Not Necessarily Anti-Social

I’m feeling very lucky these days, lucky to be happy to stay home. An important way to deal with the current COVID-19 pandemic, both from a personal and a societal standpoint, is not to be out and about.

(If you are infected, you may not show any symptoms for awhile, or symptoms may be very mild. During that time, though, you could infect others. It’s estimated that, at present, every infected person infects 3 others before they get well or die. Those 3 other each infect 3 more, and so on; ten transmissions has almost 60,000 people infected. 

Social distancing brings that number of 3 new infections from each infected person down to a number of cases our health care system would be able to handle. So stay at home, if possible, maintain a six foot distance from other humans, be aware of contaminated objects and surfaces, and wash hands frequently.)

For all the downsides of the internet, a big plus now is the ability it gives us to interact socially without spreading disease.

Home is Nice, Gardening

What’s so great about staying home? In my case, I have my garden, of course. Spring, as always, is a busy time in the garden.SquillBusy, such as: attending to my compost. The last compost pile of late fall and winter is an accumulation of end-of-season debris from garden cleanup, bedding from the duck house, and kitchen scraps. Not much happens in it with the slow additions and winter cold. I decided to dig into the pile to see how it was doing. Not good!

The innards were smelly and sodden, which could have been avoided if I had regularly thrown some straw, autumn leaves, or any other dry, old plant matter into it periodically. Oh well. 

Given enough time, even that smelly, cold, sodden pile would turn to compost. I prefer to speed things up, getting the pile hot and quickly killing many weed seeds.

Aeration and some dry material could remedy the situation. I left home and got a load of horse manure mixed with dryish sawdust bedding from a nearby stable. (No human contact was needed to get the manure). Then I began turning the pile, layering in the manure and some old hay that I had cut and raked last fall. The way I tell how its doing is by taking its temperature with a long-stemmed compost thermometer. Three days after the turning, the pile is warming, 90° and rising.Compost pile

Seed Starting, When?

Busy, such as: starting seedlings indoors for later planting outdoors. The ideal is to have seedlings the right size when it’s time for that outdoor planting, so they can make a smooth transition from container to ground hardly knowing they’ve been moved. Each vegetable has its own timetable for how fast it grows to transplant size and then when it can be planted outdoors.

For instance, here on the farmden, the historical average date of the last killing frost is May 21st. Cabbage seedlings need about 6 weeks of growth before they’re large enough to transplant. Since they tolerate some cold, they can be planted out here on May 1st. Six weeks before May 1st is March 15th, which is when I sowed those seeds.

Let me also use tomato as an example because that’s one that many gardeners plant too early or too late. Tomato seeds need about 7 weeks of growth before they’re ready to plant out. Freezing temperatures are not good for them, so I plant them out around the end of May. The end of May minus 7 weeks is around April 1st, which is when I’ll be sowing tomato seeds.
Sowing and planting dates are not set in stone. Temperature, potting mix, and container size all influence how fast seedlings grow. And there’s wiggle room because sowing or planting out tomatoes a week earlier or later doesn’t change the date of the first harvest that much because plants grow slowly early in the season. 

One thing to avoid is being pushed around too much by the weather. Don’t let a 3 day warm spell in March convince you to sow tomatoes then, or a 3 day warm spell in early May to plant out tomatoes earlier. In the first case, the plant, being too large at transplant time, will have a harder transition to open ground; you’ll harvest earlier tomatoes, but less over the whole season. In the latter case, a subsequent cold spell might kill the plants (unless you cover them for protection).

I detail out recommended sowing and planting dates for vegetables according to locale in my book Weedless Gardening. At the very least, write down what you do in your garden this year and tweak it closer and closer each season.

Planting, What?

Busy, such as: planting out new trees, shrubs, and vines. After so many years here at the farmden, you’d think that I would have planted every tree, shrub, or vine I could have wanted. Tain’t so.

I’m very specific about what varieties I want to plant so I usually order bare root plants, which are available in greater variety than potted plants. Ideal size for a tree is about 4 feet high because their roots can establish in their new home quickly. Of course, a potted plant, if that variety is available locally, would establish even more quickly.

In the pipeline this year are Egremont Russet and Rubinette apples, Dr. Goode grape, Mohler persimmon, and a number of low bush blueberries and lingonberries.

I remember a sunny day years ago, right after hurricane Irene. The back part of my property, where my vegetable gardens are, was high and dry, a glorious early fall day. But turning 180 degrees, looking to the front, the Wallkill River and associated flood debris was flowing past my doorstep. These days, my thoughts are often on COVID-19. Again, the garden — or a hike in the woods and other home enjoyments — provide needed respite from a bad situation.
Crocus flowers

Winter aconite flowers


19 replies
  1. Christine Pops
    Christine Pops says:

    I’m also so thankful to have my garden to keep me busy and my spirits up. I planted some 2 year old lettuce seeds which did not sprout. I called my local Agway store and they took my order over the phone and will deliver curbside. I ordered all my fertilizer, lettuce seedlings, and even pansies! They are offering this service at all the locations in my area, wonderful company!

    • Heidi
      Heidi says:

      I’m with you on being happy being home. I’ve got cool season flowers and veggies started and tomatoes and peppers which I always seem to start to early. I just get so eager to get them going. Bad me! I did have several people order vegetable plants to start a garden this year! I think a lot more people will be starting gardens this year which is great!

  2. Peter Frank
    Peter Frank says:

    So, Lee, are you still planning on a seedling sale this year? Curbside? Where do you order your bare root bushes and trees from?

    • Lee Reich
      Lee Reich says:

      I’ll be having a plant sale this year but with a different format. I’ll send out my list of plants along with their descriptions and prices. People can then pay and pick them up when it’s convenient.

  3. Diane
    Diane says:

    It’s too early up here in Jay NY, zone 4, to start anything seed-wise, but I am going to spend today, my birthday, potting up Dahlia tubers that I pulled up in the fall. My first attempt! I potted 3 a few weeks ago for a trial run, and all 3 are full of green under my grow lights. SO now I will plant the rest in long planters, looking forward to all those purple blossoms this summer.

  4. Cynthia Waitt
    Cynthia Waitt says:

    I totally agree…Gardening is what will keep me sane! And thank you, Lee, for your posts! It’s like sitting down for a chat with a friend. I really look forward to them.

  5. joel LeGrand
    joel LeGrand says:

    It seems people all over the world are starting gardens, nursery are bare as the TP shelf, when it comes to Vegetable garden transplants.
    At least this is a good thing, in a less then good time, maybe some of them will stay with it, after the panic is over.
    We have a freezer with last years garden & home canned goods, mother taught us how to save money, time & get better food.

  6. Sondra Bromka
    Sondra Bromka says:

    Lee, my joy right now is watching my fig trees spring forth. I have a few portable fig trees, of different varieties. I am happy to say that the little baby I got from you during our visit last year is springing some nice figlets right now. Now there’s joy! As musicians who present in schools, libraries, and churches, there is no work at all. So the joy of baby figs is the sure smile around here! Thanks so much. Be well.

  7. Dottie Baldwin
    Dottie Baldwin says:

    My husband and I have been very busy this spring making raised beds. We tore down our old greenhouse and are using the lumber from it to make the beds. I’m very anxious to get to planting but no so anxious to see how many weeds were going to have. We used compost from an old weed pile. I guess we’ll be weed warriors this year!

  8. Dave Connly
    Dave Connly says:

    I was not gonna grow a large garden this year although I have some flowers that I started under lights in January,(Petunia-Laura Bush). Then I made the mistake of browsing the Burpees Catalogue. So here we go again!

  9. David
    David says:

    My winter compost “browns” are shredded gardeners’ porn (a.k.a. seed catalogs). Something just feels poetic to turn them into future food for the seeds ordered from within.


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