Gardeners home in on vegetables

Steve Brown/Capital Press Washington State University Extension master gardener Gayle Larson discusses what the nursery market looks like from the perspective of a consumer. Larson focused on edibles during the recent Focus on Farming Conference in Everett, Wash.

EVERETT, Wash. — Homeowners are spending fewer dollars on gardening in recent years, but more of them continue to grow vegetables, a horticulturist and master gardener says.

Knowing that should help nurseries refocus on the market, Gayle Larson said at the recent Focus on Farming Conference. Larson is a certified professional horticulturist with Edmonds Community College and Washington State University Kitsap Extension and a master gardener and consultant.

Whether they are shopping at a nursery or a farmers’ market, Larson said, customers look for good information to go with a product. Most of them fit into one of three categories:

• New folks, who need guidance and the specific expertise of an experienced gardener.

• The adventurous, who are willing to try something new and are open to suggestions.

• Traditionalists, who want to grow the same thing every year.

Helping them all succeed will bring them back next season, Larson said, so she encouraged growers to go beyond the basics.

Overwintering and short-season varieties are more than a trend, especially in the Northwest’s climate, she said. Regional seed companies can be a good source for these.

Growers of locally produced starts can provide smaller, more frequent deliveries and customized orders.

Tomatoes are a favorite, and more homeowners now look for determinate varieties for their small vegetable gardens and containers. Both old and new varieties are always in demand.

Heirlooms offer an immense variety with unusual characteristics. Larson recommended purple cauliflower and broccoli, different varieties of Italian zucchini and lemon cucumbers.

“There are 8 bazillion different kinds of kale,” she said. “Why not put together six-packs?”

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