Free plants and a big tomato contest

June 08, 2008|By BOB MAGINNIS

Late last year I saw an ad from the Maryland Cooperative Extension Service for a class that would teach me how to become a Master Gardener.

More than 20 years ago, I had done a weekly column on lawns and gardens with the help of a couple of extension agents, but gave it up in 1985 when I got my present job.

But now that we've been encouraged to blog - create a column on our Web site - I decided the time was right to return to the column, but not without first becoming more knowledgeable.

"More" knowlegeable is the key here. I know more than I did after taking the 40-hour course, but this is only a first step toward becoming the sort of expert who can look at a wilted leaf and tell you what's ailing the plant. Or who can peer at a bug and tell you whether it's a beneficial insect or one you ought to be trying to control.


I've been writing posts, as the pieces are called, since March of this year. You can read them by going to The Herald-Mail Web site at and clicking on "opinion" and then on "blogs."

Or you can go directly to

There's a section where you can leave comments, but except for the spammers, I haven't gotten many yet.

It doesn't make sense to write something for the public if the public isn't aware of it, so we're going to do a promotion on Saturday, June 14 at the Hagerstown City Market.

Starting at 8 a.m., we will give away 100 tomato transplants grown by one of the market's own vendors.

The idea is that people will take the transplants, grow the biggest possible tomato they can and bring it back to the market by 10 a.m. on Saturday, August 30.

The biggest tomato will win $50, the second-largest $25 and the third-place winner will get $10.

The only requirement is that the winning tomatoes be in edible condition. You need not use one of the free seedlings to grow the winner. If you've got a favorite variety, by all means use it. Prizes will be paid that day, but no entries can be accepted ahead of time at The Herald-Mail, because they might accidentally be eaten or otherwise damaged.

In the meantime, please read the blog. In addition to trying to provide useful information, I also poke fun at myself, because there's an endless supply of material. Here's a hint: My boys used to call me "Captain Crunch" and not because I looked like the guy on the cereal box.

Before I learned the hard way that if you start getting angry at your tools, it's time to put them away, I broke up a fair amount of them.

My specialty at one time was pulling the cords out of lawnmowers and chain saws. Once I took a lawnmower apart in order to thread the cord back in, only to discover that there was a long, coiled spring inside, with edges like knives. I didn't cut myself too badly, but I did sort of make history by injuring myself with a lawnmower that wasn't running.

And then there was the time when I cut down a dead tree and miscalculated where it would fall, only to have it end up in the road in front of our house. Fortunately, nothing was hurt but my pride after my wife reminded me that she had begged me to hire a tree service to do the job.

Or the time when we answered an ad promising to buy black walnuts by the pound. When we got there, we found that the weight they were talking about was after they had removed the outer hulls. And so for a pickup load of nuts - and hands that looked as if we were making a sculpture out of chewing tobacco - we got about $8. Now we let the squirrels have them.

You get the idea. Maybe I can write - and there's probably a debate to be had about that - but I'm really a klutz when it comes to most things mechanical.

That's why I have two lawnmowers in the garage that haven't run for two years, but I didn't think to get them to the shop in the few months between October and February. And so, when the one working riding mower conked out this spring, I was cutting almost an acre with a hand mower.

Why not buy another mower? Because I already have several of them and the fact that they're not running doesn't change the fact that I do possess them.

Actually, since they don't work, they're really more like shiftless relatives that I shelter, dreaming that someday, with a little effort, they might actually give something back to me.

This is a recurring theme with me. I tell myself that someday I'm going to get around to doing something about whatever I won't throw out, but I have more unfinished projects than I'll ever get to.

In some cases, I'm not sure whey I thought they were good projects to start with. There are at least three wooden chairs that need to be refinished, but the truth is, we have more chairs than we need, except at Christmas. Even then, I don't bring them out because, well, they're scruffy.

Despite all of this unfinished work, I decided that getting back into gardening made sense. If a project involving a plant doesn't work out, it doesn't sit around as a silent witness to your ineptitude. It dies and you can toss the remains in the compost pile, knowing that it will nourish your next experiment.

I look forward to seeing you on June 14 at the Hagerstown City Market.

Bob Maghinnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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