Ron Kujawski: Time to start sowing some seeds!

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Though it was in a different context, perhaps the most appropriate thought for these times comes from Thomas Paine's renowned line in "The Crisis": "These are the times that try men's souls." Let's edit that a bit by replacing "men's" with "people's"; I suspect that Thomas would not object. For these are, indeed, times that have many people feeling somewhat anxious, especially with lessened interaction with others as we practice social distancing. Berkshire Eagle reporter Jenn Smith had an excellent suggestion in her column this past Tuesday for those hunkering at home: Read. However, I'd add to that by suggesting another activity: Gardening.

There have been numerous studies over the years that concluded gardening has many health benefits, including reductions in anxiety and depression, and an increase in quality of life and personal satisfaction. While this was especially true for children, gardening was also found to improve the health and longevity of adults.

So, with this being the first weekend of spring, let's get gardening:

- Think small, if this is a first attempt at gardening. A small plot with a mix of annual flowers and vegetables would be a good start. For those with limited yard space or who are living in apartments, there are other options, such as container gardening or securing a plot at a local community garden.

- Start seeds of peppers, eggplant, head lettuce, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower indoors. Always use a soil-less mix for seed starting as this will lessen the chances of infecting seedlings with plant diseases often found in soil. Though you can buy seed-starting kits, use your creativity and adapt some household items for seed starting. For example, egg cartons, the clear plastic containers in which berries are sold, and clementine crates make useful seed-starting containers. Wooden popsicle sticks work well as plant labels.

- Sow seeds of herbs that you use most frequently in cooking. Parsley, basil, thyme, rosemary, sage, chives, cilantro and tarragon can be started indoors now and grown on in the same pots, or transplanted in mid- to late May to the outdoor garden.

- Don't overlook annual flowers when starting seeds indoors. Annuals to start this month include ageratum, alyssum, aster, calendula, celosia, coleus, cornflower (bachelor button), dahlia, impatiens, marigold, nicotiana, petunia, portulaca, salvia, snapdragon, stock, sweet pea, sweet William and zinnia. OK, you don't have to start all of these yourself, but could farm out some of the effort to a friend or neighbor and then share the end products ... preferably by leaving seedlings on each other's doorstep in order to maintain social distancing.

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- Cover seeded containers with plastic wrap or other transparent material to prevent drying of the growing medium. Once seedlings are up, the cover may be removed, but check the moisture level in the soil daily to prevent wilting of seedlings.

- Provide seedlings started indoors with plenty of light to prevent spindly growth. Place seedlings near a sunny window or set up fluorescent lights above the containers. Ordinary LED fluorescent light bulbs will work well and are much cheaper than using grow-lights.

- Try direct sowing seeds of radish, carrots, beets, leaf lettuce, kale, spinach and other hardy leafy greens in the garden if soils are workable. Those who use have raised bed gardens should be able to do this seed sowing now.

- Use unflavored gelatin as a slow release source of nitrogen for house plants if you get caught short of regular house plant fertilizer. Dissolve an envelope in a cup of hot water and then add 3 cups of cold water. You could also use this gelatin "fertilizer" as a nitrogen supplement to other plant fertilizers when feeding foliage-type house plants.

- Take advantage of moist soils now to dig up invasive plants in your yard and gardens. Among the invasives that should be removed are Japanese barberry, burning bush, multiflora rose, autumn olive, Japanese knotweed and common buckthorn. Why expend energy to remove these plants, some of which are attractive? These and other invasive plants tend to grow very rapidly, overrunning and eliminating native plant species, reducing bio-diversity and threatening the normal function of our ecosystem.

- Complete the pruning of blueberries, raspberries and fruit trees. Before hanging up the pruning saw, check trees in the home landscape for broken branches and remove these. If using a chain saw for such pruning, follow all safety precautions. For one, never prune while on a ladder and never raise a chain saw above your head to reach a branch. In such cases, hire a licensed arborist.

On a final note, if none of these tasks diminish any of the anxiety you may be feeling at this time, then take a stroll through the woods or public gardens, where early spring blooming bulbs are now emerging. If you should see me along the way, keep your distance.


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