Try these New Year's garden resolutions

Marianne Ophardt, WSU Benton County ExtensionJanuary 4, 2014 

Many people make lofty resolutions for the new year aimed at improving health or well being, such as losing weight or exercising more. Resolutions for gardeners are often similarly idealistic and directed at becoming a better gardener, such as starting a garden journal or composting yard waste.

Here are a few easy-to-attain pragmatic resolutions for gardeners.

-- Plant more food: Seed catalogs already have started arriving in the mail. Don't you wish you could plant all of them? If you have the space, consider planting extra vegetables to take to the local food bank next summer.

-- Expand vegetable gardening skills: Try growing a vegetable that you like, but have never grown before. How about potatoes? While potatoes can be bought locally at reasonable prices, you would be surprised how good fresh garden potatoes taste. Plus, you can order special varieties not available in most markets. I'm partial to the red-skinned varieties.

Potatoes are planted from seed that are either small potatoes or larger ones cut up into pieces containing at least one or more buds, or eyes. You can buy seed potatoes locally or mail-order them from seed companies. Two that I like are Potato Garden (formerly Ronniger Potato Farm) at www.potatogarden.com and Irish Eyes at www.irisheyesgardenseeds. com. Both are in the West and offer certified disease-free and certified-organic potato seed. Order soon because some of the best varieties sell out quickly.

-- Plant some herbs: Last season I planted annual herbs in a wine barrel container garden. It was nice to be able to go out and get some fresh sweet basil, oregano or chives for that night's dinner. Plus, I have some perennial herbs (sage, rosemary and lavender) planted in my perennial flower bed for their fragrant foliage as well as their ornamental value.

Not only do herbs provide wonderful flavor to a variety of culinary dishes, but researchers are finding that many add antioxidants and essential nutrients to our diet. Fresh herbs from the garden are the tastiest and highest in their healthful benefits. Most herbs are easy to grow, so try planting some this year.

-- Grow your own tomato transplants: The choice of the varieties available locally tends to be somewhat limited. When you grow your own tomato transplants, you can plant specific special varieties, such as heat- and cold-tolerant varieties or heirloom tomatoes with uniquely colored or great-tasting fruit.

Heat-tolerant varieties (such as like Bella Rosa, Solar Fire, Arkansas Traveler, Phoenix Hybrid, Sioux and Momostaro) will set fruit even during hot summer weather, and the cold-tolerant ones (like Glacier, Polar Baby, Polar Star, and Stupice) will set fruit during extended cool spring weather. Last year, many gardeners were bereft when their tomatoes didn't set much fruit because of a long cool spring followed by hot summer weather. Devoted to tomatoes, Tomato Growers Supply Company at www.tomatogrowers. com is where you can find many of these varieties.

-- Read a gardening book: Take advantage of this cold and dreary weather to read that gardening book that you never seem time to read during the gardening season. Waiting for me is Honeybee Democracy by Thomas D. Seeley about honeybee behavior and the bees' collective decision making process.

-- Marianne C. Ophardt is a horticulturist for Washington State University Benton County Extension.

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