main, Waynesville, NC Wed & Sat 8am-12pm, starts June 6th

Saturday Market Downtown between Spring and Main Streets ,Greenville, SC Sat 8am-12pm, starts May 5th

Simply Homegrown: A Community Market Parking lot, Prate's Main Street Books, Clayton, GA Sat 9am-12pm, starts May 12th

For more information on each market, visit www.AppalachianGrown.orcj/tailgate.php.

Dr. Jeanine Davis is a NC State University faculty member located at the Mountain Horticultural Crops Research and Extension Center near the Asheville Airport. You can read about her research and education programs on organics, medicinal herbs, mushrooms and other specialty crops at www.ncherb.org.
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Title Annotation:digging in
Author:Davis, Jeanine
Publication:New Life Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2007
Words:1383
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