Garden-related activities may be the most effective stress-relieving options open to us in these scary times. Although you may be feeling stir-crazy with young and restless children at home who have disrupted school routines, or have an unexpected leave of absence from work, it helps to get outside and find some activities that provide a positive outlet for anxiety. Here are a few suggestions to keep you occupied.

Maple sugaring on a neighborhood scale is always fun for the kids and can provide instant maple syrup for pancakes. If you have maple trees in your yard, have at them, but be sure to ask permission to tap those of your neighbors. Some hardware stores sell the needed spiles for tapping, although you’ll still need a drill with a 5⁄16-inch bit to bore a 11⁄2-inch-deep hole for your taps. Sap will run whenever the temperatures drop below freezing at night and then warm up during the day. To collect your sap, you can use a plastic milk jug, plastic bag, or other clean food-grade container. Insert the end of the tube into the container and you’re maple sugaring. It’s good to have a clean bucket to pour your sap into at the end of the day and leave overnight. The chunk of ice you’ll find in it in the morning can be tossed out, as it is just water, and the remaining sap can be boiled down in a pan on the stove until it makes maple syrup. One caveat: there is a lot of moisture released from the boiling, so run the fan in your range hood if you have one or you risk a soggy ceiling. When I did this kind of in-house operation with my children many years ago, I first boiled the sap in a canning kettle, then used a huge heavy pan formerly used for baking biscuits in a logging camp as a finishing pan. Being large enough to provide for a logging crew, it could span two stove burners for the high heat needed to rapidly boil the sap into syrup. If you have a lot of syrup, hot-pack it in regular canning jars.

Since this is indoor seed-starting time, while you may prefer to do this without helping hands, it’s a great way to include children in the whole cycle of seed to garden to harvest. Even preschoolers will enjoy this activity, especially if they have their own plants to set out once the weather warms. For kids, it’s best to have some sturdy biodegradable pots for them to fill with soil scooped from a bin. Craft sticks or plastic utensils can be used to label the pots with seed type and owner — important to remember. When selecting starter plants for children, choose those that germinate quickly (to keep shorter attention spans occupied), produce a crop quickly, and require minimum maintenance other than watering and feeding. Luckily, there are many plants that fit these criteria. Snap peas are a quick-growing early crop, while sunflowers are a must for a child’s garden. Radishes are super fast growers, and marigolds are hardy seedlings that can take rough handling and still keep going. Don’t forget to dampen the growing medium before planting and cover the pots with plastic to make a humid environment. After germination, kids enjoy misting their seedlings as they poke up through the soil.

As for antsy adults, stay busy and focused on the upcoming gardening season by organizing your seeds and tools. If you tossed tools into the shed at the end of the season, now’s the time to clean and sharpen them. Even though gardening is a grungy business, it still feels good to start out with clean handles and fresh gloves each season, so choose a milder, sunny day, bundle up and set up on a porch or a sheltered patio to give your tools a good scrubbing. Here’s what you’ll need to get the job done: rubber gloves, a putty knife, steel wool, a clean joint-compound or other plastic bucket, dish soap, lighter fluid, old rags or towels, and your garden hose. Begin by using a powerful spray from your garden hose to knock any dirt off, removing any stubborn caked-on dirt with the putty knife. If your tools have any rust, give those areas a good scrub with steel wool. To clean pruners, moisten a rag with a bit of lighter fluid and wipe the blades to remove sap. Once you’ve removed all caked-on dirt, give the tools a good soak in a bucket of hot water, adding dish soap for extra cleaning power. Rinse with clean water, then dry everthing well with an old towel, as putting tools away wet will cause them to rust prematurely.