Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association
Organic Gardening Tips

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Diversity in the Orchard

April 30, 2020

Diversity is one key to balancing orchard ecosystems and farm income. Jesse Stevens of Sy’s Trees in Sweden, Maine, for example, grows more than 100 species and 1,000 varieties in his orchard, including the usual apples and pears, as well as quince, Cornelian cherry, persimmon, honeyberry and more. And at their 5 Star Orchard in Brooklin, Maine, Molly DellaRoman and Tim Skillin grow highbush blueberries, elderberries, raspberries, strawberries and native perennials as well as a 3-acre commercial orchard with 30 to 40 varieties of heritage apples, about 60 peach trees, European and Asian pears, and plums. Read about these farmers’ presentations at MOFGA’s 2019 Farmer to Farmer Conference in “Mixed Orchard Crops” in the spring issue of The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener.


Growing Saffron in the Northeast

April 23, 2020

Saffron, the world’s most expensive spice, is the dried stigmas of flowers of the fall-blooming saffron crocus, Crocus sativus (not of the autumn crocus, Colchicum autumnale, which is toxic). Research from the University of Vermont tells how to grow this spice in crates or in raised beds in New England. Read about the fascinating and entertaining talk that Dr. Arash Ghalehgolabbehbahani and Dr. Margaret Skinner gave at MOFGA’s 2019 Farmer to Farmer Conference in “Saffron: A Good Fit for New England” in the spring issue of The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener.


Growing Grains Creates Diversity on Homestead

April 16, 2020

On its homestead in Exeter, Maine, the Ludders family raises not only vegetables but also wheat, oats, pigs and poultry. This diversity has led to a more sustainable and closed system, writes Sonja Heyck-Merlin. “The chaff provides bedding for their laying hens, and the straw provides mulch for their garlic and perennials. The grain also provides an expanded rotation for the pigs and vegetables. While he has found success in growing about 300 to 350 pounds of grain each year, Ross [Ludders] says [about growing grains], ‘Don't just think about what it is doing for your kitchen but your whole homestead system.’” Read more in “Growing Grain on the Ludders Family Homestead” in the spring issue of The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener.


Planting for Pollinators

April 9, 2020

Interested in supporting pollinators through planting? Perhaps the work of Barbara Murphy, development director at Mahoosuc Land Trust in Bethel, and several volunteers will inspire you. Joyce White describes how Murphy and her crew created a 10,000-square-foot pollinator garden on the grounds of the Valentine Farm, home of Mahoosuc Land Trust. “People, Plants and Pollinators Populate Mahoosuc Land Trust Garden” appears in the spring 2020 issue of The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener.


Spring Greetings and Gentle Waterings

March 19, 2020

March 19 is the first day of spring. Seedlings are sprouting, giving hope. Local, organic, hoophouse-grown spinach is so sweet and delicious now. Here’s a tip for watering small-seeded crops: Recycle a dish detergent bottle into a water dispenser. Rinse it thoroughly to get rid of residual detergent. Fill with water and tip the bottle upside-down to gently drip water onto delicate seeds or seedlings. Leave the bottle of water out for a while to ensure that the water will be room temperature, which is better for plants than cold water straight from the tap.


Birthday Greetings, Maine!

March 12, 2020

In her State of the State address in January, Gov. Janet Mills noted that after Maine separated from Massachusetts 200 years ago (this March 15), “we, Maine people, learned to be self-reliant and, at the same time, to rely on each other.” She also noted, “We stand here today because of the resilience of Native Americans.” So much history … and much of it lives on in the seeds that continue to grow here – some conserved thanks to Native Americans, some that washed up onto Maine’s shores after shipwrecks, some brought by early settlers even before Maine became a state, some saved by MOFGA members. We love seeing this mix of crops in the Exhibition Hall at MOFGA’s Common Ground Country Fair – part of a living representation of all that history. Grow on, Maine!


Save Scions for Grafting

March 5, 2020

While pruning fruit trees, think about saving some of the small branches you remove to use as scionwood for grafting onto other rootstock. C.J. Walke, MOFGA’s agricultural specialist, gives this advice about storing scions until you're ready to graft: "To store scionwood for later grafting, the wood must remain dormant and protected from drying out. An effective way to achieve this is to store the scions triple-bagged in Ziploc bags, and keep in the back of the refrigerator. You can add a small piece of damp, not wet, paper towel in with the scions to help retain moisture. The back of the refrigerator is best because temperatures are more stable than near or on the door. Do not store in the freezer." To learn how to graft, come to the Seed Swap and Scion Exchange and/or read Roberta Bailey's "Spring Grafting Primer" in The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener.


Tend to Browntail Moth Webs Now

March 1, 2020

If you find browntail moth webs within reach, clip them by mid-April and destroy the webs by soaking them in soapy water or burning them. Winter is the best time to clip webs due to the low risk of exposure to the caterpillars’ toxic hairs, due to caterpillar dormancy, and because of the high visibility of webs before leaves emerge.



Sow Ground Cherries Soon

February 27, 2020

Ground cherries, aka husk cherry tomatoes (Physalis pruinosa), are native to Central America but were “widely grown in Poland and are now on board the Slow Food Ark of Taste” of delicious and distinctive foods facing extinction, according to Fedco Seeds. The ripe fruits are delicious, tasting like little melons (or pineapple, some say). Pinetree Garden Seeds suggests starting the small, slow-to-germinate seeds eight to 10 weeks before the last spring frost – so any day now. Fedco recommends filtered light and temperatures of at least 75 F and preferably closer to 90 F for germination. “Cover seeds with just a light sprinkling of soil and place the flats in the hottest part of the greenhouse, transplanting after last spring frost,” says Fedco. Those without a heated greenhouse might find a spot atop a refrigerator, water heater or near a wood stove to provide warmth. Johnny’s Selected Seeds reminds us to keep the soil moist – and adds that the mature fruits can be eaten raw, dried like raisins, frozen, canned, or used in preserves, pies and other desserts.


Potatoes Under 7-Foot Row Cover

February 20, 2020

Last summer Jonathan Mitschele of New Gloucester, Maine, planted two rows of potatoes in a 4-foot-wide bed. That allowed him to use 7-foot row cover from planting to bloom, after which he removed it. His 180 row feet of potatoes yielded about 330 pounds, all with little or no scab and no leafhopper or potato beetle damage. Read more in the winter 2019-2020 issue of The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener.