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If the coronavirus has you heading out to stock up on milk, eggs or toilet paper, maybe add one more thing to your list: seeds.
Gardening can be a great way to productively pass the time during social distancing, self-quarantine and self-isolation while also adding greenery and potentially some food to your home. Plus with many schools closed until further notice, indoor gardening is one way to keep kids entertained (and perhaps teach a few science lessons!).
Here are some edible plants with short growing seasons that you can grow indoors or in your backyard over the next few weeks.
If you are looking for a gardening project with quick returns, microgreens are your best bet. Microgreens are edible shoots of plants that are harvested just after the first leaves develop, about two to three weeks after planting. They can be used as a garnish, or to add texture and flavor to salads, sandwiches, burgers, pizzas and more.
Microgreens are grown from the seeds of many common vegetables and other edible plants, such as sunflowers, wheat, radishes and salad greens like arugula. Many herbs are grown as microgreens, including dill, parsley and basil. Studies show that certain varieties of microgreens, such as red cabbage, cilantro, garnet amaranth and green daikon radish, also have high concentrations of nutrients.
To grow microgreens, find a south-facing window where the plants can bask in natural light (though some microgreens, like corn shoots, grow in the dark from seed until harvest). Fill shallow trays with soil, then sprinkling the seeds on top. Cover with a lid or plastic bag to trap humidity while the seeds germinate.
Once the plants have germinated and started to grow, place the tray in the sunlight (or under a grow light, if you have one). Water judiciously. Bottom watering, or pouring water into a grooved tray that sits underneath the containers that hold the soil and seeds to it is soaked up through the drainage holes as needed, is generally preferred for microgreens.
The time to harvest will depend on the variety, but generally microgreens will be ready to eat in two to three weeks. Microgreens can be harvested with sharp scissors. Cut through the microgreen stems close to the soil. Store the microgreens in the refrigerator in a resealable bag or container, where they will stay fresh for a week or more.
Many delicious leafy greens like arugula, spinach and mesclun will be ready to harvest after only a few weeks of growing indoors (single leaf varieties, in general, grow better indoors than head varieties like romaine or iceberg, so avoid these).
Find a sunny, south-facing window or set up some grow lights. Fill flat, shallow containers, a multi-cell tray or small plastic pots (four to six inches deep will do) with a seed starting soil mix. Moisten the soil and arrange the seeds in rows, about an inch apart. Cover with a thin layer of the mix. Place your containers in a warm location and cover them loosely with plastic wrap or a lid. Check daily for signs of sprouts.
In about three to four weeks, cut only what you need, starting with the outer leaves first, from the base of the leaves about an inch from the soil. Leave the remaining leaves to grow for a few days longer.
A miniature version of this leafy superfood can be grown indoors in less than a month — in fact, Italian Tuscan baby leaf kale is ready to harvest from seed in about 25 days. Find medium-sized containers (think at least eight inches deep) with drainage and fill with a quality seed starting mix. Sow seeds a quarter of an inch deep, set in a south-facing window or under lights and water regularly. Cut the leaves when they are four to five inches tall, and leave the bottom inch intact for new growth.
Some turnip varieties — like Snowball, Tokyo Cross and Purple Top Milan (whose greens are arguably even more nutritious and delicious than its flesh) — will be ready to harvest in less than two months of growing.
Find a 2-gallon container and line the bottom with coarse gravel. Fill with a well-drained, sterilized potting mix. Sow the turnip seeds 1/2-inch deep and at least 4 inches apart. Place in a sunny windowsill or under grow lights, and water with cool water once a day.
You can harvest turnip roots after approximately 50 days, when they are about 2 inches in diameter, or harvest turnip greens after approximately 40 days, when they are about 4 inches tall.
Many varieties of radishes have growing seasons that are less than two months. Varieties with short root systems like Perfecto, Sparkler, Ping Pong, Easter Egg and Cherry Belle are especially suited for growing indoors.
Long containers between four to six inches deep are best for radishes, as they need to be at least a few inches apart for adequate growth. Use a potting or seed starting mix with a little added compost, as radishes tend to require some added nutrients.
Sow the radish seeds about ½ inch deep and sprinkle some potting mix on top of the new seeds. Place in a sunny window or under a grow light and cover with plastic wrap until they sprout. Once this starts, remove the wrap and mist with a spray bottle until the soil is moist. Water regularly — radishes like a damper environment than many crops.
Radishes will “shoulder” when they are ready to be picked, or poke through the soil with part of the colorful root showing. Pick radishes straight from the ground when they are about one inch in diameter.
Some carrots can be harvested earlier than their full growing season as “baby carrots” (though, you should know, most store bought baby carrots are just shaved down from regular carrots). For example, Mokum carrots will be ready to harvest in less than two months fully grown, but “baby” Mokum carrots can be harvested after just 36 days.
Choose a pot that is between 10 to 12 inches deep. Fill the pot with good quality potting soil to within an inch of the top. Moisten the soil and sprinkle the seeds over the surface. Once they germinate, clip out some of the smaller seedlings with a pair of scissors so that the remaining carrots are about one-half inch apart. Do the same when they are three inches tall, only thin them to the distance recommended on the seed packet.
Like radishes, carrots will “shoulder” when they are ready to be planted. Pull carrots directly out, as digging around will disturb the other roots.
Certain herbs grow easily and quickly indoors, particularly mint and chives. To get started with an indoor herb garden, first pick a sunny and warm location (or scrounge up your trusty grow lights) and fill a well-drained container with potting soil. When watering, focus on the roots (misters can cause mold), but do not overwater the herbs and drown their simple root systems. Stick your fingers beneath the soil; if you feel moisture, skip watering that day.
When pruning herbs to use if you want to continue growing them, but the best thing to do is to prune the leaves at the top, not the bottom. The big leaves on the bottom act as a sturdy base. Remove the end 1-2 inches of your plant’s stem. That exposed end will split and grow into two separate branches. Once you get into the habit of doing that, your plant will become bushier, creating more foliage.Never, at any given time, prune away more than one-third of the plant.
Cress — a peppery relative of watercress that can be used in salad, sandwiches, soups and as a base for roasted meats — is another great herb to grow indoors.
Fill a container (a small pot or tray usually works well) with potting soil, or place a few moist paper towels on a tray. Scatter the garden cress seeds over the soil or the paper towels. If you are using soil, press the seeds in lightly and sprinkle lightly with a little extra soil. Place the container or tray in a sunny indoor location, such as on a window sill. The seeds will sprout in about two to three days days, and you can harvest the sprouts when they are two to three inches tall, between 15 and 20 days after planting. Use sharp scissors to cut them about half and inch above the soil. You should be able to cut your cress four to five times before it goes to seed.
You can even grow garden cress on nothing more than a paper towel. Place a few moist paper towels on a tray and scatter the seeds over it. Place the tray in a sunny windowsill and water frequently (you will need to add more moisture if you are growing them in this way).
With this trick to regrow scallions, you don’t even need seeds. After cooking, save the ends of the green onion bulbs with the roots attached. Place the bulbs root-end down in a small jar or glass and add enough water to cover the roots. Set the jar on a sunny windowsill, and, after about two weeks, your green onions will have formed long green shoots.
Regrowing food will also help make your food supply last longer during the coronavirus. Many herbs — including basil, mint and rosemary — can be placed in water to grow new roots and transfer to a pot of soil for regrowth as well.