Where to find out about vegetables, tools, gardens

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You've heard of an implement, a machine, a gadget, a new plant variety, or what have you, that will make gardening simpler, more productive, more interesting -- or even all three. But you don't know where to get it. Worse still, the local garden center or nursery hasn't the least idea, either.

Some folks have learned to accept such happenings philosophically; others fume inwardly. While the latter approach is self- defeating, the former is hardly more satisfying. That's why Duane Newcomb has just done us all a good turn.

Mr. Newcomb has spent many months in research, has done a great deal of legwork, and has come up with a book: "The Complete Vegetable Gardener's Source Book" (New York: Avon Books. $9.95). Now as the saying goes, we can let our fingers do the walking.

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To the best of my knowledge, this is the first comprehensive catalog of products, techiques, and genral information that will suit the flower-box gardener in a city apartment as well as the truck farmer in the sylvan countryside.

Obviously, a book of this nature is outdated the moment it comes off the press -- just like a phone directory -- because many months elapse between writing the final word and the book's publication. New products will have hit the market in the interim and one or two may have dropped out. Yet it's value will barely have diminished because of this.

Duane Newcomb is the author of several gardening books, and it just isn't in him to simply list products the way the phone book lists numbers. So gardening tips, hints, and methods are presented along with the appropriate products. For instance, a chapter on soil lists sources of soil conditioners, both chemical and organic; another on organic gardening lists sources of natural fertilizers, untreated seeds, and earthworm options, among others.

Under this heading, too, is a thorough discussion on mulching along with the many power shredder-grinders that are available to process mulching materials.

Hand tools (I wasn't aware that there were that many available until the Newcomb book cam along) come in an amazing variety of shapes and sizes to perform an equal variety of tasks. The power- tool chapter lists available options that even the most avid reader of gardening advertisements couldn't hope to know completely.

Then there is the vegetable varieties chapter -- he largest section, by far, in the book. This catalog of seed catalogs takes up 155 of the 340 pages.

You always wondered where you could find that unusual herb that your Aunt Matilda talked so much about? Chances are it is listed somewhere between pages 236 and 241.

Onions have long been a favorite in my garden but I never realized before that there are 157 varieties available to the home gardener. By contrast, there are a mere 89 varieties of peas. Lettuce does a little better with 98 choices.

Each seed entry is preceded by a brief description of the plant and its needs. Here are the comments under kale (Brassica oleracea acephiam ):

"Other members of the cabbage family may be a little hard to grow, but not kale. If you grow it in the right season, kale is a great home garden crop. the leaves are beautiful, ranging from curled to fringed and from green to bluish purple. Cold weather doesn't seem to bother kale at all. In fact, it is even crispier and more flavorful after being touched by a light frost. Thus, kale will furnish greens during the late fall and early winter when other leafy vegetalbes are scarce. . . .

"How to plant: Sow seeds a half-inch deep, 15 inches apart, in rows 18 to 24 inches apart. Kale likes cool conditions. If summers are cool, sow in the spring. Otherwise, sow seed in midsummer so the plants can grow in the cool days of fall." and so it goes throughout the book.

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