KENNEWICK -- Not everything offered for sale in a seed catalog is a seed or a plant.
Many seed companies also offer a variety of nifty garden gadgets, equipment, and supplies. Here are some that I found while thumbing through the seed catalogs in my mailbox.
Compost thermometer: Twice a year I teach a composting class where I talk about the composting process. When built correctly, a compost pile quickly heats up due to the activity of aerobic bacteria working at breaking down the organic matter. The temperature of the pile can go above 150 degrees in just a few days. If the pile gets too hot, above 170 degrees, it will kill off these valuable bacteria. A compost thermometer allows a gardener to take the internal temperature of the pile and decide when to turn it. Made out of stainless steel, the compost thermometer has a long (18-20") stem and a dial with a range of 0 to 200-220 degrees. These typically cost about $30 to $80. You can find one for $32.50 from Territorial Seed Company (territorialseed.com).
Soil thermometer: Also available from Territorial Seed Company is a soil thermometer, a diminutive device compared to a compost thermometer, with a 6.5-inch stem . It comes in handy when you're starting seeds indoors or directly into the soil outdoors, since soil temperature is critical for good seed germination. Warm season vegetables tend to germinate best if the soil is 65 to 70 degrees. Gardeners are often tempted into thinking things have warmed up enough for planting because of balmy weather. Using a soil thermometer tells you if the soil is warm enough for sowing seed.
You also might want to know that you shouldn't plant spring flowering bulbs in the fall until the soil temperature drops below 60 degrees; the roots of trees and shrubs will continue to grow until soil temperatures drop below 40 degrees in the fall; crabgrass will start to germinate when the soil temperature reaches 55 degrees for four or more days in a row; cool-season grass seed can be planted when the soil temperatures are in the 60 degree range; and seed potatoes tend to rot in cold, wet soils below 50 degrees, sprouting best in soils of 55 to 70 degrees.
Seed starting supplies: It's logical that many seed catalogs also offer all sorts of seed starting equipment from flats, to seed starting potting mix, mini-greenhouses, bottom heat mats, plant labels, hand seeders and more. Rootrainers caught my eye. Thirty-two Rootrainer cells come with a tray. Each of the cells is 1.5 inches square and 5 inches deep, deeper than many other seed starter cells. These deep cells encourage a longer root system and help improve transplant survival. Each set of four cells can be opened up so you can check the progress of the roots and so you can easily remove the seedling for transplanting. These can be found in Park Seed Company's catalog (parkseed.com).
Park Seed Company also has a complete special mini-greenhouse for starting seeds on your windowsill called a "Bio-Dome." This is a seed flat with 60 individual cells and a plastic dome cover with vents. Each is about 15 inches long and 9.5 inches wide and comes with 60 cells that are 2.25 inches deep. The $25 cost per dome is a bit pricey, but it's reusable from year to year.
Yes, there are plenty of wonderful seeds for sale in seed catalogs, but there's also a wealth of other handy gardening treasures to be found.
* Marianne C. Ophardt is a horticulturist for the Washington State University Benton County Extension.