During stressful times, nature can be a peaceful refuge. And, coinciding with the timing of the coronavirus, we’re also at the start of something a little brighter — gardening season.
“There’s a meditative feeling you get from the repetitive tasks of gardening,” says Teddy Moynihan, founder of Plowshare Farms in Pipersville, Bucks County. “Plus it’s an action you can take to nourish yourself in the face of something that feels like we have no control over.”
And even if you don’t have green space at your disposal, you can still take part in some planting projects. Here’s a guide on how to garden now, indoors and out, as we look ahead to spring and summer produce.
“Gardening, at the core, is an act in faith of the future,” notes Moynihan.
What to plant outside now
If you have access to a garden, a variety of veggies — beets, carrots, radishes, peas, spinach, kale, and collards — can all be planted now.
“I really love hakurei turnips — it’s a salad turnip, mild and less spicy than a radish,” says Moynihan. “It takes just about 30 days to get a baby, ping-pong-ball sized one. As they get bigger, I like to throw them in soups, or glaze them with butter, chicken stock, and a drop of honey.”
If you live in Philadelphia or South Jersey, Moynihan says you could also get a start on lettuce and radicchio. Those in cooler parts of the region can test their luck against frosts or wait a week or two.
“Unless you’re planting potatoes or onions, most of what you plant now will be by seed,” notes Moynihan. “And for the home garden, I always recommend direct seeding. It’s hard to get enough sun and warmth to create a strong starter without a grow light, so come tomato season, I recommend trying to find those plants at a farmer’s market.”
Where to get seeds
The next time you’re buying groceries, take a look to see if your local supermarket sells seeds, too. Stores including Aldi, Mariposa, and Whole Foods often have a seed rack, enabling you to avoid an extra trip.
Otherwise, try your local hardware store, also equipped with gardening supplies. Deemed essential businesses, most hardware stores remain open, including Lowe’s and Home Depot. Some, like Fairmount Hardware, are offering online order and curbside pickup options.
Local plant shops are another place to check. Froehlich’s Farm & Garden Center in Furlong, Bucks County is one that is offering delivery and curbside pickup. In Philadelphia, Greensgrow Farms is also launching an online site and offering curbside pickup.
If you don’t have a yard
If you don’t have garden space but have a balcony or patio, there is a lot you can still plant.
“You can make anything grow in a container if you have a big enough container,” says Sally McCabe, Pennsylvania Horticultural Society associate director of community education.
This time of year, McCabe recommends planting greens and herbs, excluding basil, a warmer-weather herb. Ideally you’d start with a five-gallon bucket or larger, but you can certainly get creative, whether with a window box or old wash bin. “If all you’ve got are milk cartons, tip them on their side and fill them with soil,” says McCabe. “To pump out full-size plants, you need something bigger, but you can still end up with small and happy plants.”
Some more container gardening tips:
Make sure to cut or drill drainage holes, no matter the container, and after it rains, check on your plants. You don’t want them sitting in water.
“The more sun you have, the better they’ll do, but it’s hard to mess up herbs and greens,” notes McCabe. “If you seed too many, just thin them and eat them as microgreens.”
Make sure to place your containers close together if you decide to grow in multiple pots. McCabe explains that this will help keep the humidity higher between the plants, and the soil from drying out.
If you don’t have access to green space
“Even if you live in an apartment with no balcony, at the very least you can be growing sprouts,” says McCabe.
And you don’t need to go out and buy alfalfa seeds to do it. Pantry items like chickpeas, lentils, black-eyed peas, mung beans, and soybeans can all be turned into sprouts. The legumes need to be dried (i.e., not out of can) and they need to be whole (i.e., split peas won’t work).
You’ll thoroughly rinse the legumes before placing them in a jar with water, and covering the top with cheesecloth or other breathable material, like a sheet of paper towel. Then, the sprouting process begins.
You can find detailed information on how to sprout all sorts of legumes online, but the process for all is simple. First, soak them overnight. Then, you’ll cycle through rinsing and draining the legumes (at least twice a day) until they begin to sprout. Within two to five days, your newest salad topper will be ready. Sprouts make for a great snack as is, too.
“Most beans will sprout, and if they’re not sprouting by the fourth or fifth day, just give them a rinse and cook them as you would normally,” says McCabe.
If sprouts aren’t your thing, try microgreens (the tender, nutrient-packed shoots of veggie plants). These can be grown in a sunny window or under a fluorescent light. Seed companies like Johnny’s sell special microgreen mixes, but almost any vegetable seed will work. If available, radish, broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage seeds are a great place to start. Plant the seeds in a soil-filled tray (or improvise with a baking dish), and from there, all you need is light and water.
Take a moment to examine your spice cabinet, too.
“If you’ve got whole dill, fennel, coriander, and mustard seeds, they can grow when planted in a flower pot with potting soil,” says McCabe. “To get the plants to full size, you’ll need six to eight hours of sun, but you can supplement with fluorescent or LED light — just no incandescent bulbs.”
Now’s also a prime time to give a little extra attention to houseplants you might already own. Repot, propagate, or dive into any other project you’ve been putting off. Some shops, like Brewerytown’s Cultivaire Plant Store, also remain open for online ordering and curbside pickup (free delivery within 2-mile radius).
Growing from table scraps
For a fun DIY project, turn your table scraps into plants.
“You can experiment with so much right from what you buy at the store — potatoes, carrot tops, celery, really any produce item that has seeds and is labeled as certified USDA organic,” says Temple University horticulturist Benjamin Snyder.
You’ll find all sorts of table scrap tutorials on YouTube, explaining how you can plant individual garlic cloves, get celery to regrow from its base, and cultivate a thriving mint crop from a single cutting.
To learn how to grow your own ginger, papaya, and pineapple, check out the Inquirer’s tutorial with Snyder at inquirer.com/food/how-to-grow-your-own-ginger-papaya-pineapple-20190624.html.
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