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Harvesting the Internet
for gardening information

By Martin Waterman

 

Issue #38 • March/April, 1997

Cicero, the much noted Roman statesman and orator (106-43 B.C.), said, "If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need."

I wonder what he would say if he were alive today to see and use the Internet. He would have almost instantaneous access to thousands of libraries, universities, government agencies, web sites, and news groups around the world. Of particular interest to him might be the many Internet sites that have information on gardening, farming, and other aspects of horticulture.

So I'm going to take you on a tour of a few dozen of those horticultural related Web Sites and news groups to show you what they are like. I have chosen most of them based on the fact that I have used them and found useful information and, of course, some new friends. For veteran users this will provide some new places to surf and check out. For those who have not yet made the jump into cyberspace, I hope this will give an indication of the type of resources that are available.

There has been much press about the dark side of the net and many fluff pieces in the media about the "gee whiz" or "what a wonderful novelty" aspects of the Internet. The fact of the matter is that those who know how to use the Internet use it to save money, make money, and enhance their lives. In many instances, my own circumstances for example, it is one of the key factors that permits me to enjoy a rural lifestyle.

News groups

The benefits of the news groups is that since they are interactive, you can get answers to your questions in a very short amount of time from the people who use the groups. If it is an active news group, one with many users, you will also be blessed with numerous answers reflecting diverse opinions from people around the globe. This will usually give you a number of alternatives to explore. Usually when I post a garden question, which is something I often do as a garden writer and avid gardener, I usually get more answers than I need within a very short amount of time, usually under a few hours.

News group members not only exchange ideas, they often exchange seeds, cuttings, and plants making the news groups a terrific resource for those seeking hard-to-find or specialty plants. There are many news groups that deal with gardening and related issues. Press the "Usenet" button (or use a news reading program), then type in any of the names of the news groups described below.

alt.agriculture.fruit is a good resource for those who grow tree fruit, berries, and grapes. One of the most common questions I receive is how a grower should go about marketing their fruit, and this is a topic often discussed. Of course, any cultural or pest problem can also be discussed, and I have found people who use this group to be very knowledgable and helpful.

alt.agriculture.misc usually discusses farm issues. If you are a serious grower or farmer, you will find a supportive community of like-minded individuals.

alt.bonsai is strictly for the bonsai enthusiast, a discipline which many gardeners like to try now and then. Some of the rural people in my area are doing well starting bonsai plants and selling them to nurseries and garden centers.

alt.landscape.architecture discusses landscaping issues from plant selection to heavy duty landscape construction projects. It's also an active place at times for those who are seeking landscape work.

rec.food.preserving is one of my all-time favorite news groups. When I have an abundance of apples, beans, grapes or any other type of produce, I check into this group which discusses preserving foods. It is great fun to swap recipes, and I have received some real good ones. Many of the people who post are masters at preserving food, and I highly recommend this group.

rec.food.veg.cooking is another excellent resource for those who are blessed with bountiful harvests and are looking for new ways to serve up those legendary country meals.

rec.gardens is the mother of all gardening groups. There is constant debate on splitting off subgroups such as for house plants, but for the most part this group covers a broad range of topics. During gardening season I have seen it with as many as 1000 postings.

rec.gardens.orchids is for orchid enthusiasts. I never knew there were so many orchid fans until I checked out this group. If you like orchids, this is the place. Members will steer you to orchid WWW pages with spectacular photographs.

rec.gardens.roses is for the rose connoisseur. This is another one of my favorite groups, and I lurk to see what new and historic varieties I might consider trying.

rec.ponds is about ponds. Many will argue that no country place is complete without a pond. This group is dominated by gardeners in search of the perfect backyard pond. Discussions include fish, water lilies, aeration, waterfalls, plants, algae, and other issues.

sci.agriculture discusses the science of farming but is also a useful resource for serious gardeners.

sci.bio.botany is the place I go if I have a gardening question that is quite scientific or complex in nature or just to learn tons of interesting things about the plant world. This is an excellent place for those who love botany or are interested in the

scientific aspects of plants. Recent discussions have included the study of botany in terms of geometric forms, restoring and creating ecosystems, and misting propagation.

Software problems

Obviously, if you are finding gardening information online, you are using a computer and software. There are news groups for all the major software packages. These are excellent places to visit, especially if you are having software problems.

One day I had a problem with WordPerfect, and even though I still had free technical support, it was late and I would have had to pay for a long distance phone call. I remembered seeing a WordPerfect user group, so I went onto the Net and quickly found it. I was surprised that numerous other people were having the same problem and the solution was posted. I had my answer in less than a minute. When there is no information posted on my problem, I post a question and then go about my business. The traffic is heavy on some of the news groups and often I have my answer in less than an hour.

Even if you are not having problems, the software news groups are a wise place to check from time to time. Discussions cover new releases, add on products, tricks to make programs more efficient, and often commentary and dialogue from the developers themselves. Information is also available on where to download drivers or other products or information that can make the program perform better.

WWW garden pages

Using my web browser, Netscape, I hit the "search button" and chose Web Crawler as my search engine. I typed in the word "gardening" and was presented with over 800 links to pages that were either on gardening or had a mention of gardening. Obviously, I could have done a more specific search such as for the word "peppers," "composting," "tomatoes," or any other better defined gardening topic. I once made the mistake of doing a search for "apple" forgetting it was a major computer make so I have learned to define my searches better. When I find a site I like, I "Bookmark" it. This way I need only look at my bookmark menu and point and click on the site to find it. This means I don't have to redo a search for a particular or favorite site.

When I want to look for new gardening web sites, I usually will start with a search using one of the many search engines. Many of the sites that are found usually contain links to other sites. Some of the sites can be quite extensive, especially if it belongs to a university or large organization such as the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens.

With so many sites it is hard to choose a favorite so I will give an example of a few I just used and have used before.

Books that Work makes gardening software (3D Landscape) and has a Gardening Web Directory Page http://gardening.com/urls/toc.html

It has links to many of the most popular gardening sites, such as Botanical Gardens, where you can take a visual tour and view plant material and general gardening sites. It also has links to insect and entomology sites to help you identify insect pests, as well as links to botany, landscape, environment, and gardening catalogs and supply pages.

The Internet Gardening site http://learning.lib.vt.edu/garden.html also contains a number of links, including the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew in Australia and the University of Delaware Botanical Gardens. In the colder winter months, I really do like taking the tour of botanical gardens from the warm comfort of my computer. http://garden.burpee.com/ is the address of Burpee Seeds. More and more seed companies are putting their wares on the net. Burpee's site features their new blue rose, blue corn, and blue poppy. It sure beats filling out a card and mailing it by snail mail and having to wait several weeks for your seed catalogs. In addition to the seed catalogs, other garden related companies such as Troybuilt, which sells tiller, are also going online.

Another good place to start is the Yahoo index of gardening sites http://www.yahoo.com/Recreation/Home_and_Garden/Gardening/ It is probably the most thorough gardening directory on the World Wide Web.

This last week, I used several WWW sites. This included The USDA-ARS Pesticide Database http://www.arsusda.gov/SRLHome.html since I had some questions about how fast certain pesticides break down. This site serves pesticide companies, farmers, environmentalists, gardeners, and other interested parties. The database covers hundreds of pesticides including more than 95% of the most popular ones. For each pesticide, the database describes up to 16 chemical, physical, and biological features that influence its breakdown rate and likelihood of entering surface or groundwater. The data is designed to be utilized for use in crop and soil computer models, which account for soil, temperature, and other local factors that affect pesticides.

Another interesting site for starting out is the GrowRoom http://a1.com/growroom/. The factors that make the GrowRoom such a good starting point is that it has some very useful links. A new addition to the GrowRoom is a list of hydroponic suppliers worldwide, currently about 200. There are also links to others, and a place where frequently asked questions are answered. GrowRoom's website continues to grow and will soon contain book reviews and product critiques of the commonly available hobby hydroponic units as well as indoor lighting, light moving devices, and hydroponic plant nutrients.

Gardening magazines

Many gardening magazines are going on the net, offering samples of their articles as well as links to other sites. The Growing Edge Magazine deals with hydroponics and issues for advanced gardeners http://www.teleport.com/~tomalex/ Don't forget that you can also visit Backwoods Home Magazine http://www.snowcrest.net/backwood/ and don't forget to bookmark it as it grows to include more links, articles, and features.

The University of Southern California has a site that heralds the type of sites we may see in the future. It is called CyberEden and allows anyone, (providing they register) to operate a computerized robot arm from their home computer in order to care for a small garden.

The project is co-directed by the USC school of engineering, and the project has already won a prize for excellence at a recent computer exhibition. The address to the site is http://www.usc.edu/dept/garden/

Before I visited the site I had wrongly anticipated a scene out of the Jetson's. When I arrived I found myself at the controls of a robot arm that is anchored in the middle of a large circular planting box.

The procedure to participate in the TeleGarden is to first fill out an e-mail application so that you can be a member of the TeleGarden cooperative. After joining, you can plant seeds and then water them regularly. One of the interesting things about this technology and social experiment is that nothing stops one member from planting in the same space as another, or even crushing a plant they don't like. One of the objectives of this site is to slow down Internet surfers with short attention spans and provide a place where they can become more involved.

Asking which garden sites to go to is sort of like asking for a good place to go camping in North America. The answers are vast, and they vary depending on preferences. You can also use Archie and other software (included in most Internet Suite software packages or available as freeware or shareware over the Net) to access almost 10,000 universities. Many of them have extensive horticultural information including the latest research and information on how to grow commercial crops. Cornell University is a favorite of mine, especially for fruit growing information.

The more you can focus on a particular piece of information, the more effective your searches will be. When you find information that you like, you can save it to a file and then read it offline to help keep your connect charges down.

Eventually, you can build your own Bookmarks directory of sites that support the type of gardening you do. The Internet has had a great influence on the types of crops I grow and how I grow them. It has become a quick reference encyclopedia, a learning tool, entertainment, and, of course, a place to visit with like-minded individuals.




Read More by Martin Waterman

Read More Farm & Garden Articles

 
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