Ah yes, the middle of winter - the time at which writing an article about horticulture is always a challenge. Nurseries are all but closed, the ground is frozen, and even those wonderful Christmas poinsettias, once so bright and red, have become leggy and lackluster.
On top of all that, we had one of the snowiest Decembers on record coupled with frigid temperatures followed by three weeks of dryness and now temperatures in the 50s.
So I don't blame you if this climatic overload has you thinking only about the here and now.
The first day of spring is only two months away. Memorial Day, the traditional time to feel safe about no more freezes (be afraid, be very afraid), is just 124 days from now. And if you plan on starting plants - vegetables and annuals - indoors, well, get on it. You should be starting some of those in the next eight weeks.
Put away the shovel and grab the garden trowel. Summer is here!
Whoa, sorry about that. I don't know what came over me - horticultural delusion I believe is the medical term.
Fortunately, for many of us who suffer from this malady, we have help - seed catalogs. They make the seasonal transition easier. Usually in the dead of winter the catalogs start to trickle in (coincidence?) - hundreds of pages with beautiful colors, descriptions written like poetry, and assurance that the plant will work in any environment or will produce more fruit than you could ever harvest.
Don't forget, we are in Hardiness Zone 4, with a push to 5, and can have freezes on June 12 and Sept. 8.
As Albert Einstein would say: "Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one."
Like many of you, I purchase the vast majority of my seeds every year. I am typically not a seed saver, especially with vegetables. When we purchase vegetables seeds, the majority of what we buy are hybrids, which means we can grow them using both gasoline and electric, reducing our carbon footprint.
Actually, the development of hybrids is a time-consuming and precise process which can take years and years.
In the simplest of terms, we can use the example of a plant breeder seeing a really good trait, say flower color, in one plant, and another really good trait, good plant architecture, in another. The best plant of each is then taken and self-pollinated each year until the same identical plant will appear.
Once these "pure lines" are developed, the two plants with the desired traits are cross-pollinated and the result is called the F-1 hybrid inbreed. The process can take many years and like most things, there are drawbacks.
Seed saved from hybrids will not breed true. So even if you were to germinate the seeds the next year, many of the desirable traits could be lost.
For many, this is the reason why people save seed from open pollinated varieties.
Heirloom varieties, which are gaining in popularity, are open-pollinated plants; the flowers are pollinated by the wind or insects, therefore exposing plants to a bigger gene pool.
This increase in the gene pool and the unknown pollen source can result in plants that vary in their own genetic traits.
Sometimes this is fun - who knows what you will get? Sometimes it is frustrating - who the heck knows what you will get?
It is up to you.
Next time I will discuss how to save seed successfully.
Oh, and let it snow. I need to suppress my horticultural delusion.
[email protected] or 382-6464. Darrin Parmenter is horticulture and natural resources agent for the La Plata County Extension Office.