Springtime is when the green thumbs amongst us dust off our overalls, grab our spades and head outdoors. In these times of uncertainty, it's a balm to the soul to see the natural world going about its spring business. There are as many ways to bring that peace and predictability into our own lives as there are benefits.
- Relieves stress: Research shows that being exposed to the microbes in soil is good for our mental health, increasing happiness and expanding our stress tolerance — a valuable commodity right now.
- Fresh food at your fingertips: Some veggies — like leafy greens — are at their peak when freshly harvested. Besides, bunches of parsley and cilantro from the grocery store are nearly always the wrong amount for the recipe at hand. Snipping a bit off of a growing plant is far easier.
- Learning in disguise: If you have young kids at home, they, too, can join in the growing. For more resources and ideas, check out the "Fresh Five," a weekly installment of at-home learning activities from Fresh Roots Urban Farm Society in Vancouver, Canada.
Jumping into home growing can be as simple or as intricate as you like. Let's start with the simple:
Kitchen Scrap Gardening: DIY all the Way
Many of us are limiting our spending and shopping these days, but we can still bring a little greenery and productivity into the home. A surprising number of plants can be re-grown from kitchen scraps, with just water and light. The general principle is the same across species: keep the roots in water while they regrow, give the green upper parts of the plant decent sunlight. If you use tap water, let it sit out overnight so the chlorine can evaporate before starting your gardening project. Here are some of the easiest crops to regrow:
- Green onions: Keep the bottom inch or so of store-bought green onions to grow a new batch. Place the roots in the water, packing the stems snugly or tieing them with a twist tie to keep them upright — a tall, narrow container like a drinking glass or an empty jam jar is a great choice.
- Romaine lettuce: Lettuces prefer a wide, shallow container or bowl, preferably glass so you can see clearly how the roots are developing. Keep the stump from the head of lettuce and place it in shallow water. Mist the top with water every few days. You'll soon see new growth above and below the waterline: you can harvest the fresh leaves, or transfer the plant — once roots develop — into soil for more growth
Transferring the newly rooted plants into soil or applying a hydroponic fertilizer will help keep the harvest going.
For the more ambitious, there are longer-term projects worth a try: The interwebs tell us you can grow a whole new pineapple from the twisted off head of a regular pineapple! Similarly, the stone of an avocado can be floated in water to encourage rooting, then transferred to soil to produce a new plant. Both of these crops require the right weather (warmer than our Pacific Northwest) and will take a few years to bear fruit. But there is something delightful about a pineapple plant started on a windowsill during a pandemic being harvested years later when all this madness is behind us. If you live in a warm enough climate for your own pineapple crop, please send us pictures!
The Magic of Seeds
Growing from seed is a fantastic treat, and it can help differentiate one day from the next during quarantine life. The supplies are minimal: seeds, starting mix, containers and a sunny windowsill. Some seeds seem to sprout overnight, while others take their sweet time. Plant a variety for an action-packed windowsill. If you've spent weeks-on-end housebound, the emergence of a tiny green shoot waving hello is pure joy.
Seeds can stay viable for several years if they are kept cool and dry, so packets from last spring or earlier are definitely worth a try. The germination rates might be lower — plant generously and see what comes up. Saving and sharing seeds is an excellent way to build both your own seed collection and your community of green thumbs. This year, social distancing guidelines are taking the place of spring seed swaps. That's as it should be. There are many community groups online, finding ways to share resources and stop the spread of COVID-19. And of course, always follow the recommendations of your local health authorities.
The Perks of Being a Flower
As essential services, seed companies and nurseries are flourishing. Many of them supply home gardeners and commercial producers alike with vegetable and fruit seeds and starts. Brick-and-mortar stores have restructured to include online payments, curbside pickup and strict adherence to social distancing. And that's just on the human-consumption side: many of the plants we think of as ornamentals support insects and other wildlife whose presence we then rely on to pollinate crops and support ecosystems. Everything in nature is food for something. Even during a pandemic, we need to grow. Take advantage of these resources as much as you are able to do safely, remembering that even simple sunflower seeds planted now provide food for insects and birds by late summer.
If there is a guiding theme for this year's growing season, let it be, "How much joy and life can I help bring into the world?" With a bit of curiosity and creativity, the answer is, "Quite a lot."