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GARDEN TIPS – Written by Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA Published February 21, 2016

Do you plan on growing your own vegetable transplants from seed this year? The keys to success are ordering your seed early, using the right potting mix, planting in clean containers, providing adequate light, and sowing the seeds at the right time.

Now is a good time to be buying seed both for growing transplants and for planting directly in the garden. First, take some time to carefully plan out your garden and decide what types and varieties you want to grow. If you are tight on space, look for varieties that are compact and recommended for containers or raised bed gardening. Select the types of veggies you like to eat and ones that are tastier when fresh picked or pricier when you buy them fresh at the market.

I often recommend using a quality potting mix when growing plants in containers and this is especially important when growing transplants from seed. Look for a well-drained soilless mix that contains peat moss or coconut coir fiber, perlite, and vermiculite and does not contain bark or compost.

Containers you use for starting seeds do not need to be fancy, just clean and with holes for good drainage. There are many seed starting containers available from local nurseries and mail-order companies, but you can save money by recycling various plastic containers, such as yogurt cups or margarine containers. Before using re-purposed containers or recycled pots, thoroughly clean and sterilize them by soaking them for 15 minutes in a (1 part bleach to 9 parts water) bleach solution. Finish by rinsing them well and letting them dry.

Inadequate light is often the reason why home gardeners experience failure when attempting to grow their own transplants. Once they germinate, plants need lots of light. Even the light on a sunny windowsill is often not enough. Gardeners who are serious about starting their own transplants provide supplemental lighting for their growing transplants. The easy, but expensive route, is buying a commercial plant stand with fluorescent lighting, but you can make your own with a two or four-tube fluorescent light fixture. To provide enough light for the plants, the bulbs should be kept 2 to 4 inches above the plants and raised as the plants grow. The lights should be kept on for 12 to 14 hours a day and turned off at night to give the plants a rest.

Germinating seeds and young plants need warmth, but not too much warmth. Daytime temperatures should be between 60 and 80 degrees and nighttime temperatures between 55 and 75 degrees. Too little light or too warm temperatures will lead to weak and spindly growth.

A final factor in transplant growing success is planting seeds at the right time, not too early and not too late. Frost sensitive warm-season plants, like tomatoes, will not be planted out in the garden without protection until the danger of frost is past and the soil is warm. The average last date of frost for the Tri-Cities is in early May. Tomato seeds should be planted indoors about 8 weeks before the last frost, peppers 10 weeks, and eggplants 9 weeks. Squash, melons and cucumbers are also frost sensitive, warm-season plants, but they germinate and grow more quickly and only need planting 4 weeks before planting them outdoors.

Is The Weather Causing Fruit Drop and Excessive Seeds On Maple Trees?

GARDEN TIPS – written by
Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA Written June 25, 2015

Earlier this month some gardeners noticed that a number of small apples were dropping off their trees and wondered why it was happening. There are three different types of “fruit-drop” that backyard orchardists may observe.

Fruit drop very early in the season is linked to pollination. Apples and pears require cross-pollination for fruit to form. Cross-pollination is the exchange of pollen from the flowers of one variety to the flowers of a different variety of the same type of fruit.

Cross-pollination is needed for fruit development to occur in many tree fruit, like apples and pears. If adequate cross-pollination does not occur, fruit may start to develop but then drop from the tree. This typically happens soon after the flower petals drop. It occurs because there are not enough viable seed within the fruit producing the plant growth regulating chemicals needed for fruit development.

Lack of pollination can be the result of not having a compatible variety nearby to enable cross-pollination, frost, a deficit of bees and other pollinators, or weather conditions that deter bee activity during bloom, such as rain or strong winds.

Apple or pear fruit may also be observed dropping in early summer. This is called “June-drop.”  The drop is usually due to the crop load of the tree. June-drop is a way for the tree to thin itself because it can not support all the fruit that were pollinated and developing on the tree.

This self-thinning allows more of the tree’s carbohydrate resources to go into the development of fruit left on the tree. Backyard fruit growers can avoid an excessive June-drop by thinning or removing extra fruit early in the season, allowing only one fruit per cluster to develop and spacing these an average of six inches apart on the branches. This results in the development of larger fruit instead of many small fruit or considerable fruit loss from June-drop. June-drop may be extraordinarily heavy if late spring weather is hot.

If fruit drop occurs close to harvest, it is called “pre-harvest fruit drop.” This may be caused by a heavy fruit load, high temperatures, wormy fruit, or drought stress.

Local gardeners are also noticing another phenomenon this year, the production of an excessive  amount of seeds on maples and other trees this spring. I was once told that trees produce copious amounts seed like this when stress triggers them to “think” they are dying and driving them to procreate. This is only a partially correct untechnical explanation.

Abnormally large seed crops may be due to heat or drought stress that occurred the previous year, but it may also be due to spring weather the current year. Maples do flower quite early in the spring and their flowers are subject to spring frost damage. Mild spring weather with no killing frosts allows for good pollination and the development of more seeds than in most years.

Scientists have also discovered that some types of trees normally bear heavier seed crops every other year or every few years.  There is even a phenomena called “masting” where some trees, such as oaks, produce massive seed crops on cycles of three to twelve years. This occurs over large regions and is thought to have evolutionary significance within forest ecosystems.

When it comes the abundance of seeds this spring on local maples and other trees, it could be due to the mild spring weather, stress last summer, or cyclical seed bearing… or maybe all three.


written by
Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA
published 3/7/14

It=s March, we are setting the clocks ahead this weekend, and the daytime temperatures have reached 50 degrees and above, but winter may still have a few last gasps before we can say spring has arrived and planting can start.

St. Patrick=s Day is a traditional day for some to plant potatoes and peas, but smart gardeners wisely check the soil temperature before planting their veggie seed out in the garden. If the soil is too cold, the seeds will just sit there and may rot before getting a chance to sprout and grow.

To check the soil temperature, invest in a soil thermometer. You should be able purchase one for about $10 to $15 at a local garden store or from an on-line garden supply company. Take the soil temperature in mid-morning by inserting the thermometer=s probe two inches into the soil for small seeded crops (eg. lettuce) and four inches into the soil for large seeded crops (eg. squash, beans). The probe of some of the soil thermometers have markings that indicate inches to make this easier.

Seeds of early spring cool-season crops can be planted when the soil temperature is 40 degrees or above. This includes lettuce, peas, kale, radishes, arugula, and spinach. When the soil reaches 50 degrees, plant seeds of leeks, onions, Swiss chard, and turnips. Wait until it reaches 60 degrees for planting beans, beets, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, carrots, and cauliflower and 70 degrees for cucumbers, squash, melons, and corn. The soil temperature should be consistent for several days before deciding these optimum temperatures have been reached.

Seed potatoes are best planted when the soil temperature is 45 degrees or above and daytime temperatures are consistently in the 65 degree range and nighttime temperatures in the 55 to 65 degree range.

If you are anxious to plant your garden, you can warm the soil up a little faster by covering the garden with a sheet of clear plastic. To keep the wind from wreaking havoc with the plastic, lay it out smoothly and then pull it taut, firmly burying all the edges in trenches.

If you choose to keep the plastic in place, you can plant seeds and transplants by making holes in the plastic, but weeds will grow profusely under the plastic. In addition, the clear plastic will heat the soil to plant damaging or stressful levels during the very sunny, hot part of summer unless your garden plants are big enough to shade the plastic by then.

Clear plastic works better than black plastic for warming the soil because it allows sunlight in during day and then traps the heat that builds up, much like a greenhouse. I recommend warming the soil up with clear plastic, but removing it before planting. Gardeners also find that the soil in raised beds warms up faster and situating your garden so it receives full sun and faces south will also help.

The last average date of frost for our area is May 1. In your hurry to get your garden planted, keep in mind that tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, beans, cukes, squash, and melons will need protection if frost is in the forecast. Row cover fabrics can provide several degrees of protection.

If you haven=t done so already, plan out your garden now and purchase your seed and a soil thermometer. Spring is on its way! (I hope.)

Published: 3/7/2014 10:16 AM


written by
Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA
published 10/25/13

For the past month, we’ve been bombarded with a variety of messages in support or against labeling products that contain GM or genetically modified ingredients. That’s not a discussion I’m qualified to address, but I find it interesting that a number of seed catalogs, especially those specializing in heirloom veggies, note that they don’t offer seed of any genetically modified crops. I imagine that allays concerned gardeners’ fears, but the truth is that currently there is no GM home garden vegetable seed readily available to home gardeners. Most of the GM crops grown in this country are major agricultural crops that bring seed companies big money. These are marketed to commercial farmers and include wheat, soybeans, corn, and canola.

That doesn’t mean that scientists haven’t tinkered with the genes of some vegetables and fruits. Gardeners may remember the “Flavr Savr” tomato introduced in 1994. It was intended to be a grocery store tomato with a longer shelf life and better flavor. The FDA indicated that they didn’t pose a health risk and allowed the tomatoes to be sold without special labeling.

At the time it sounded like we would benefit from having better tasting grocery store tomatoes. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on where you stand on the GM food issue, the company marketing, growing, and shipping Flavr Savr failed to capitalize on this groundbreaking tomato. Their field production was much lower than that of other tomato growers and a large percentage of fruit were damaged during harvesting, making this new tomato less profitable than anticipated. Plus, there was strong competition from other new tomatoes, called long-shelf-life tomatoes, developed by conventional plant breeding methods.

However, scientists are still working towards bringing other GM tomatoes to commercial markets. Their efforts are aimed at making the fruit tastier, more nutritious, and easier to handle, as well making the plants more insect and disease resistant and more tolerant of stressful environmental conditions. Tomatoes and other crops are also being looked at as vehicles to deliver vaccines to protect humans against a variety of diseases such as cholera, rabies, hepatitis B, norovirus, Alzheimer’s, and HIV.

There are GM squash grown in some commercial fields in the US and Mexico. These squash have been modified to better resist virus diseases that attack squash. However, an unforseen problem has resulted from genetic modification. The plants are healthier, but this makes them more attractive to cucumber beetles. The cucumber beetles spread a bacterial wilt disease to the plants in their feces that they drop on the leaves while feeding. This sounds like both a GM success and failure.

As the Washington debate on GM labeling rages on until election day, scientists are in their labs working away. Keep in mind that a large number them are still developing new cultivars (varieties) with conventional plant breeding methods. These methods date back to the work of Gregor Mendel who experimented with pea breeding in the 1800s and provided the foundation for modern plant and animal breeding.

Monsanto, well known for its GM crops, owns Seminis Vegetable Seeds, Inc. Seminis is one of the largest developer, grower and marketer of vegetable seed in the world. They market seed to both commercial farmers and home gardeners. Monsanto indicates that none of the vegetable seed Seminis sells for home gardeners are GM vegetables.

For now it appears that gardeners do not need to worry that the vegetable seeds they are buying are GM, but who knows what the future will bring?

Published: 10/25/2013 2:35 PM


written by

Marianne C. Ophardt

WSU Extension Faculty

for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

Every time I turn around it seems like a new seed or nursery catalog arrives in the mail. Raintree Nursery’s catalog arrived just the other day. Raintree Nursery is located in Morton, Washington and specializes in fruiting plants, although they do offer some ornamentals too. Thumbing through their catalog reminded me that one of the current gardening trends is edible landscaping.

The concept of edible landscaping is to have an attractive landscape where food producing plants are part of the landscape not placed in a separate garden space, such as an orchard or vegetable garden. With a shift towards decreasing home and yard sizes, it makes sense to incorporate edibles – fruit and nut trees, berry bushes, vegetables, herbs, and even edible flowers – into an attractive home landscape.

Experienced local gardeners know that growing traditional tree fruit in our area is not easy as planting a tree and letting it grow. Multiple applications of insecticide are required to keep apples, pears, and cherries from becoming wormy. Because we live in a commercial tree fruit producing region, we can more easily and more economically purchase fruit from local growers.

If you want to apply the edible landscaping concept in your yard, consider different types of fruit that don’t fall victim to these wormy pests. One of these is jujube. These are not the colorful candies you ate as a kid in movie theaters. Jujube, also known as Chinese dates, is a fruit tree with Chinese origins. It has been cultivated in China for over 4,000 years with over 400 cultivars of jujube today. Raintree offers four cultivars.

What’s the fruit like? The fruit resembles a small to large, round to oblong plum. The skin is thin and edible. The flesh is white and sweet, some saying it tastes like a very sweet apple. While the skin turns dark red at maturity, many say the fruit tastes best when eaten while still somewhat yellowish and the flesh is still crisp. When mature, the fruit becomes soft and wrinkled (looking somewhat like a date) and the flesh becomes spongy. Like a plum, the fruit contains a stony pit. Trees are partially self fertile, but will be more productive if cross-pollination is provided by growing two different jujube cultivars.

The trees offered by Raintree are grafted, growing to 20 feet or more, but they note they can be maintained at even lower heights. The Raintree cultivars are hardy from Zones 6-10, so they should be hardy in our region. Jujubes need a warm, full sun location and do best in well-drained sandy soils, but will tolerate other types of soil including alkaline soils.

Generally the jujube has a drooping or somewhat weeping habit, although this varies from tree to tree with some cultivars having a more upright habit. The leaves are a glossy green, turning bright yellow in the fall before dropping. It also tends to drop small branchlets in the fall.

As good as this tree may sound, it does have two drawbacks. One is the thorns or spines at the base of each leaf. However, there are some cultivars that are thornless or nearly thornless. Another drawback is suckering. The different cultivars are grafted onto thorny rootstocks that tend to produce many suckers. These would have to be cut off regularly to keep the thorny rootstock contained.

Considering an edible landscape? Maybe you’d like to include jujubes or other fruit producing plants. Jujubes are available from Raintree at

Published: 2/5/2011 2:59 PM


written by

Marianne C. Ophardt

WSU Extension Faculty

for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

Whew, I know it’s a lot of work, but there’s just two more steps before you can plant your veggie garden. Once you’re finished working up the soil, your final steps before planting are raking and setting up irrigation. Use a garden rake to make the soil surface level and smooth for planting. Raking with the tines pointed down helps you remove any rocks or debris that came to the surface with tilling. Use the rake with the tines pointed upwards to assist you in creating an even surface.

As soon as you plant, seeds will need water for germination and plants will need water to grow. In our dry region, gardeners can’t rely on natural precipitation to provide anywhere near enough water. That means irrigation of some sort is required. While this is the point when you set up your irrigation system, it should be considered much earlier in the planning stages.

There are numerous options, but drip irrigation, drip tape, or soaker hose are three good options. All three help conserve water and minimize both weed growth and disease problems. Of course, sprinkler irrigation is also a viable option.

Soaker hoses are hoses with tiny holes from which water trickles out or hoses with porous walls from which water oozes out. These are less expensive than a drip system, pretty simple to set up, and work best in row or bed situations where plants are close together. They’re also easier to flush out and clean if you’re using irrigation water.

Drip systems are more flexible and work well if you have a complicated garden plan with plants at varying spacings or locations. If managed properly, they’re also the best at conserving water. However, drip systems tend to be more expensive to set up and must be managed very carefully. Drip emitters have a tendency to become plugged, especially when using irrigation water. Careful attention is needed to prevent plant stress that can result when emitters become plugged. Whatever system you chose, set it up and make sure it works before planting.

Yippee! Finally we’re ready to plant. Many novice gardeners make a trip to the garden store for transplants. The convenience of garden store transplants can’t be beat. They’re definitely an advantage in getting a head start on the season with warm-season crops like tomatoes and peppers. Crops that do well as transplants include certain warm -season crops, like tomatoes, peppers, hot peppers and eggplants. Some cool-season veggies, also do well as transplants, like cauliflower, cabbage, and broccoli

However, there are some crops that perform best when grown directly from seed. Cool season crops that are best from seed include lettuce, peas, spinach, Swiss chard, radishes and carrots. Warm season crops that do best when directly seeded in soil include corn, beans, cucumbers, squash, pumpkins, melons, and watermelon.

Check the seed packet directions for recommended time of planting, depth of planting, and spacing of seedlings. Seed packets and seed catalogs provide you with lots of valuable gardening information. Be sure to thin young seedlings to the recommended spacing so they’ll have plenty of room to grow.

Getting a new garden started is a lot of work, but it’s worth it when you see your baby green plants start emerging from the soil. It’s even better when you begin harvesting the veggies that you grew in your own garden.

Published: 2/13/2010 10:38 AM


written by

Marianne C. Ophardt

WSU Extension Faculty

for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

I’m sitting here today and looking at a thermometer that says it’s 54 degrees outside. I’m not fooled. It’s still winter. We shouldn’t be too eager to get out and about doing our garden chores. Instead, let’s open our 2010 seed catalogs and start planning. I’ve already received a score of catalogs, especially those that specialize in vegetables. Rumor has it that because so many more gardeners are growing veggies than ever before, there could be a shortage of the most popular and the newest varieties. So let’s get busy and get our seed orders in.

One of the first catalogs to arrive at my house was from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. They offer 1400 open pollinated heirloom vegetables and flowers. Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds was started in 1998 by a seventeen year-old young man, Jere Gettle. This young seedsman’s desire was to preserve heirloom seeds. He started modestly, sending out 550 catalogs on newsprint and working out of his own room in his Missouri home. The next year he sent out 7,500 catalogs and was able to get money to build his first store in the Ozark Hills near Mansfield, MO.

This year Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds printed 250,000 catalogs to meet the demand. In just 12 years this seed business offering only heirlooms has grown like “Jack’s beanstalk.” In 2009 they started another seed store “bank” in Petaluma, CA in the historic 1920

s Sonoma County National Bank building. Gettle points out that “millions of people are gardening for the first time, and possibly more young families are gardening than at any time since the Great Depression.”

One of their new tomato offerings is ‘Reisetomate,’also known as the‘Traveler Tomato.’ Gettle says this one is “far-out and groovy ” and I agree. From the distance this looks like a large bunch of cherry tomatoes, but closer inspection reveals that they’re all fused into a big, lumpy mass. “Reise” means “travel” or “journey” in German. It’s believed that the origins of this tomato can be traced to Central America where the natives carried them on trips and ate the tomatoes along their journey. Each lumpy portion of the ‘Reisetomate’ tomato can be broken off and easily eaten without needing to stop and use a knife. The flavor? Gettle says they’re rather sour, strong, and acid. “The perfect tomato for those who love raw lemons.”

Baker Creek has many other very interesting old vegetable and flower varieties. Want to get a copy of their catalog? Go to for a free copy. Gettle says to hurry with your order, as some seeds will only be available for a few more weeks due to demand.

Published: 1/23/2010 3:05 PM


written by

Marianne C. Ophardt

WSU Extension Faculty

for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

Last week we discussed mail-order catalogs from purveyors of tomato and pepper seeds. It was no surprise to find catalogs that focus on the top crops of home veggie growers, but there are some specialty companies that are more unusual. One of these is a company that specializes in beans. The Vermont Bean Seed Company sells 109 different varieties of beans in twelve different categories. Beans!

Belying their name, the Vermont Bean Seed Company is located in Randolph, Wisconsin. They may offer all sorts of beans, but they also “strive to find the best and most unique vegetables and flowers for your gardening experience.” Their beans include a wide range of beans from the predictable green bush and pole beans to French filet beans, soy beans, broad beans, lima beans, flat podded beans, dry shell beans, cowpeas, and dry beans. These include yellow and purple podded varieties.

Intriguing to me are the unique and unusual bean varieties. One bean that gardeners rave about is the “yard long bean.” Vermont Bean Seed Company (VBSC) offers ‘Liana’ a yard-long bean “valued in the Orient for its sweet, succulent tender pods.” The beans are one-quarter inch in diameter and up to 36 inches long. It’s a vining bean plant that can grow over ten feet tall, so a trellis is definitely needed. The VBSC dry bean offerings are very impressive with a number of heirloom beans of different colors and patterns. One of these is ‘Peregion,’ an Oregon heirloom with beautifully colored beans in varying shades and swirling patterns of brown. These beans are very productive and have great flavor.

If ornamentals are your preference, VBSC also carries several different types of scarlet runner beans that are often grown more for their pretty flowers than for their edible beans. The ‘Painted Lady’ has pretty red and white flowers that are attractive to hummingbirds and ‘Sunset Runner’ produces uniquely colored salmon-pink flowers. The runner beans can be trained to a trellis or a fence for creating an attractive temporary screening.

Along with extensive bean offerings, VBSC also sells other vegetable seed and “supplies that are sure to make your gardening experience easier and more enjoyable.” You can reach them at or by calling toll free at 1-800-349-1071.

One of my favorite specialty vegetable catalogs is Irish Eyes Garden Seeds who specialize in organically grown garlic and seed potatoes. Last summer, I had the chance to visit this company tucked away in the Kittitas Valley near Ellensburg. Garlic gardeners will be delighted to find that they offer an amazing number of garlic varieties, including both hardneck and softneck types.

One of their best selling garlics is ‘Spanish Roja,’ a rocambole hardneck touted as “a gourmet garlic famous for flavor.” It produces purple streaked bulbs with seven to thirteen easy to peel cloves. According to Irish Eyes it came to the Northwest before 1900 and is often called ‘Greek Lilac’ by this region’s gardeners. Another best seller is ‘Early Italian Purple,’ an artichoke softneck that’s well adapted to summer heat, producing large white and purple striped bulbs with lots of small cloves. If you like your garlic hot like me, you might want to try ‘Lorz Italian’ another artichoke softneck with very strong hot flavor. Yum!

Irish Eyes also offers a good number of organic seed potatoes along with organic early season vegetable seed. They do sell out of some types of seed and potatoes each year, so they recommend ordering early so you can get what you want. You won’t be able to order garlic at this time of year, so get on the mailing list for their fall catalog. They can be reached at 509-964-7000 or at

Ronniger Potato Farm is another specialty vegetable mail-order company. As you can imagine from the name, potatoes are their main game. They divide their potato offerings into four main groups… early season, mid-season, late season, and fingerlings. My personal favorites are the red-skinned varieties. I recommend ‘Sangre’ a very dark red-skinned variety developed at the University of Colorado. It produces plentiful small red tubers. If you’re like me, you might also enjoy ‘Viking Red’ with a bright red skin and good flavor for baking or boiling, plus it grows great in hot climates. Ronniger notes that it sizes rapidly, going from “golfball to baseball size overnight.”

Ronniger also sells soft neck and hard neck garlic, onion seed, and Jerusalem artichoke tubers.

This is another company that you should check out and order from early, because they sell out of their popular varieties very early. Ronniger Potato Farm is located in Austin, Colorado and can be reached at 877- 204-8704 or at

Published: 1/3/2009 9:16 AM


written by

Marianne C. Ophardt

WSU Extension Faculty

for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

It may be only the start of winter, but my garden seed catalogs have already started arriving. Since gardening trends indicate that more experienced gardeners along with novice gardens are interested in food gardening, I thought I would take the time to review some great vegetable specialty catalogs.

It’s not surprising that I receive two catalogs from seed companies that specialize in tomatoes, since tomatoes are the number one favorite crop of home gardeners. In fact, I think tomatoes are the heart of any vegetable garden. This thought is echoed by “Totally Tomatoes” who offer lots of different tomato varieties including heirlooms and improved hybrids. New to their catalog is ‘First Light’ which they say ranks as “one of the best tasting tomatoes ever” that produces five to seven ounce fruit with excellent full flavor and a crisp texture. A bi-colored fruit, it’s ready to pick when the bottom half turns red but the shoulders are still green.

Definitely winning for the most distinctively named variety is ‘Wapsipinicon Peach.’ This tomato produces fuzzy yellow peach-shaped 2″ fruit. Along with their distinctive name and unusual appearance, they won the Seed Savers Exchange heirloom taste test. Totally Tomatoes are crazy about tomatoes but they also offer a complete line of sweet and hot peppers and cucumbers along with a few other veggies.

Of special interest to me are the number of ornamental peppers they offer for gardeners who are interested in edible landscaping. One is ‘Black Pearl,’ a 2006 All American Selection that can be grown as an ornamental for its dark purple to black leaves and edible very hot black-purple fruit that turn red at maturity. New to their catalog is ‘Purple Flash’ another pepper with black leaves, but these are layered with “flashes of electric purple” They note that the peppers are a glossy black but “too hot to be palatable.” I believe them, but I’m sure this will be a challenge to some folks.

Totally Tomatoes is located in Wisconsin and can be reached by calling toll free at 1-800-345-5977 or on-line at They also offer tomato growing supplies, as well as canning equipment.

Another tomato catalog that tomato gardeners will want to look over is from Tomato Growers Supply Company. They offer a zillion different tomatoes and place them in different groups including early-season, mid-season, late-season, oxheart, beefsteak, paste, small-fruited, bicolor, black, green , orange, white, yellow, and special collections. They also offer a number of sweet peppers, hot peppers, eggplants, and six varieties of tomatillo. Tomato Growers Supply Company is located in Florida and can be reached toll free at 1-888-768-3476 or on-line at

If peppers are your vegetable specialty, you can find almost any pepper you might be looking for from The Pepper Gal located in Florida. Pepper Gal offers peppers… hot, sweet, and ornamental peppers from A (Aji Cristal, a Chilean hot pepper with a citrus flavor) to Z (Zimbabwe Bird, a very hot pepper with tiny triangular pods). Amongst these sweet and hot peppers you’ll find some organic seeds, heirloom varieties, ornamental pepper varieties, and pickling varieties.

If you’re a hot pepper connoisseur, you probably know that the hotness of peppers is measured in Scoville Heat Units. Sweet peppers have a rating of 0 units, Cayenne peppers a rating of 6,000 to 50,000 units, and Habanero and Scotch Bonnet peppers a whopping and fiery rating of 350,000 units. You can find the entire range of hot peppers from Pepper Gal. They also offer some seed of other veggies including hardshell gourds, pumpkins, herbs, tomatoes, and tomatillos.

It’s a relatively small catalog, but it’s packed with “pepper” related items. Pepper Gal offers hot pepper clothing and accessories; pepper, tomato, and herb posters; and cookbooks, especially cuisines that use hot peppers. You can reach them at 954-537-5540 or on-line at

Next week, we’ll look at catalogs that specialize in garlic, potatoes, and beans! Who would have thought there would be seed catalogs that would specialize in beans? Not me.

Published: 12/27/2008 12:12 PM


written by
Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

Every year I get loads of seed catalogs in the mail. I typically review some of my favorites, but I thought I might introduce you to two that found their way to my door for the first time this year.

I think the most impressive one is that of the D. Landreth Seed Company located in Baltimore, Maryland. They note on their cover that they are ‘the oldest seed house in America’ and they have been ‘purveyors of fine seed since 1784.’ In fact, they are the fifth oldest corporation in America. They claim to have sold seed to every American president from George Washington to Franklin D. Roosevelt.

That’s impressive, but the company has had a pretty low profile since the 1940s. The current owners are now committed to restoring the company’s old reputation of offering quality garden seed. While they do sell some newer varieties of vegetables and flowers, they’re practicing niche marketing and concentrating their efforts in three areas. Their areas of focus are heirloom and vintage seeds for growing in gardens, for growing in containers and small urban gardens, and for easy growing in children’s gardens.

One interesting bit of this company’s history is regarding zinnias. The ‘founding father’ of the company, David Landreth, introduced the zinnia from Mexico to U.S. gardeners in 1798. Today the company offers a good number of big and small zinnias. While zinnias don’t have the delicate beauty of a pansy or petunia, they do offer bold bright colors and are quite willing to tolerate the heat of summer. The two to three foot tall ‘Giant Fantasy Flowered’ zinnias have huge ‘cactus flowers’ that are up to six inches in diameter. The flowers have ‘feathery, loosely arranged petals that give them an airy appearance.’ They can be purchased as a mix or in separate colors of Cherry Time (cherry red), Floradale (glowing scarlet), Lilac Time (lavender), Snow Time (pure white), and Sunny Boy (buttercup yellow).

If you’re a tomato fancier and you like ‘something different’, you might want to consider ordering some seed of ‘Silvery Fir Tree.’ This tomato variety, yes tomato variety, has very different leaves from other tomatoes. They’re silvery gray in color and very feathery. The plants are compact, growing only to about two feet tall, but produce heavy crops of 3 to 3.5 inch diameter round red tomatoes that are somewhat flattened. They’re great for container and patio growing with the bonus of being quite ornamental.

Perhaps one of their most interesting veggie varieties is a melon called ‘Queen Anne’s Pocket.’ D. Landreth Company highly recommends these for a child’s garden. The melons are very small, 3.5 inches long by 2.5 inches wide with smooth skin and jagged orange and yellow stripes. They indicate that the flesh is edible but no one, especially children, would want to eat them because they’re tasteless. So why do they sell it? It’s an heirloom variety that’s been grown simply for its unbelievable fragrance. It was popular in Victorian times when women carried them around in their pockets so that they would smell nice.

Just like old clothes and hair styles, it’s not unusual for old vegetable and flower ‘hand-me-downs’ to become ‘new’ again. If you want to try some very interesting heirloom vegetable and flower varieties, contact D. Landreth Seed Company at 1-800-654-2407 or

The catalog that I’m most excited about this year is from Klehm’s Song Sparrow. It’s a good thing that I’m practicing restraint in my plant purchases this year or else I’d be breaking the bank getting many of the special plants they have for sale. Here are just a few of the plants I’m trying to resist:

Corylus x ‘Rosita’ – This is a hybrid hazelnut with large, bold, deep red leaves that holds their color well into the heat of summer. It’s a smaller tree, growing only 12 to 15 feet tall in ten years.

Betula nigra ‘Summer Cascade’ – Here’s a new cultivar of river birch. It has a graceful weeping form and grows to a height and width of 12 feet in eight years… a fast grower. They note that it’s pest resistant and hopefully that means it resists attack from the bronze birch borer as do other river birch.

Ginkgo biloba ‘Spring Grove’ – This is a dwarf to semi-dwarf gingko that develops a somewhat pyramidal form. The typical fan shaped leaves hug the stems with whorled bases. Growing only 2 to 3 feet tall and 1 to 1.5 feet wide in five years, it won’t outgrow its spot in small landscapes. Smaller yet is ‘Summer Rainbow,’ a gingko with yellow streaked leaves, growing to a diminutive height of 20 inches (yes, inches) in 10 years.

In addition to some very special trees and shrubs, Klehm’s Song Sparrow also offers a fantastic selection of clematis, peonies, hosta, daylilies, perennial flowers for sunny spots and perennial flowers for shady areas. Their new ‘Violet Elizabeth’ clematis with its large, mauve-pink double flowers is perhaps the most beautiful clematis I’ve ever seen. Their nursery is in Wisconsin and almost all of their plants are hardy here. You can reach them at 1-800-553-3715 or where you can also find ‘web-only’ plant specials.

Published: 2/11/2006 11:25 AM

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