For over half a century I’ve been receiving a large number of seed catalogues each spring which allowed me to keep up on what new items were being offered by the different companies.
I still get most of these catalogues and glance through them as they arrive, and then file them so I am able to retrieve them if I need to check the specific details or attributes of a particular cultivar.
In the last decade though, things have changed a bit, and while most seed companies still do produce an annual catalogue, they also generally have their entire (updated) list of seeds/plants shown on line at their own Website. Most companies also develop an e-mail list and regularly send out short to extensive HTML e-mails with special offers on a regular basis. These e-mails (if you get the HTML versions) are at least as colourful as the catalogues themselves, and many also contain detailed tips and suggestions for growing the particular subject of the message.
Right now several companies are concentrating on vegetable seeds, and offering specials (like no shipping fees) for orders placed as a result of the company e-mails. The hints and suggestions are generally geared for novice and be-ginner gardeners. For example, The Park Seed Company in Greenwood, South Carolina recently issued a “Know Be-fore You Grow” information e-mail on Leafy Greens. Since the problem that most novice gardeners have with growing lettuce, spinach and other similar leafy greens is “Bolting” the information began with this note about the herb, Lettuce:
“A Cooling Herb Best Harvested Young. The genus Lactuca and the common name "lettuce" both come from lac, the Latin word for milk. This refers to the milky juice of this herb, which serves as a cooling element in salads. Lettuce comes from the daisy family, Asteraceae. When it prepares to bloom (often triggered by warm weather), the stem and branches lengthen, and set flower heads that look like small dandelions. This is referred to as "bolting," and it greatly affects the texture and flavour of the leaves. Lettuce should be harvested before it bolts, and today's new varieties include many that are bolt-resistant or slow to bolt.”
Park Seed then run through six simple and easy-to-follow hints, thus:
- “Thin crowded seedlings once the seeds germinate and begin to grow. Just pinch them at the base of the stem or snip them with scissors. Don't throw them away, though, as these thinnings are quite good in salads and sandwiches.
- “Pots and containers are an excellent way to grow your Leafy Greens. Containers need to be at least 10 to 15 cm (4 to 6 inches) deep. Use a soilless medium, checking it every day to be sure it hasn't dried out. Water as needed.
- “When harvesting you can take the entire plant or remove only the amount of leaves you want. Take those at the base of the plant, starting with the outer ones. New leaves will continue to grow from the centre.
- “If you're harvesting the whole plant remove it by pulling it out of the ground or by cutting it off at ground level.
- “Although Leafy Greens are best eaten fresh they can be stored in your refrigerator's vegetable crisper for a day or two. Some can be kept a bit longer--Lettuce, Collards, and Mustard Greens tend to stay fresh from three days to a week.
- “Store your Leafy Greens in a plastic bag after removing any soil or damaged leaves. Wash thoroughly with cold water before eating.”
Under the heading of “How to Start” Park Seed offer the following advice: “Leafy Greens prefer fertile, well-drained soil, so before planting add compost or manure. This will provide important nutrients and improve drainage. They will produce in light shade but grow the best in areas with full sun exposure. Seeds should be scattered in a row and covered lightly with soil. Keep the soil moist until they germinate.”
Under “Special Considerations” Park Seed offer this advice, including mention of the all-important ‘Bolting’: “Leafy Greens can be harvested at almost any stage of growth. If you want "baby" Greens, pick the leaves after three or four weeks of growth. If growing your plants to full size, adequate spacing is essential. There needs to be 20 - 25 cm (8 to 10 inches) between mature plants. Lettuce and Greens will often bolt if the temperatures get too high. If this happens, remove and compost the plant, as the leaves will be bitter and inedible.”
Finally the Park Seed Company offers the following about “Pest Problems to watch for:”
- “Lettuce and Greens don't tend to have problems with pests as they grow quickly, often in cooler weather when insects are less likely to be active. You still need to regularly check them for pests, however, to prevent a small problem from becoming a disaster.
- “Do not use chemical pesticides since you will be eating the leaves. Instead, remove pests with your hands or wash them off with a stream of water. [One thing they do not mention is that if the infestation is bad, you can safely use natural products such as Doktor Doom Botanics or Green Earth Rotenone Insect Dust. These may be safely used up to the day before harvest.]
- “Encourage the presence of beneficial bugs such as ladybugs, lacewings, and other "good bugs" that prey on aphids and mites.
- “Grow your Leafy Greens in well-drained, fertile soil, and allow good spacing. This will prevent most diseases.
- “Spinach can be susceptible to downy mildew (Blue mould). This is a fungal disease that produces slightly yellow lesions on the top of the leaves and purplish sporulation (small spores) on the underside. The best way to prevent this is to space the plants far enough apart they receive good air circulation, and when watering, wet the ground (soil) and not the foliage.
- “Rotate your Spinach crops each year to prevent soil-borne diseases.”
So, my advice is that if you are new to the Internet, or have shied away from getting too much spam, that you e-mail your favourite seed companies and ask them to send you any specials or information they send out regularly. You might find it very valuable.