The holiday gift-giving season comes at an inconvenient time for Maine gardeners. It’s cold, and even with climate change, the ground is likely to be frozen and, if we are lucky, covered with snow.

What gardeners want to be doing is to growing plants, and the opportunity to do so outside in these parts is long past. And houseplants? Most gardeners have more than they can fit in the suitably sunny parts of their home. There are a few things Mainers can grow and eat at this time of year, though, among them, sprouts and microgreens, a related pair. Between the two, you may find gift ideas for the gardeners in your life.

Sprouts are the simpler of the two. I first grew them for several years in the 1970s and ’80s. I can’t recall why we stopped, but we did, then resumed growing them a few years ago. They are simple and tasty. All you need buy as a gift is a canning jar with a screw lid, some screening and the sprouting seeds. Heads up: Avoid ordinary radish seeds left over from the past gardening season because those are treated with chemicals to help them survive outside in spring weather.

Both Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Winslow and Pinetree Garden Seeds in New Gloucester sell seeds for sprouting, with pre-selected mixes or single-variety seeds, depending on your taste; I have seen them for sale at other local garden centers, too. Growing sprouts makes for an especially fun project to do with children because it’s super-simple, reasonably quick, and you and the kids (assuming they’re not fussy) can be eating sprouts within a week of starting the project.

It’s not hard to grow microgreens, and growing them is a good way for gardeners to occupy their time until the earth warms again for planting season. Arunee Rodloy/Shutterstock

A step beyond sprouts are microgreens – similar to sprouts, but you’ll need soil. I’m trying them for the first time this year because, well, I got an early Christmas gift from my sister-in-law.

Pinetree explains how to grow them on its website: superseeds.com. The nursery also sells a book on the topic, which seems like overkill for something that is so simple to do. But I haven’t read the book and I could – shocking – be wrong. All I did was open the box from my sister-in-law and follow the directions. But those who want to grow microgreens on a continuing basis will need supplies — think gift or gift card.

In addition to many kinds of seeds, Pinetree offers seed-starting trays, seed-starter strips to put in the trays and a clear plastic dome to form a miniature greenhouse. Microgreens also require potting mix in which to grow.

Johnny’s, too, has many kinds of microgreen seed mixes, growing pots and the like. It also stocks hemp-fiber grow mats that are re-usable and can be used instead of the planting medium. They are new this year and sound interesting – a bit less messy than using seedling mix.

What about more substantial gifts for gardeners, say tools? The problem is that gardeners are often fussy about their tools. Many companies make hand pruners, for example, and at many price points, and gardeners usually like to test several to find the ones that they like.

But let me make a couple of personal recommendations.

I received a Tru-Temper 24-inch clog-free lawn rake for a present, and it made this year’s job of raking the parts of the lawn I do rake easier. Instead of individual tines, its tines are joined into V-shaped teeth where it meets the lawn.

The design prevents leaves from getting clogged in the tines, and makes the rake stronger and less flexible, perfect for moving a high volume of leaves. The clog-free rake also comes in a 30-inch version, but all the leaves it could move would require a user who is younger and stronger than I am.

The design’s one disadvantage is that the rake leaves a few leaves behind, so if a perfectly groomed lawn is your goal (it shouldn’t be, leaves help the natural world), you’ll have to follow up with the traditional rake.

Over the past year, I have converted several acquaintances to the Wilcox brand pointed, V-shaped trowel. They are made in the United States from a single piece of stainless steel, a plastic handle and a leather strap. They come in many sizes; 12-inch and 14-inch are the most popular. The point makes digging easy when you aren’t planting seedlings or digging out weeds. Order the trowels from the Wilcox website, if you can stand the wait for shipping from Iowa. The trowel comes with measurements stamped into the metal, so if a flower bulb should be planted 6 inches deep, it’s easy to do so.

If you are vaccinated and willing to mask up, I would also recommend walking through your local garden centers. You never know what you’ll find for a present, and browsing was something I missed before I was vaccinated and felt safe to do so again.

Other than these, give people your love. That’s what they really want – well, maybe you can include a homemade gift card, giving someone several hours of your help when it’s planting time or, even better, weeding time.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at: [email protected]


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