Seed catalogs began arriving in mailboxes as early as January, giving gardeners (or gardeners-to-be) ample time to dream about the herbs, veggies and flowers they’ll toil with this summer. For a food-lover, seed catalogs are indescribably enticing — especially if you’ve committed to eating locally and seasonally.
Whether you’re pulling out all the stops and uprooting your backyard or just thinking of adding a second basil plant on your deck, the general consensus is to plan ahead, and start early.
Growing (some of) your own herbs and vegetables is a great way to eat locally — after all, what is more local than your backyard? But a lot of time and money can go into a garden (check out one man’s journey in “The $64 Tomato,” if you don’t believe me). And depending on what kinds of plants you choose, an environmentally friendly garden can become a water-sucking and pesticide-hungry nightmare.
So here are a few tips to keep cash in your wallet as you plan your garden.
- Do your research: The Penn State Agricultural Extension is a great resource for questions specific to your area. Each county has a branch (and a website), and you can find plenty of good advice. In January, the Cumberland County branch had an article reviewing a slew of tomato varieties. Looking for a grape tomato with few seeds? Try the Five Star. An early-producing tomato with great taste? The Stupice is your best bet. The agricultural extension website also has a partner, www.extension.org, with an entire section of regional gardening resources.
- Know what thrives in your area: If you choose plants native to the area where you live, you’ll have fewer struggles against pests — and less use of pesticides. You’ll also avoid dumping gallons upon gallons of water into your garden. The agricultural extension suggests turning part of your yard or garden into a “natural meadow,” which provides “nectar for pollinators, seeds for migrating birds and overwintering sites for beneficial insects.” What’s more, “they don’t need fertilizer or pesticides; their deep roots will readily soak up rainwater, preventing runoff and erosion.”
- Invest in a rain barrel: You’re dependent on the weather, no matter how well you plan. But you can take advantage of heavy rains (anyone remember the deluges of September last year?) by redirecting water from your gutters into a rain barrel. That way, when the soil is dry and the forecast calls for another 10 days of sunny skies, you can use the water you’ve gathered instead of turning on the faucet. Home improvement stores (and catalogs) offer a slew of options, but if you’re handy, the Environmental Protection Agency has directions to make your own.
- In a gardening jam? Try calling the York County Agricultural Extension gardening hotline at 840-7408 from 9 a.m. to noon weekdays, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit extension.psu.edu/york. Call the Adams County hotline at 334-6271, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays or email email@example.com.