By JOSE GERMAN
For Montclair Local

Jose German is an environmental activist, Essex County certified master gardener and

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JOSE GERMAN
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Montclair resident. He is the founder of the Northeast Earth Coalition.

Spring: perhaps the most beautiful time of the year. But this year it’s accompanied by COVID-19. Our daily social routines are being upended. Cancellations of events and gatherings are necessary measures to stop the spread of the virus.  Voluntary isolation is strongly recommended.

What to do?

In the face of this frightening development, we need to develop new, positive routines, taking advantage of working from home to enjoy more time with loved ones and finding pleasure in our immediate surroundings. Gardening for life can become more important than ever. Few activities are better for managing the stress and depression caused by this crisis. We have written before about the therapeutic value of gardening. Visualize yourself and your family creating a new garden or improving the one you have, enjoying the spring weather, even having a barbecue, while you clean, plant, and care for your yard. 

This crisis can provide a great opportunity to reconnect with nature and plant the seeds in your kids about environmental care and sustainability. Rather than feeling like a prisoner at home, make your outdoor space an open classroom for you and your kids to learn about botany, native plants, and pollinators.

GROWING YOUR OWN FOOD

Nothing is healthier, fresher, or tastier than the home-grown food. Times of crisis highlight the importance of your garden as a source of local sustainability; think of the advantages of having organic food just steps away from your kitchen. Not only is it super convenient, but it will save you visits to the supermarket, meaning less exposure to the virus. You can add your favorite herbs to your garden. Don’t forget to plant mint for your “mojitos.” 

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READ: GARDENING FOR LIFE: TIME TO RE-ENGINEER?

READ: GARDENING FOR LIFE: FIGHTING CLIMATE CHANGE

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Some suggestions of veggies that you can plant now include arugula, sugar snap peas, potatoes, carrots, onions, or cabbage family plants such as broccoli, collards, or kale. If you were farsighted enough (or lazy enough) to leave last fall’s kale or collards in the ground, at this time you can enjoy their last, delicious explosion of edible leaves before they flower and go to seed.

PERFECT TIMING FOR A GARDEN PROJECT

With more time at home available, use it constructively. The perfect time to start a new garden project is now. Some suggestions: create an herb garden; begin composting (the township sells compost bins at discount prices for Montclair residents); convert a portion of your lawn into a vegetable garden or a pollinator garden. Past articles in the Gardening for Life series have covered many of these topics in detail and are accessible on the montclairlocal.news website. You don’t even need to venture out for supplies since many nurseries can deliver to your home, and plants and seeds can be ordered online.

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An outdoor room can be a haven. JOSE GERMAN/FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
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CREATE AN OUTDOOR ROOM

It doesn’t require a lot of work to transform your yard into an open room to enjoy with your family and friends. Take advantage of your additional time at home to visualize, plan, and start work on this project. Think of a space surrounded by colors and aromas. Plan a blooming sequence that begins in the spring and ends in the fall. 

You can start making use of this space even now. A set of comfortable chairs will let you stretch out to read and relax in your outdoor haven in the warming spring weather; add a hammock and you can almost feel that you’re on a Caribbean vacation.  (That mint for mojitos might help in this fantasy.) 

Missing your exercise classes? Bring your yoga mat outside and practice in nature. You may even be able to recreate parts of your workout routine in the yard, or think of your gardening routine as your workout.

EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITY

At a time of heightened stress, a connection with the rhythms of the natural world can provide a reassuring sense of stability and comfort. Early spring is a very active time for birds as they sing, claim territories, find mates, build nests, and forage for food; have a seat, be quiet, watch, and listen. You may be surprised by the diversity of birds that we have in Montclair. You can make your bird watching more formal by creating a bird watching journal with your kids where they register each day‘s sighting. 

Pay attention to the reappearance of perennial plants and the blooming of sequence flowering plants, shrubs, and trees. Watch for the emergence of pollinating insects as they resume their important environmental work. Look for the first fruits of the season in bushes and trees. Take pictures during this transformational process and notice the unfolding wonders of Mother Nature as the season progresses.

Let’s use this period of crisis to plant seeds for hope and a brighter future. We can be creative and adapt to find positivity even in the most stressful times. Never before was the title of our column more pertinent: Gardening for life.