I cheated.

This is the Sunday each year that I usually write about my plans for the coming gardening season: what new crops I plan to grow and any other changes I intend to make.

But I jumped the gun. On March 14, Maine Garden Day, the Maine Flower Show scheduled for later that month, and duplicate bridge – admittedly, not gardening, but it is a winter activity that I love – were canceled. I got depressed.

It was a warm day, so I uncovered some leftover lettuce seed, moved my cold frame to the sunniest part of the vegetable garden and planted. That lettuce isn’t ready to harvest yet, but it’s getting close. Yippee! When I told someone what I had done and that I wasn’t sure it would work, he said, “Seeds. So little cost for so much hope.”

I’ve adopted that as my philosophy for the season. Stretch the boundaries and see if it works.

In our house, we aren’t growing food because we have to, as Americans did in the 1940s with the World War II Victory Gardens. My wife Nancy and I are (mostly) retired, our income is safe, and we have already bought our CSA from a local farm stand. But a rapidly growing number of people have been laid off because of the pandemic; for them, the garden could be putting needed food on the table.


People who are just starting gardens should go with easy-to-grow, direct-seed vegetables. They will bring in the most food for the buck.

In addition to lettuce, the vegetables that can be planted in the garden right now include carrots, radishes, beets, kale and peas – with Sugar Snaps and similar varieties giving the most benefit because you eat the shell as well as the peas. It goes without my writing it, but if you don’t like kale or tomatoes – or whatever – don’t plant them. This is your garden!

In my experience as of this writing, you can still get seeds despite what I hear of high demand and the physical distancing orders. I planted about an ounce of leftover Amish edible-pod peas in late March. That was all the pea seed I had, so I called Allen, Sterling & Lothrop in Falmouth, told them what I needed – Sugar Snap, Knight and Green Arrow – paid by credit card and picked them up, with no physical contact. If you aren’t sure what you want, Allen, Sterling & Lothrop has placed catalogs outside the door so you can peruse them in the comfort of your car and order by cellphone. You might even be tempted by the hellebores and pansies that are outside.

Other nurseries and seed stores are also open, and invoking physical-distancing procedures. The Maine Landscape and Nursery Association reports that for now, the state has determined that nurseries and landscapers are part of agriculture and essential activities. Maine mail-order companies also are still accepting orders. On their websites, and as of this writing, Johnny’s Selected Seeds says it might take a little longer than normal to ship the seeds, Fedco is taking orders only by mail, while Pinetree Garden Seeds and Wood Prairie Farm haven’t listed any changes.

Potatoes and onions come just a little after the cold-season crops and before the long-season ones. They provide a bounty of good, inexpensive food.

In Maine, warm-season crops traditionally can be planted by Memorial Day, but I probably will push things this year and plant around May 15 because the spring has been so warm. If an unexpected freeze kills them, I’ll plant again. I’m stuck at home. What else do I have to do?


The seeds you can plant then are beans, cucumbers and all sorts of squash, including zucchini, butternut and acorn. If you have space – and a way to keep the raccoons away – it is also time to plant corn. We don’t do corn. That is mostly what our CSA is for.

I will plant some string beans, and although they are not our favorite vegetable, we have found some French haricots vert we like. Our emphasis will be on black beans. Nancy made several batches of black bean soup, starting before the coronavirus restrictions hit. The first batch used beans we’d grown last year. We bought beans for the other batches, since we needed to save the remaining Coco Noir beans for planting. The soup was delicious, so we’re menu-planning for next year.

Mainers still have time to plant peppers and tomatoes indoors for transplanting outside later. Strictly speaking, you should have planted peppers a week or two ago, but now would still work, and this is close to the recommended time for tomatoes.

Nancy and I plan to buy our seedlings at the outdoor Portland Farmers’ Market in Deering Oaks Park (such markets are also deemed essential), which is scheduled to open on April 25.

I’m sure I will find other things I want to do in the garden. For one, I want to add an understory garden of shade-tolerant plants in a wooded area. I will probably try almost any gardening project because I am bored. It will keep me entertained. To repeat, so little cost for so much hope.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at: tomatwell@me.com.

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