Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association
Organic Gardening Tips

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Watch for Pests

July 14, 2016

Eric Sideman, MOFGA's organic crop specialist, reminds us that his past Pest Reports since 2006 are posted on the MOFGA website. "It may be worth your while to go back and look at the ones from the same time in years past," says Eric. "Mostly, pests are timely and can be counted on to return year after year at roughly the same time." Expected around this time of year: squash vine borer, Colorado potato beetle, potato leafhopper, cucumber beetle, imported cabbage worm, powdery mildew and squash bug.

The MOFGA Vegetable Pest and Disease Calendar, also compiled by Sideman, offers another way to anticipate the most common problems of vegetables in our area, and it provides the "most important organic solution" for each.


Biocontrol of Plant Pests

July 7, 2016

Providing habitat for beneficial insects can help control pest insects in the garden and on the farm. At a MOFGA-sponsored talk at the Maine Agricultural Trades Show last January, Kathy Murray, Ph.D., an entomologist and Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program coordinator with the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, spoke on this subject. She suggested landscaping with strips, borders or banks of flowering plants to attract and support natural enemies – "mother nature's little helpers." For example, create diverse plantings that include small, open-faced flowers that provide natural enemies with pollen, nectar and shelter from the elements and from their enemies. Murray also detailed introducing biocontrol agents. For more, read "Kathy Murray on Using Beneficial Insects to Manage Pests."


Flowers and Bees More Abundant When Lawns Mowed Less Often

June 9, 2016

Susannah B. Lerman et al. tested different lawn mowing frequencies to try to improve bee habitat and promote ecosystem services for households. They assigned 17 suburban yards in Springfield, Mass., to be mowed every one, two or three weeks. They documented 110 bee species - nearly one-third of the state's species - in Springfield lawns. Yards mowed every three weeks averaged 300 percent more flowers than those mowed weekly. Bees were most abundant in yards mowed every two weeks, although species richness did not differ among mowing treatments. Soils in yards mowed every three weeks were the least compacted, possibly offering more nesting opportunities for some ground-nesting bees. FMI: "To mow or to mow less: How landscaping behaviors influence bee diversity and ecosystem services in residential yards," by Susannah B. Lerman et al., Abstract, Ecological Science at the Frontier conference, Aug. 14, 2015;


Grow an Organic Lawn

June 2, 2016

Did you know that no synthetic pesticides or fertilizers are needed for a quality lawn? Using synthetic chemicals on lawns can pollute bodies of water and harm wildlife, from beneficial insects to worms, fish, birds and others. Unfortunately, according to the Maine Board of Pesticides Control, more than 6.2 million pounds of yard care pesticides were brought into Maine in 2007 – a sevenfold increase since 1995 that coincided with an equal explosion of yard care companies in Maine. The trend reversed in 2011, when yard care pesticides brought into Maine dropped to 5.7 million pounds. You can help continue this decrease by growing a lawn without using synthetic pesticides and fertilizers or by hiring an organic lawn care company. To learn more, see MOFGA's newly updated fact sheet, "Establishing and Caring for an Organic Lawn."


Seeking Sweet Potato Slips?

May 26, 2016

Sweet potatoes are propagated by "slips" – rooted cuttings that grew from shoots of mature sweet potatoes. If you want to grow sweet potatoes this summer, order slips as soon as possible for planting in early to mid-June. Two organic sources of slips we learned about from Becky Sideman, UNH Cooperative Extension professor and specialist in sustainable horticulture production, are shown here:

New Sprout Organic Farms, 1070-1 Tunnel Rd., Suite 10 PMB 225, Asheville, NC 28805; 828-357-5501;

Deep Grass Nursery, 13847 Staytonville Road, Greenwood, DE 19950; 302-398-4413;

Other options:

Scott Farms, 7965A Simpson Rd., Lucama, NC 27851; 877-284-4030;

Steele Plant Co., LLC, 202 Collins St., Gleason, TN 38229; 731-648-5476;

For cultivation information, see "Growing Sweet Potatoes in Northern New England" in the spring 2009 Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener.


Gardening with Physical Limitations

May 19, 2016

Raised beds – raised high enough to be reached from a standing position – are one way to continue gardening when a physical limitation precludes gardening in the ground. A workshop by Ellen Gibson at the June 11 Farm & Homestead Day at MOFGA will cover garden beds and ergonomic tools. Gibson works for the USDA-funded Maine AgrAbility program, which provides education and resources for farmers and gardeners with limitations, chronic health issues or injuries so that they can continue to be active in farming and gardening.


Onion Planting Time … Maybe!

May 5, 2016

Eric Sideman, MOFGA's organic crop specialist, has published his first Pest Report for the year. He advises us, "Don't rush." Regarding onions, for example, Sideman notes that these plants are biennials – they flower during their second year of growth, after exposure to cold winter temperatures. If onion seedlings are transplanted too early in the spring and temperatures alternate from warm to winter-like cold, the plants go dormant, and then subsequent warm temperatures may trigger premature bolting (flowering) at the expense of producing large bulbs. The solution, says Sideman, is to plant small (no larger than a pencil) seedlings that are the right variety at the right time. However, onions also need to be sufficiently large when exposed to the daylength they require to form bulbs – so they need to be planted fairly early. Generally, a mid-May planting works for onions that require long days to bulb. April is frequently too early and causes bolting; June is too late, and onions may never form bulbs. Read the rest of the Pest Report or sign up online to receive upcoming Pest Reports by email.

Feed the Pollinators

May 5, 2016

Although the bee spreads pollen as she visits your flowers, her objective was to find food – nectar for her own energy and the protein in pollen to raise her brood. Plants have another agenda – reproduction – so they invent attractions. You can help pollinators by planting various colors and shapes of flowers that bloom from spring to fall. Group types of flowers in drifts to make them easier for insects to see. Note that highly bred hybrids and double flowers tend to nourish pollinators less than native plant species do. Moths find nectar at night in sweetly scented pale blooms. Beetles and some flies go for carrion-scented flowers. Bees and wasps shake pollen from long anthers. Of course, curcurbits and legumes in your vegetable garden feed pollinators while getting pollinated. Domesticated honey bees, introduced about 400 years ago, can outcompete our native bees. Most natives fly only a few hundred yards, so they need nesting sites close to food sources. Wilder, less manicured gardens with brush piles, hedgerows and water sources foster native bees, as do bee nesting blocks – an easy project. See Adam Tomash's article about building nesting blocks for blue orchard bees.