By Sara Rae Lancaster , June 2nd, 2022
Door County Master Gardeners return to hosting popular annual sale
It was a chilly, drizzly day in late April, but inside the greenhouse at the Peninsular Agricultural Research Station in Sturgeon Bay, the air was warm and humid, the earthy scent of dirt and tender young plants hanging in the air.
A buzz of activity whirred about as about a dozen Master Gardener volunteers shifted through the narrow aisles lined with tables covered in seedlings that, in a few weeks, would be off to their new homes as part of the Door County Master Gardeners Association’s Plant Fair.
But the work to bring the annual plant sale to life started many weeks prior, when snow still covered the ground and the promise of a Door County spring was months away.
“We start in January, looking over what worked, what didn’t work previously,” said Nancy Goldberg, Plant Fair chair. “That’s when we’re making the decisions of the plants we like to grow.”
Those decisions, she explained, are rooted in making sure there’s enough variety for gardeners and that the plants chosen are ones that will provide gardeners with the most success.
“We primarily focus on things that are easy to grow because we want people to have success,” Goldberg said. “Nothing is more frustrating than planting your garden and then not getting what you hoped or expected.”
The organizers also take into consideration the varieties that gardeners are unlikely to find at retail stores.
“We’re also interested in mixing in a few old-fashioned varieties, or things you can’t really get easily,” Goldberg said. “And sometimes it’s just throwing in the favorites of some of the Master Gardeners.”
With the plant selections made and seed orders placed, the next steps move the group indoors to the greenhouse at the Peninsular Agricultural Research Station the first weekend in March.
“I like to divide the work in the greenhouse into different areas,” Goldberg said. “First we seed our flats.”
Although seeding nearly three months before Door County’s last frost date may seem early, it’s necessary for certain crops such as snapdragons, salvia and larkspur.
“Based on that, that’s when we start, and every week after that, we’re seeding flats up until about a month before the plant sale,” Goldberg said.
Step two, after the seedlings have had a few weeks to grow, is putting the seedlings into the pots in which they’ll be sold. The only exceptions are crops such as cucumbers, pumpkins and squash that do not like to have their roots disturbed and are seeded directly into compostable “cow pots”: small seeding pots made from cow manure.
Once they’re potted, certain varieties are “pinched”: The main stem of the plant is gently pinched off, forcing the seedling to grow two new stems from the leaf nodes below.
“We pinch when we’re potting up the seedlings so it has time to develop that nice root system, but also so the plant has time to bush out and grow out before the sale,” Goldberg said. “A leggy plant doesn’t sell.”
In all, the group of about a dozen volunteers has seeded and potted up 6,500 plants that will be available for sale at the event.
Although the Master Gardeners and home gardeners have sorely missed the annual event the last two years, Goldberg said the hiatus has given the Door County Master Gardeners Association time to reevaluate the popular spring sale and add a few new things – primarily focusing on more educational opportunities for attendees. Master Gardeners, as well as representatives from partner organizations such as the Door County Seed Library and Wild Ones of the Door Peninsula, will be available to provide free education and gardening tips.
“It’s a lost opportunity if you come and buy a plant from us and we don’t talk about it or gardening,” Goldberg said.
This year’s event will feature two components: a ticketed “first pick” event on Friday, June 3, 5-7 pm; and the general plant sale on Saturday, June 4, 8:30 am – 12 pm.
Friday’s event provides “early-bird” access to all plants and marketplace items, along with educational booths, a silent auction and live music. The limited tickets – at $10 each – will be available until they sell out at doorcountytickets.com.
The main plant fair on Saturday is free and open to the public. It will feature a wide range of popular and unusual annuals, vegetables and herbs for just $3, including more than 30 varieties of tomatoes and more than 20 herbs, as well as other vegetables and flowers that are uncommon or particularly well suited to Door County’s climate conditions. Like Friday’s event, there will also be a marketplace of garden-themed arts, crafts, apparel, accessories and gently used gardening books.
Both events will take place at the Peninsular Agricultural Research Station, 4312 Hwy 42 in Sturgeon Bay.
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