Before the frost clears, savor the planning for spring

  • Winter is a great time to let your garden rest while you plan the spring plantings. (123rf)

• Use winter to plan next year’s garden selections

One day in October, as my garden was in the final stages of fall cleanup, I decided to take a break and check the mailbox. What did I find? Two seed catalogs awaited my perusal. I thought: Give me a break, I just put my garden to sleep.

I have often been asked if I wouldn’t love to move to a climate where I could garden all year. The answer is a resounding no. I think part of the excitement of gardening is the anticipation over the winter months of discovering new varieties, doing research and daydreaming about the next garden.

Years ago the seed catalogs didn’t start arriving until Thanksgiving week, even into December. We would stockpile them without a peek. The tradition was to save them for New Year’s Day.

With one eye on the football game of the day, Dick (my late husband) managed to concentrate on seed selections and tag the pages with yellow Post-it notes, especially tomato varieties, while never missing a critical touchdown.

I like keeping with that tradition and perhaps that is why I almost feel insulted when seed catalogs arrive in early October. Do you remember the character Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof” exclaiming in a song that tradition is “how we keep our balance”? Those are wise words.

In keeping with tradition, I am looking through the catalogs for new tomato varieties to try.

My choices won’t necessarily be new to the market, but rather new for me to try. I will never forsake my tried and true favorites: sweet million cherry, legend, an Oregon State University developed slicer; and cobra, a greenhouse variety.

The main criterion used for seed selection is that the plant has to mature in our climate’s growing time frame. If the variety has a maturity date of 90-plus days, I eliminate the choice. The maturity date in the catalog should be between 65 and 75 days. Our days can swing from warm days to often very cool nights. To compensate for that temperature difference, we add 14 days, which brings us to a more realistic maturity date of 79 to 89 days.

That’s not to say I won’t fudge a little knowing I won’t have any room for complaint if I don’t have a successful harvest.

I am already tempted by a variety that has been featured for several years. Sweet aperitif is an English cherry variety described as “bursting with a complex, wine-like taste and tropical aroma.” The maturity date listed is 80 days. Adding 14 days brings the tomato to a possible harvest in 94 days.

The All-America Selection for 2019 is Sparky XSL F1, a cherry tomato that is supposed to be early to harvest, prolific and very flavorful. The listed maturity date is 60 to 70 days. Adding 14 days brings maturity within our range. The ripe color is red with gold striping. Unfortunately, I have yet to locate a source.

I still have to research a Roma type tomato for making sauces and add another slicer for table use.

OSU has developed at least 10 tomato varieties for growing in the less-than-ideal climates of the Pacific Northwest. Sadly, I have noticed fewer of the OSU developed varieties appearing in the catalogs. Most were developed between the 1960s and the 1990s. The latest is the Indigo Series, with indigo rose being the first release in 2012. The colorful tomatoes are high in anthocyanin, a powerful antioxidant.

I have made a dent in the seven catalogs I have received, but still to come is Territorial from Cottage Grove. Hopefully, meanwhile, Nichols Nursery in Garden Grove will print an abbreviated selection of its inventory, as it did last year. The nursery’s complete catalog is online.

Renee’s Garden in Felton, California, offers a fundraiser to non-profit organizations and schools. Renee’s is well known for offering hardy European vegetable varieties.

A 25 percent rebate on seed orders is awarded to organizations and schools that have applied. Please note that the code number for the Central Oregon Master Gardeners is FR663A. You can go online and sign up for your organization.

Through experience, many of us have come to know the importance of ordering seeds early, especially new varieties that may be limited. Also, electronic postings may offer sale items.

— Reporter:

OSU Master Gardener Program

The program, offered through Oregon State University Extension Service, educates Oregonians about the art and science of growing and caring for plants.

The deadline for the 2019 session is Jan. 4. Classes are held in Bend Jan. 11 through April 5 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

For more information on cost and location call the OSU Extension Servicer a 541-548-6088.

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