Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association
Organic Gardening Tips

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Be Like an Ancient Apple Tree

July 23, 2020

As we struggle to make sense of the COVID-19 pandemic, says John Bunker, we might consider looking at old apple trees that have survived famously cold winters, a summer without summer, hurricanes, drought, insect and disease infestations and more. There’s a chance that everything we need to know about survival, these trees have known for millennia: Don’t move; build community; waste not, want not; eat local; bend. Read more in “The Pandemic and the Ancient Apple Tree” in the summer issue of The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener.

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Cranberries – Don't Assume You Can't Grow Them

June 25, 2020

Most folks think of cranberries as a crop with requirements that are too challenging for their situation. Cranberries like sandy, acidic, soggy peat soils that can be flooded at will, whereas the average gardener has (or aspires to have) a well-drained, marl, near-neutral soil with sufficient nitrogen-containing humus. Will Bonsall found, however, that the crop is not quite that picky. The summer issue of The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener relates his experiences with growing this plant in a low spot in the landscape.

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Raise Strawberries Under Low Tunnels

May 14, 2020

At The Berry Patch in Stephentown, N.Y, Dale-Ila Riggs and Don Miles grow everbearing strawberries in low tunnels so that "instead of having to make it or break it in three to four weeks in June, we can have berries in late July or August and into October when nobody else has berries," says Riggs. Bungee cords hold the plastic to the frames. Thanks to low tunnels, the farmers can pick quality berries even after a heavy rain. Read more about these farmers' techniques, presented at MOFGA's 2019 Farmer to Farmer Conference, in the spring issue of The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener.

Photo: Strawberries grow in low tunnels covered with clear plastic with ventilation holes. Photo courtesy of The Berry Patch

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Has John Found Sarah?

January 30, 2020

John Bunker read about the Maine apple variety called Sarah long ago. “Sarah had remained on the back burner of my apple search since I first read about her many years ago,” he writes in the winter issue of The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener. “But with the hiring of MOFGA’s new executive director in 2018, Sarah – the apple – leapt into first place in the apple priority list of what I must find.” Did he find her? Read about Bunker’s Sarah-seeking adventures here.

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It’s Cranberry Time

November 20, 2019

Cranberries grow wild in Maine, and you can grow them in your own landscape – even without a bog. (Fedco Trees carries plants and provides cultivation instructions.) Roberta Bailey recounts harvesting the fruits from both situations in her article “Cooking with Cranberries, Wild or Garden-Grown” in The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener, where she also provides recipes for cranberry rum relish, cranberry salsa, cranberry salad dressing and several other goodies. Her recipes provide lots of great holiday gift ideas.

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Fall Orchard Sanitation Helps Control Pear Diseases

November 30, 2017

Fabraea leaf spot is a fungal disease that affects pear and quince fruit and foliage. It can defoliate trees and deform or destroy fruit when severe, according to C.J. Walke, MOFGA's organic orchardist, in his column in the winter issue of The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener. The fungus overwinters on infected leaves and fruit, so orchard sanitation is the best cultural approach to minimize Fabraea presence in the spring. Removing all fruit from the tree and mowing leaf litter in late fall, combined with applying a nitrogen source such as fish hydrolysate or spreading finished compost, will increase decomposition of infected leaf matter, reducing fungal pressures come spring, Walke continues. The same can be done in early spring, if winter came too quickly or if disease pressure was high the previous year and you want to be thorough. Such sanitation practices can help control other pathogens, as well.

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