Planting a garden and other crops has always seemed a natural part of spring. I have enjoyed gardening since I was young and consider it an important part of my life. Unfortunately, not everyone enjoyed a rural agricultural background. Surprisingly, many of the people attending workshops and classes I teach have never planted anything and watched it grow.

Seeds are truly one of nature's greatest miracles. Inside that tiny capsule is an embryonic plant and the nutrients to make it grow. Some seeds are so tiny that one ounce contains literally millions of seeds. Some seeds are so tough that they may last in the soil for many years in spite of moisture, insects, diseases and other problems. Finally they grow when conditions are right. This miraculous process is a fascinating and enjoyable aspect of gardening.Success in the garden, of course, starts with variety selection. One often-asked question is "Which brand of seed should I buy?" Quite simply, seeds are not purchased by brand name but by variety name. It makes little, if any, difference what company name is on top of the package or where you purchase the seed. The genetic varieties do make a significant difference in the seeds selected for our area.

New gardeners, unsure about which varieties to select, should get a copy of the USU recommended variety list. This list is available at all USU offices or in the "KSL Gardening Guide" available from most nurseries. These varieties have been tested and produce well under Utah conditions. Many varieties are unproductive in our area because of the short growing season and hot dry conditions. Selecting recommended varieties is one important way to insure a successful garden.

Prepare a good seed bed. Plantings often fail because of inadequate soil preparation. All soils benefit from the addition of a couple of inches of organic matter. Spread the material evenly over the soil and till the soil. Soils should be well drained with adequate water and sunshine. Locate the vegetable garden in areas with at least six hours of full sun every day. Warm-season vegetables should get as much sun as possible. Few vegetables produce well in shady areas, so save those areas for shade-loving flowers. It's easy to seed coleus, salvia, columbines, digitalis and other beautiful plants.

As mentioned, seeds are tough and durable. This causes problems when the plants are't wanted. It's amazing how quickly well-prepared soil sprouts so many weeds. Weeds destroy and discourage more beginning gardeners than all the other pests combined. Fortunately, weeds are not born 3 feet high. Attack small weeds by hand pulling or with a sharp gliding hoe. Use mulches freely to prevent germination, and never let them produce seeds. Weed seed production ensures problems for many years to come.

Of course, good varieties and soil preparation don't produce plants if the seeds don't germinate. Seeds germinate in response to the right soil temperature and the right amount of moisture. Soil thermometers tell when the soil is warm enough. Wait until soil temperature warms to about 55 degrees Fahrenheit before planting corn and other warm-season vegetables. Generally, this is about 2 weeks after the apples blossom. Measure soil temperatures in the morning to get the correct reading.

Plant seeds at the depth recommended on the package or the planting chart. Most seeds are planted about 3-4 times the diameter of the seeds. Very small seeds are pressed into the soil to avoid covering them too deeply.

Improve the germination of very tiny seeds by creating a miniature planting bed in the garden. Form a small furrow and fill it with a very light transplanting mix, sand or vermiculite. These materials do not crust and allow the small, tender seedlings to germinate. This technique helps gardeners with heavy clay soils germinate flowers and vegetables that won't emerge through crusted soils.

Protect those newly emerging seedlings from voracious garden pests. Slugs and snails are among the most damaging. Use slug and snail traps and baits to keep these from destroying the emerging seedlings. Other pests may require additional treatment to keep them under control. New seedlings are very tender, so apply pesticides or fertilizer cautiously to avoid damage to the plants.

Beginning gardeners sometimes complain about the high cost of seed. Seed is one of the least inputs into the garden and returns more dollars for dollar spent than any other garden input. Everyone loves a good bargain, but bargain seeds are usually not worth planting. It takes no more water, no more fertilizer, no more space, and especially no more time to grow superior varieties. Bargain seeds never produce a successful garden. Plant only varieties that do well in our area. Plant them at the right time, in the right place, and the reward is an inexpensive yet productive garden. The harvest and the beauty from seeds are just part of the great miracle of growing a garden.

- DRIP IRRIGATION WORKSHOP: Thursday, May 16, 7-8:30 p.m., County Government Center, 2001 S. State, S1007-1008.

- ARBORETUM PLANT SALE: Saturday, May 18, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Call 581-5322 for additional information.