August 2022 Master Gardener Volunteer Newsletter

In this issue…

Reporting MGV Hours for 2022

Thank you to everyone who has been reporting their hours so far this year. If you haven’t reported your hours, please do so here: Reporting Master Gardener Volunteer Hours (bookmark this page!). MGVs have until the end of the year (December 31, 2022) to complete their annual requirement of 20 hours or 40 hours if you are currently working on your certification.

From the President…

By Tom Witwicki

Hello fellow Master Gardeners.  Since the Board didn’t meet last month, I thought I would make gardening the focus of this month’s Letter from the President.  The last few weeks of hot and dry weather have been very challenging for this gardener as, I’m sure, they have been for you.  My garden is in the middle of transitioning from Early Summer to Fall crops with many succession crop seedlings started for transplanting into the garden in July.  Seedlings, especially the Brassicas and lettuce, don’t like this hot and sunny weather, so I’ve been using a labor intensive process of moving them every day to a shady spot during the middle of the day and then back again to the open when the sun isn’t so bright. Maybe next year I’ll try using a shade cloth over my propagation house.

Once they are in the garden, the seedlings need extra attention so they don’t dry out.  I do have a drip irrigation system in place, but it doesn’t work very well for small seedings, so I’ve been watering with a sprinkler and watering can.  I also grow many flowers and vegetables in pots which require daily hand watering in this kind of weather.  You are probably aware that squash is very susceptible to Powdery Mildew. It sounds counter intuitive, but the preventive cure is to keep the squash well watered.  We only have 2 Summer Squash plants, but this watering regime has kept them healthy and productive and the plants are huge this year. 

For those following my progress moving to a No-Till process, in the Spring I planted Oats and Peas cover crop was knocked down and tarped in early July and I’m now transplanting the Brassicas straight into the resulting mulch.without tilling or other soil preparation.  This seems to be working very well.  I’ve also planted a Summer cover crop of Sorghum and Sunn Hemp in the beds following the shell Peas.  I’m looking forward to seeing this cover crop develop as it should grow to 8-10 feet high!

I could go on, but the garden needs watering again and I don’t want to take up too much of your gardening or vacation time.  Stay cool and happy gardening.

An assortment of veggies harvested in late July including tomatoes, Bell Pepper, and garlic.
A summer harvest assortment from Hilary Bassett’s garden.

Learning Opportunities

Preserving the Harvest: Tomato Salsa

Thursday, August 11, 5:30 pm – 8:30 pm | $20

UMaine Regional Learning Center, 75 Clearwater Drive, Suite 104, Falmouth, ME

Ever wonder how to preserve all those great summer tomatoes? This hands-on food preservation workshop will teach you the basic steps for canning and freezing. Participants will receive a “Preserving the Harvest” food preservation packet, and will learn recommended methods for preserving foods, the latest and safest recipes, about equipment to ensure safety and how to check for properly sealed jars.

Register here:

A selection of tomatoes sitting on a plate including some Sun Golds, a large pinkish-red tomato, and a large unripe green tomato.

Canning & Freezing Tomatoes Webinar

Thursday, August 18, 12:00 pm – 12:45 pm | Free – $5

Join the UMaine Extension food preservation staff for a lively discussion and demonstration of how to preserve tomatoes this summer.

Register here:

Garden of the Month

Jason Aucoin’s Abundant Gardens Inspire a Business: Backyard Blooms

By Hilary Bassett, MGV 2020

Jason Aucoin, a white man with dark hair, is shown wearing a blue t-shirt and holding a bouquet of chartreuse zinnias from his garden.
Jason with a bouquet of zinnias.

When Jason Aucoin signed up for the MGV training in 2009, he didn’t expect to start a business. He and his husband had recently removed over 40 Norway maples to create a sunny, spacious lawn behind their house on Ocean Avenue in Portland.  Jason wanted to cultivate gardens for perennials, cut flowers and fruit trees. In 2015, to his surprise and delight, a childhood friend from New Hampshire, Kate Hanavan Ross, and her family bought the house next door.  Just for fun, in 2018, Jason planted a few extra rows of annuals like cosmos, bachelor buttons, and celosia and began to sell them from his driveway. Kate immediately was excited about Jason’s emerging venture, so they decided to collaborate. The business grew, they both trained as professional florists, and Backyard Blooms was born!

Today, Backyard Blooms is a bustling operation. During the growing season the flower stand is open Saturday mornings in Jason’s driveway. Jason and Kate also prepare three seasonal CSAs, provide flowers for weddings, present workshops, and even create winter wreaths. They do most of the work themselves, although this year for the first time they hired a part time assistant. They farm about 1/8 of an acre across both their yards, with neat rows of seasonal flowers – dahlias, zinnias, salvia, strawflowers, statice, lisianthus, long-stem petunias, as well as ornamental grasses, basil, mint and sage. They grow 80 percent of the plants from seed, with the rest ordered from a plant broker. To make the most of limited space, they use intensive planting methods and tight spacing of 6 or 9 inches. To save time, they use drip irrigation and put down black nursery cloth to keep down weeds.  

The wooden cart that Jason and Kate use to sell their flowers as 'Backyard Blooms.'
The Backyard Blooms cart.

Jason is clear: “Gardening for production differs from gardening for joy. It changes your intentions. It still is enjoyable and fun, but it changes how you look at gardening.” This spring Jason and Kate harvested over 6,500 tulips and until mid-July Jason planted 100 lilies weekly for summer arrangements. Kate grows 550 dahlias in her yard, along with herbs, more cut flowers, and her own vegetable garden.  As much as possible, everything is organic; crops are rotated, no chemical fertilizers or pesticides are used, and the soil is enriched with 12 yards of organic compost each season. To keep blooms fresh, Jason has a walk-in cooler in his garage and the studio at the back of his house is set up for plant propagation. Even with careful planning, flexibility is required, as Jason notes: “I am working on the plant’s schedule, not my schedule. I must be observant and patient. I must allow time to adjust when the plant is ready.”

With all the demands of Backyard Blooms, you may wonder how it fits into a busy life. Jason is a nurse practitioner at Maine Medical Center. Kate trained as an educator and is a mom to a six-year-old daughter. Jason emphasizes that they make tons of lists and plans for efficient production. Kate shares her design skills, takes photos and manages social media. Jason applies his agricultural knowledge, organizes planting schemes and researches varieties with unusual colors, shapes, foliage, and fragrances.  “What is most fun about the business is connecting with the community and our regular customers,” says Jason. “I like to contribute a product that is sustainably and locally grown that people enjoy. It gives me a sense of pride. And it’s tons of work. It takes a lot of time, even in the winter, for planning, ordering and preparing. It is truly a year-round job.”

 For more information about Backyard Blooms go to

Jason's backyard, there are several beds of cut flowers in the foreground and a small high tunnel in the background.
Backyard Blooms production in Jason’s backyard.

Seed Grants

Seed Grant Committee Goes on a Garden Gaze 

The Seed Grant Committee usually meets once a year in October to solicit, review, and award Seed Grants for the upcoming year. This summer, the committee is going on a road trip or, better yet, a Garden Gaze. We plan to visit all our fabulous Master Gardener Seed Grant Gardens. The intent is to promote our Seed Grant projects in order to show and tell Cumberland County Master Gardeners what’s happening in and around their neighborhood, where they can volunteer, and maybe even inspire new Seed Grant applications.

Vegetable beds at the Yarmouth Community Garden, most of the beds contain tomatoes or onions.
Vegetables growing at the Yarmouth Community Garden.

The committee started our Garden Gaze at the Yarmouth Community Garden on East Main Street. We met Mary Wicklund, who led the tour through this delightful and very busy garden. The Yarmouth Community Garden was established by The Yarmouth Town Council in 2004 and has been growing stronger each year. The garden consists of three different areas: the rental portion, the Community Garden, and the Children’s Garden. The rental portion sits on an approximately half acre of land and provides 127 plots rented to 67 individuals or families. The Community Garden is where produce is grown and donated to the Yarmouth Community Center, the Freeport Food Pantry, three senior living complexes, and the Yarmouth Summer Lunch Program. The Children’s Garden is  the backdrop for an eight-week summer camp program which hosted 22 children in 2021.

Last year, the Yarmouth Community Garden harvested and distributed 3,000-4,000 pounds of produce and hosted a Community Harvest Supper attended by approximately 250 local Yarmouth residents. Throughout July and August, the Garden offered pot luck dinners for the renters. New gardeners benefited from the institution of a mentorship program, which matched a seasoned gardener with a new gardener to provide advice, support, and guidance throughout the season. Funds supplied by the Master Gardener Seed Grant enabled the garden to purchase some much needed tools, plant supports and several tall raised beds to accommodate the needs of gardeners with physical limitations. If you want to learn more about this garden or would like to volunteer at the Yarmouth Community Garden, please reach out to Mary Wicklund at

Two people standing in the Tedford Housing - Family Shelter Garden. Joel Leak (center) is addressing a group of people off camera.
Joel Leak (center) speaking at the Tedford Housing – Family Shelter Garden.

Next on the tour was the Tedford Housing – Family Shelter Garden at 34 Federal Street in Brunswick Maine.  This is a small kitchen garden neatly situated in the backyard of an historic white farmhouse serving as a  multi-unit family shelter. The yard also provides a shaded seating area with a picnic table and a large play structure with swings and slides. 

We met Joel Leak in the garden. He has organized and managed this Master Gardener Project for 14 years. In 2015 a vegetable garden was added for the children of families  staying at the shelter. The vegetable garden consists of three raised beds that allow families to harvest food, to learn the benefits of fresh produce, and to teach children the origin of their food. The vegetable garden is  designed to be kid friendly with pole bean teepees and cherry tomatoes for easy snacking. An additional  benefit of this garden is the educational opportunity offered by Master Gardener Volunteers.  

Funds supplied by the Master Gardener 2022 Seed Grant went towards soil amendments, seeds and  vegetable starts. This garden is in need of some dedicated volunteers. If you want to learn more about  this garden or would like to volunteer at the Tedford Family Housing Garden please reach out to Joel Leak at

Speaker Series – Call for Speakers

Do you enjoy being a Master Gardener and educating gardeners in Cumberland County about plants of all types (including the all-important soils)?  It might be ornamentals or veggies.

The Speaker Series Committee of the Cumberland County Master Gardener Association would like to invite you to assist us.  We are looking for those who would like to make presentations either virtually or in person at the extension service.

Remember that the time you spend preparing a presentation and presenting are hours you will count toward Master Gardener Hours.

If interested, please contact David Elliott, Speaker Series Chair at

Volunteer Opportunities

Cumberland County Gleaning Initiative – Various Locations and Dates

Through the Cumberland County Gleaning Initiative volunteers harvest excess produce from local farms and gardens for redistribution to food pantries, soup kitchens, and low income housing units throughout Cumberland County. The goal is to significantly increase the amount of fresh produce redirected from fields to organizations working with low-income populations.  For information or to register as a volunteer see


Gray Blueberry Festival – Gray

Saturday, August 13, 8:00 am – 3:30 pm

We need a few more MGVs to table at the 6th Annual Gray Wild Blueberry Festival on Saturday, August 13.  This event is rain or shine and will take place at the Henry Pennell Municipal Complex, 24 Main Street, Gray, ME.

Master Gardener Volunteers will share a table with the Master Food Preservers, and will help answer gardening questions and share resources (handouts and seeds) with attendees.

  • 1st shift – 8:00am to Noon: 1-2 volunteers needed (set up & table)
  • 2nd shift – 11:30am to 3:30pm: 1-2 volunteers needed (table & breakdown)

If you are interested in volunteering or have any questions, please contact Pamela Hargest at


Watermelon Festival/Camp Sunshine – LL Bean, Freeport

Saturday, August 13, 10:30 am – 4:00 pm

**We need help rooting 250 cuttings of mint and basil!**

Camp Sunshine is looking for help at their annual Watermelon Festival. Master Gardener Volunteers will be making paper pots with kids to bring home with a seedling (basil or mint). Garbage to Garden will provide the soil.

MGV Volunteer needs are as follows:

  • 1st shift –  10:30pm to 1:30pm: Two volunteers needed (set up & table)
  • 2nd shift – 1:00pm to 4:00pm:  Two volunteers needed (table and breakdown)

Can’t attend?

  • MGVs to root cuttings of mint and basil to use at the Festival.

If you are interested in volunteering or have any questions, please contact Mary Wicklund at



If you have a volunteer opportunity you’d like to share, please send Mary Wicklund an email at


Do you need more CLYNK bags? CLYNK bags can be picked up at the office Monday thru Friday, 8:00am to 4:30pm. Our account grows steadily and the money supports Cumberland County Master Gardener projects. Collect your returnables in one of our designated CLYNK bags, drop off at your local Hannaford and help us grow our Seed Money.