Luck of the Clover

March 17th, 2017 11:13 AM
Four-Leaf Clover

Photo by

By Tayla Mann, UMaine Extension Staff, Administrative Specialist 

The four-leaf clover has become a well-known symbol of luck, 4-H and St. Patrick’s Day. But not many of us know the folk-lore and facts behind this little green plant. The chances of even finding a four-leaf clover among the rest are 1 in 10,000! This is why the clover has been given its lucky persona. And if you pass it along to a friend, your luck will double!

It is a known fact that clovers tend to grow by the millions in large patches of yards and fields. This transferred into the 4-H clover emblem we all know today. Becoming patented in 1924 for representing the growth of millions of members in the USA.

Though these little green gems are like a diamond in the rough to most, they are actually considered a genetic defect that occurs in the root of the clover plant. However, most clover patches grow from one plant system, so the chances of finding more four-leaf clovers in that spot is very likely. Regardless of their leaf number, clovers are self-sufficient. This tiny plant takes nitrogen from the air and uses it for growth with the help of special rhizomes in their roots. This can make them a little selfish. If planted at home they prefer to be in separate containers from other houseplants.

Most people wouldn’t consider planting clovers in their home with patches popping up all over. However, if you live in Maine and still have snow on the ground they are a perfect addition of luck and green cheer this St. Patrick’s Day! The trick is to refrigerate your seeds 24 hours before you plan to put them in soil. The seeds will think they have just been through winter. Use moist, well-drained soil and keep in a sunny spot. They will pop up in a few days!

Whether you’re searching fields or trying to plant some

in your own home the four-leaf clover still remains a lucky treasure!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Cooking for Crowds: Volunteer Food Safety

March 16th, 2017 3:11 PM

By Mallory Martin, Administrative Specialist, Food & Nutrition


Photo courtesy of USDA

Many organizations and community groups rely on volunteers for a variety of food events such as fundraising, fellowship, food pantries or other services to the community and it can be difficult to make sure you’re fully prepared. How do you store all that food? When is the food completely cooked? How long can you leave food on the buffet table? Cooking for Crowds offers up-to-date information on how to handle, transport, store and prepare foods safely for large group functions such as soup kitchens, church suppers, food pantries and community fundraisers.

Kathy Savoie, UMaine Educator offers the Cooking for Crowds course in the spring and fall. This year the workshop will be expanding to other counties including Oxford and Kennebec. The workshop is also available for organizations to host and can be requested here.

It is scary to think about people getting sick from your meal, but it can happen. More than three-quarters of the outbreaks are blamed on food eaten outside the home. Cooking for Crowds was designed to help prevent these outbreaks and to ensure food safety in food functions.

According to the manual, “This curriculum was designed to show nonprofit groups the food safety risks that develop when cooking large volumes of food and how to reduce those risks so that the food the group prepares is both safe and delicious. Although many of the food safety strategies recommended are similar to those recommended to commercial food establishments, the strategies have been translated into practical methods to meet the specific needs of nonprofit audiences.”

Workshops cover the following food safety guidelines:

  • Planning and Purchasing
  • Storing Food Supplies
  • Preparing Food
  • Transporting, Storing and Serving Cooked Foods
  • Handling Leftovers

Participants receive Cooking for Crowds, a manual specifically designed for volunteer cooks, Certificate of Attendance, Posters, and an Instant Read Thermometer. This class meets the Good Shepherd Food-Bank food safety training requirements. To sign up for one of the Cooking for Crowds workshops, visit

What’s Happening In Orono

March 13th, 2017 10:53 AM
by Lynne Hazelton, UMaine Extension Administrative Support Specialist, Agriculture and Horticulture 

Take a Tour through UMaine with Lynne, Mallory, and Tayla, as they visit the Advanced Structures & Composites Center, the J.Franklin Witter Teaching & Research Center, the Hudson Museum, and the Emera Astronomy Center.

Lynne, Mallory, and Tayla wearing hard hats and safety goggles at the Advanced structures and composites center at UMaine Orono

After surviving a snowy drive north, we started our full day of tours at the Advanced Structures & Composites Center, a very large and impressive facility. Our tour guide started off by showing us the Composite Arch Bridge System, or Bridge-In-A-Backpack. This system that accelerates bridge construction time and reduces life cycle costs has been used in 21 bridges in the US (and beyond).

Map of were the Bridge-In-A-Backpacks have been built.

After that, we got the chance to see the Wind Blade Testing area which was currently hosting a massive wind blade. We weren’t allowed to photograph it, but we were able to go into inside a concrete room with the Wind Lab Reaction Wall, which was where the wind blade was bolted in. This concrete structure reaches deep underground and is bolted into bedrock so it’s able to hold up the wind blades as they stress test them. Next, our tour guide told us all about the VolturnUS 1:8, a 65-foot-tall floating wind turbine prototype that is 1:8th scale.

“For more than 10 years, the University of Maine has led the nation in developing an economical way to harness clean, renewable wind energy from our deep ocean waters. This has led to the development of UMaine’s patented VolturnUS floating concrete hull technology that can support wind turbines in water depths of 150 feet or more, and has the potential to significantly reduce the cost of offshore wind.”

Wave Basin at UMaine Orono

Lastly, we got to see the Offshore Model Testing Wave Basin, which is 30 meters long and 9 meters wide. This lab is able to simulate wave and wind conditions that represent the worst storms possible.

This facility does so much more then could fit into one tour and has a long list of awards and honors. If you’re interested in seeing some of this for yourself, you can request a tour.

Calf at Witter Farm

The second facility we toured was Witter Farm, which is part of the J. Franklin Witter Teaching & Research Center  and is home for UMaine’s teaching and research programs in animal sciences and sustainable agriculture. Witter Farm is where undergraduate and graduate students specifically study dairy and equine science. You may have seen in the news that one of UMaine’s Holsteins ranks among the top 10,000 in the county for performance out of 22 million registered Holsteins in the US!

UMaine offers the only bachelor’s degree in sustainable agriculture in New England and it’s the oldest sustainable agriculture program in the country.

A line of diary cows eating at witter farm

“In addition to dairy and equine courses at the Witter Farm, a student group, the UMaine Applied Dairy Cooperative of Organized Working Students—known as the UMAD COWS—is fully involved in operation of the dairy.”

Three horses outside in the snow at Witter Farm

We loved visiting all the animals at the farm and took a lot of photos of them. To see all our photos of our tour at Witter Farm, check out the UMaine Extension Cumberland County Facebook page!

Birch Wigwam at the Hudsom Museum

For our third tour we went to the 2nd level of the Collins Center for the Arts to see the Hudson Museum. Currently on display are the exhibits “Adventures in the Amazon” in the Merritt Gallery, the “UMaine Field School in Zadar, Croatia: The Archaeological Study of Ancient Cities” in the Minsky Culture Lab, the World Cultures Gallery and the Maine Indian Gallery.

The “Adventures in the Amazon” Exhibit displays items collected between 1940 and 1980. UMaine faculty memeber, Brian Robinson (1953-2016) collected many of the items to document the lives of the people of the region.

Part of the Maine Native American Exhibit at the Hudson Museum

“Across from the presentation of Maine Indian material culture, UMaine researchers will present their research and collections. These collections have rarely been exhibited to the public and until now have been used almost exclusively for research. This portion of the exhibit includes artifacts gathered by UMaine archaeological projects and housed in the collections of the Anthropology Department.”

The storage area for the Hudson Museum

A special treat was in store for us after we saw the current exhibits on display. The Director of the Museum, Gretchen F. Faulkner, then told us that there is only 1/8 of the collection on display at a time and took us down into a storage area of the museum. Here we could see just how large the collection is.

The Hudson Museum is free and open to the public Monday through Friday, 9am-4pm and on Saturdays, 11am-4pm. The Museum also offers guided tours for elementary and secondary school groups.

Maynard F Jordan Planetarium Doors

For our final tour we visited the Emera Astronomy Center and M.F. Jordan Planetarium. What better way to end the day then laying back and watching the stars? The center has an ever changing schedule of programs, including shows on Sundays specifically for kids. Our show was all about how space technology improves our lives every day. The center also has a great Science Lecture Series, which has had topics like “Unlocking the Secrets of Proteins: The Rise of Cryo Electron Microscopy” by Dr. Caitlin Howell and “How molecular motors work – insights from the machinist’s toolbox” by Dr. Dean Astumian.

The Observatory

“The Maynard F. Jordan Observatory is located behind the Emera Astronomy Center on the University of Maine campus. This observatory is an integral part of the curriculum in the department of Physics and Astronomy and is frequently used by students and faculty for research purposes.modern astronomy research and exploration. Click here to view a gallery of images taken with the telescope.

(The center is funded through donations  and tickets sales.)

Highlights of the Day

Lynne’s Highlight: There were so many amazing things that we got to see; it’s incredible how much UMaine does, but the highlight of my day has to be the Maine Indian Gallery. If you have the opportunity to go see it, I highly recommend that you do.

Mallory’s Highlight: Having gone to a small liberal arts college in a city, I always have fun visiting a college with a real campus with such diverse offerings. The highlight for me was visiting the Advanced Structures and Composites Center for the first time. I had been looking forward to seeing the Offshore Model Testing Wave Basin and it didn’t disappoint. They work on such interesting projects that have a real impact on the world!

Tayla’s Highlight: I would have to say that the highlight of my day was the overall hands-on experience the University provides for students, faculty and community members who come to visit. With the Structures & Composites Center being a personal favorite learning about all of the projects that the University is working on to improve a variety of technologies. Great things are happening!

Gardening is for the Birds!

March 2nd, 2017 9:29 AM

Article and Photographs by Amy Witt, UMaine Extension Horticulturist 

Eastern Bluebird and American Goldfinch. Photograph by Amy Witt.

Eastern Bluebird and American Goldfinch 

Gardens bring delight to gardeners, visitors, and people passing by. They can also provide important habitat for birds, and in return, more enjoyment for the gardener and visitors.

Gardening successfully for birds involves meeting their basic needs of food, water, nesting sites and shelter.


The first step in designing a bird garden is to evaluate your yard from a bird’s perspective. Does it provide for their basic needs? If not, what is lacking?

To give you a sense of the types of plants and plant communities that make up the natural bird habitat in your area, visit various local parks and wildlife sanctuaries. Notice the plants and their habit – are there vertical and horizontal layers; large masses or groupings? Creating a similar environment using native plants is an important step to a successful bird garden.

Begin planning your garden by completing an inventory of your property (include plants, habitats, birds, structures, also take note what is on adjacent properties). Next, create a map of your property or the space where you want the garden to be.   Sketch in your house, fences, out buildings, driveway, utilities and all of your existing plants (trees, shrubs, herbaceous plants) – noting which ones benefit the birds. This map will be a good tool for you to identify the existing resources for attracting birds. Once you have your inventory and map, it’s time to start designing your garden.

When designing your garden, keep the following in mind:

  • Full sun means more food (there are more varieties of fruit and nut trees that prefer full sun than shade)
  • Create vistas (birds need to be able to survey their surroundings for food and predators)
  • Vary heights of vegetation (birds perch, nest and forage for food at different heights)
  • Planting thickets or groupings of plants is more desirable to birds than having single plants scattered across an area
  • Create a natural effect (nature doesn’t plant in a straight lines, curves and clusters are very appealing to birds)
  • Establish plantings for year-round beauty, shelter and food
  • Use diverse living (plants) & non-living (structures) materials
  • Use native plants as much as possible
  • Remove invasive plants (many invasive plants out-compete the native species favored by birds)
  • Reduce your lawn area (lawns have little value to birds)
  • Do not use pesticides (remember, insects are the primary source of food for many birds)
Cedar Waxwing. Photo by Amy Witt.

Cedar Waxwing



Native plants provide the best food sources for birds. Try to recreate the plant ecosystem native to your area by selecting a variety of plants that offer year-round food in the form of seeds, berries, nuts, buds, nectar and insects. Native insects evolved to feed on native plants, and birds raise their young on insects.

Different birds require different kinds of foods in different seasons. While raising their young, adult birds get the energy they need from sweet fruits (e.g. berries and wild cherries); fall migrating birds require fatty fruits (e.g. flowering dogwood and spicebush) to build fat reserves; and wintering birds need abundant, persistent fruits (e.g. conifers, bayberry, crabapples, and sumacs) to help them survive winter temperatures. Persistent fruits are also extremely important for early spring migrating birds.

Supplemental feeders can also be used, particularly if there is shortage of natural food. Add variety to the kinds of food you offer, and you’ll attract a wider variety of bird species. Use suet only from October through April or May (sun-warmed suet can cause infected follicles and loss of facial feathers). To protect the birds from predators (like cats), place feeders 10 feet from cover (i.e. dense shrubs and buildings)


While birds get much of the water they need from foods, they will also use open water sources such as birdbaths, ponds and water gardens, for drinking and bathing. Birds need access to water all year long, especially for cooling themselves in summer’s heat and during the winter when ponds, lakes and streams are frozen or covered with snow.

When choosing a birdbath, find one with a shallow slope (no deeper than 3”), as most birds have short legs and avoid deep water. Place the birdbath about 10 feet from dense shrubs or other cover that predators may use.

It is a good idea to clean the bath with a stiff brush every few days and add fresh water as needed. Birds will drink from the bath as well as bathe, and excrement and algae can accumulate when baths are neglected. To make sure the birdbath is accessible year round, add a heater in the winter.

Bird Nest by Amy Witt

Nesting Sites

It’s a bonus if your garden and adjacent property can provide appropriate and adequate nesting sites for your backyard birds.

Does your yard have an area of dense thickets that birds could use for nesting, secluded perching, or escape cover? If not, you can easily provide an area by planting and grouping dense shrubs or making a hedge.

What about dead trees? Dead trees not only provide cavities for birds to raise their young, they also contain a lot of insects for the birds to feed on.

Some birds will nest in brush piles, so think about creating a brush pile in a corner of your yard. Start with larger logs for the base and add smaller branches to the top.

Nesting boxes are also a great addition. Keep in mind that nesting boxes are species specific. If you want to put out a box for bluebirds, make certain it is a box designed for bluebirds. Nesting boxes need to have ventilation holes at the top and drainage holes on the bottom. Do not use a box with a perch, as house sparrows are known to sit on the perch and peck at other birds using the box. Nesting boxes should have a side panel that opens so the inside of the box is easily accessible and can be cleaned out. Lastly, place nesting boxes out of reach of cats, raccoons and other predators. Placing a baffle on the pole directly under the box is also a good idea.


Providing shelter is different than providing a nesting site. Birds need places where they can hide from predators and inclement weather.

Evergreen trees and shrubs provide excellent cover through all seasons. Many birds will also seek shelter from bad weather inside hollowed out trees, brush piles and rock walls.

You can also set-up roosting boxes. They have an entrance hole near the bottom so that heat doesn’t escape. Mount the box in a sheltered area, preferably facing south.

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

Other things you can do to attract birds to your yard:

  • Don’t deadhead flowers in the fall – many birds will eat the dried seed heads.
  • Leave the leaves alone – rather than raking leaves in the fall and taking them to the dump, use them to create feeding places for birds. Place the leaves in 5-6” piles under trees and shrubs. By spring the leaves will have decomposed and attracted earthworms, insects, and other animals on which the birds feed.
  • Create a dust bath- many birds, take dust baths to control external parasites. A dusting site can be a dirt driveway or a circle of finely pulverized soil 2 feet across.
  • Leave a few dead branches on live trees for perches. Birds tend to perch on dead branches, which they use as singing posts to defend their territories.
  • Provide nesting material in the spring including small twigs, mud, moss, dried grass stems, wool, hair (avoid using hair from animals that have been treated with pesticides, such as flea and tick spray), snakeskins, narrow strips of cloth, string and yarn. DON’T USE – Laundry dryer lint. It will soak up water and may be steeped with chemicals unhealthy for birds.

Cumberland County 4-Her’s Have a Long Stylish History

February 23rd, 2017 4:19 PM

By Sara Conant, 4-H Community Education Assistant & Administrative Specialist

Fashion Revue (formerly know as dress revue, or style show) is an annual event in Cumberland County where local 4-H members ages 5 – 18

Fashion Revue Blog Post 17

1940’s Sunday Telegram article about 4-H Dress Style Show

can show off their knitting, crocheting, or sewing skills. Here in the Cumberland County Extension Office we found a newspaper clipping from the 1940’s highlighting what was then dress style show. This year at Fashion Revue 13 4-H members showed off their skills to a panel of judges and modeled for their friends and family at The Root Cellar in Portland on Saturday February 18th.

At Fashion Revue there is a non-competitive category for Cloverbuds (5-8 year olds) and Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced competitive categories for older 4-H members. Participants make items with varying degrees of difficulty pertaining to their skill level, and submit them for off the person judging by a panel of three judges. Participants then either wear or hold their item in front of the judges and answer questions about their project. Fashion Revue culminates in a Fashion Show in the afternoon for friends and family.

This year three Cloverbud members entered items including a football themed pillow case, an artist’s apron with pockets for paint brushes, and a full length skirt. There were seven Beginners with 1 -2 years of project experience. Beginners made a knitted washcloth, a skirt with matching bow, a poncho, a matching scarf set for a doll and 4-H member, show shirts with collars and buttons, and a doll with an outfit. Kaitlyn of the Sebago Nor’Easters general club earned a Rosette in the beginner category for her doll made entirely of recycled fabrics.

Participants in the Intermediate category with 3-4 years of experience made a beach towel bag and pajama pants. Olivia of the Warm Up Maine 4-H crocheting & knitting club, earned a Rosette in this category for her beach towel bag she made using a knifty knitter loom along with seashell accents and a crocheted strap. The Advanced category for members with 5+ years of experience had one participant, Lauren from the Young Farmer’s Beef Club. Lauren earned a Rosette for her strapless semi-formal mid-length dress with zippered back and matching clutch.Fashion Revue Blog Post 17If you would like more information about how you or your child can get involved with Fashion Revue, or any 4-H project in Cumberland County, please email or call Sara at 207-781-6099.

Preparing for Your Next Vegetable Garden

February 16th, 2017 3:19 PM

By Clark Whitter, Cumberland County Master Gardener, Class of 2010

Clark Whittier Photo for Blog Post

I use the hoop house and earth boxes which soil warms up quicker gives me about a three-week head start on tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant. The hoop house also allows me to start earlier in the spring with broccoli, beets, and greens by direct seeding in the beds which soil warms up quicker than outside beds.

Analyze: At the end of the growing season, including fall and early winter crops, analyze what did well and what did not. If a crop has not done well for the last two to three years, consider cutting back on some vegetables or change some varieties. This year, I’m dropping corn because it uses too much space for the yield. I’m also dropping soybeans, brussel sprouts, and cauliflower.

Inventory: Next, I inventory all my leftover seeds. Then I plan my next beds with consideration for crop rotation. When I plan beds, I determine how much space I want to allocate for each crop for each crop to be raised. This allows me to determine how much seed to order. I also check the first new catalogs I’ve received to see if there are any new items I would like to try. If I have not received the newest catalog for companies that I have previously used, I will check out their items online. (I try to order and receive my seed orders by January to ensure they are not sold out of the items.)

Planning: I develop a chart containing a list of varieties I would like to grow, the inventory of seeds I have and the amount I want to plant, the seeds that need to be ordered, what beds and space is allotted, estimate when to start seedlings, when to direct sow vegetables, and when to transplant seedlings. Example

Data Collection: I plant according to soil temperature and determine when to estimate dates by averaging two to four years of data. I also compare the data to the Cumberland County averages for my area to determine my estimation of when to plant seedlings, direct sow, and transplant seedlings. When the snow if off the beds in the Spring, I push a small meat thermometer in my Hoop House beds until I get a reading of 32 to 33 degrees. After getting that reading, I take reading each day or every other day for about a month and a half and put the data on an excel spread sheet. When I reach the temperature I want, I see if the temperature is maintained for about three days to ensure a cold snap does not lower the ideal temperature. If the temperature falls after planting, I use low hoops covered with remay or green house plastic to protect the crops.

C.W. Frost date for blog postC.W. Plant by Soil Temp for blog postC.W. Indoor Planting table for blog post


University of Maine Cooperative Extension Publications: 

Bulletin #2286: Testing Your Soil
Bulletin #2763, Garden Equipment and Items to Make for the Maine Garden

Bulletin #2751: Starting Seeds at Home
Gardening in Limited Space Using Container Gardens, Parts 1 & 2 (videos) 

Flowers From Your Valentine

February 15th, 2017 3:49 PM

FLower Heart for Blog POST by LH By Tayla Mann, UMaine Extension Staff, Administrative Clerk.
(Photos by Lynne Hazelton.)

Valentine’s Day has become a well-known tradition filled with chocolate, greeting cards and especially flowers. However, with Valentine’s Day come and gone you’re probably beginning to wonder how to make those cherished flowers last a little longer. So we have compiled a few tips as our Valentine’s present from UMaine Extension to you!

How do you make your beautiful bouquet last as long as possible? We asked Marie Temm, a Homemaker and a florist at Skillin’s Greenhouse, for some helpful tricks in floral preservation.

Marie’s Advice to Lengthen the Life of Your Bouquet:

  • Make a new cut at the end of each flower stem every other day.
  • Adding floral nutrients during each water change. A packet is usually supplied with each store bought bouquet, however, you can buy more at your local greenhouse or flower shop.
  • Placing flowers in a cool place will also allow them to last longer while warmer temperatures may quicken the wilting process.

It was great to chat with Marie and we are grateful that she shared her vast knowledge with us! She shared some fun facts as well that we would love to share with you. When cutting flowers, Marie let us know that Roses and Gerber Daisies are best to cut under water. Cutting the stems out of water tends to make them seal immediately!

Flower Row for Blog pOst by LH

Our conversation with Marie sparked our interest to try floral preservation for ourselves. She advised us that though they do have dryer presses now for quicker drying preservation we can still take on the old school methods of hanging or heavy books! We tried the heavy book method. (Our results can be seen in the above photos) If you’re interested in drying your flowers, the University of Missouri Extension has some helpful advice:

Our Flower Press Experience: We took a bouquet and snipped the flower heads off and laid them on a piece of brown paper. Then we covered our flowers with another piece of brown paper and put several large books on top in order to flatten them. Then it was just the “set it and forget it” approach. A week into the process we checked on our flowers. Each flower was flattening nicely, and it seemed as though the smaller flowers were drying at a faster rate than the others. We replaced the books and waited some more. Two weeks have passed and Valentine’s Day has arrived, so we checked the flowers once more. Final results show that after two weeks our flowers have not fully dried through the pressing process and some have acquired a slight mold. We are taking into consideration whether we used the correct paper and should have used waxed paper instead.

Trial and error is key to finding the best preservation methods! We hope you test out flower preservation as well and share your experiences with us on Facebook and Twitter at @UMaineCumbCty

 ♥ Happy (belated) Valentines Day! ♥

4-H Public Speaking Recap & How to Give a Good Presentation

February 10th, 2017 1:38 PM

By Sara Conant, 4-H Community Education Assistant & Administrative Specialist

Do you, like 74% of people, suffer from Glossophobia; the fear of public speaking? Glossophobia is the number one fear, edging out Claustrophobia (fear of small spaces), Arachnophobia (fear of spiders), and Acrophobia (fear of heights) for the top fear. Each year 4-H in Cumberland County offers a way for youth to conquer those fears in a safe, welcoming environment. On February 4th, 2017 Cumberland County 4-H Public Speaking and Demonstration Day was held at the Inn at Village Square, an assisted living facility in Gorham, Maine. This year three 4-H members participated in the event. 4-Her’s taught demonstrations about food preservation, how to make pancakes, and one 4-Her recited a poem. 4-H Public Speaking 2017

Cumberland County’s Public Speaking & Demonstration Day is non-competitive and open to any enrolled Cumberland County 4-H member ages 5-18. The purpose of the event is to give 4-Her’s a welcoming and encouraging environment to test out their public speaking skills. Any 4-H member who has participated in this event and would like to take their Public Speaking or Demonstration skills to the next level is eligible to compete at the State 4-H Public Speaking Contest in April in Orono.

In order to help our 4-Her’s with their presentation the Giving a 4-H Presentation page was created. It has great resources for any type of public speaking or demonstration not just 4-H. As with any endeavor planning and preparation is key. Any good speech or demonstration includes an introduction, body/content, and a closing. When performing a speech always remember the acronym P.A.V.E:
P:  Pace – The easiest mistake to make as a speaker is to talk too fast! Practice your presentation in front of someone and ask them to tell you if you talk too fast. It is a good idea to talk especially slow while you share very important points in your presentation.
A: Audience – Remember your audience by making eye contact and smiling.
V: Volume – Make sure your audience can hear you. Don’t be afraid of a microphone — it is there to help you!
E: Energy – Be excited about your topic! Tell the audience what you like about your topic and what it means to you. And smile! If it seems like you don’t care about the topic then the audience won’t care either.

For more information about 4-H in Cumberland County please visit


3 Maine Seed Distributors

February 3rd, 2017 8:48 AM
USDA Seedling- blog post

Photo courtesy of USDA

By Tayla Mann, UMaine Extension Staff, Administrative Clerk

Here at the UMaine Extension we love local. Local foods, local farmers and local seeds. Lucky for us, Maine has some great seed distributors worth talking about!

Johnny’s Selected Seeds

Johnny’s, created in 1973, prides themselves in being 100% employee owned and producing safe, non-GMO seeds. They provide a great variety of organic, hybrid, heirloom and enhanced seeds. Throughout the years several of Johnny’s squashes and other vegetable varieties have won All-America Selections (AAS) awards and two of their breeders have won All-America Selections Breeders Cup awards. In 2000, Johnny’s also joined the Safe Seed Initiative pledge. Johnny’s has three sites located in central Maine within 25 minutes of each other. Their business office is located in Fairfield, retail store in Winslow and their research farm where they hold farm tours is located in Albion.

Fedco Seeds

Fedco, located in Clinton, is one of a small amount of cooperative seed companies in the United States. They have been in the seed business since 1978 with continual product growth as the years go on. Fedco is made up of five divisions including seeds, trees, potatoes and bulbs. Unlike the other distributors they do not have their own retail store and work solely through mail and internet orders. Though they do have public sale days and partake in the Common Ground County Fair each year. Starting out as a small Maine base with only 98 orders their first year, Fedco has grown to serve all 50 states and filling thousands of orders annually. 

Allen, Sterling & Lothrop

Allen, Sterling & Lothrop, AS&L for short, have been producing seeds for over 100 years! Located right in our very own Cumberland County right up the street on Route 1 in Falmouth, AS&L has a four season garden center, seed house and nursery open to the public. Not only do they provide a variety of seeds from herbs and vegetables to perennials, annuals and so much more, they also have a great shop filled with accessories and gifts for your gardening loved ones. The AS&L website also provides great tips and instructions along with planting timelines. AS&L also lists all the nurseries throughout Maine where you can pick up their seeds.

Be sure to check them out and keep your seed buying local this gardening season! Happy Shopping!

Winter Care of Houseplants

January 26th, 2017 8:00 AM

By Kyle Fletcher Baker, Cumberland County Master Gardener and MCN Maine Zone 5

Well, here it is, winter in Maine and while all around us outside is usually covered with snow, some of us are tending the sporadic gardens inside. Whether it’s one or two plants or you have a virtual jungle of plants, the care during winter, is the same as for outdoor plants during the warmer weather.

With luck, you were able to move all your plants outdoors for the summer, starting them off in a sheltered, shaded spot and eventually moving the sun lovers to full morning sun for the warmer days. This helps build roots and foliage and in some cases, initiate flower production. Thanksgiving and Holiday cactii are two primary examples, that can be coaxed into bloom 2-3 times during the winter long months.

To the initiate houseplant owner, houseplants are often neglected and frequently end up being tossed in the compost pile come spring.

To get the most enjoyment out of your houseplants, you need to care for them the same as if they were outdoors in the garden. Light, soil, water and pest control are the four major areas of concern. If you can keep track of these four, then you can have luxurious, flowering and foliage plants to help combat the winter blues. Remember they’re living things, so take care of them the best you can.

It has to be stressed, that if you own a plant, or are given a plant, RESEARCH IT, as best as you can. Knowledge is a good thing to have, for if you can learn something new each day, you are ahead of the game. Knowing which plant needs a winter rest, likes evenly moist soils, likes high humidity and which can take dark rooms and cold temperatures, will make life so much easier when caring for your green friends.

Photos by Kyle Fletcher Baker

Photos by Kyle Fletcher Baker

Light – First and foremost this is the biggest downfall of houseplant growers. No matter how bright the light, the legginess of plants in winter is at times scary. Contrary to what I have read and been told, direct sunlight through windows in winter rarely damages plants. That isn’t to say it doesn’t happen, just that it doesn’t happen as regularly as one would be led to believe.  Shade loving houseplants should be in northeast or eastern facing windows for bright or direct morning sun, and then shaded conditions for the afternoon. Sun loving houseplants should always be in southern or southwestern facing windows to receive as much afternoon sun as possible. I’ve become very attuned to the directions and have plants placed throughout the house, usually according to light, though with 150 houseplants, some end up where ever there is room.

Soil – When it comes to potting medium, gardeners often mistake this for ‘soil’. Potting medium is not soil. Soil is alive with insects, fungi, bacteria, and other living organisms. Most potting medium is man-made and quite inert. Buy organic if you can. Remember most plants will be in this ‘soil’ for somewhere between 2 – 10 years. I have epiphytic cacti that have been in the same pots for 40 – 60 years and bloom regularly every winter. If you grow tender summer bulbs like Cannas, Dahlias, Eucomis, Hedychium, Alocasias, etc., make sure you repot them at least every 2-3 years, as the root growth during their summer vacation out of doors is quite extensive.

Water   – Next to light, this is the factor that kills more houseplants than any other problem. Research your plants and set up an appropriate watering schedule. Make sure that if anyone else helps out with watering, that they too know the plants well. Several years ago I lost a few Sansevierias, grown from leaf cuttings, due to my late father helping me by watering them, as he thought they looked dry. When they became waterlogged and started to collapse, he watered them more thinking they were overly dry. Within two weeks I lost at least eight, 10-year-old plants. The Sansevieria’s especially need care in watering, as they come from the arid regions of South Africa, where there is typically no more than 2-3” of rain per year. If you are not able to stick to your watering schedule, then check the plant thoroughly before watering to make sure it needs it

   Pest control    – Just because your plants are in pots or containers and indoors, doesn’t mean that they are immune from pest infestations. Spider mites, mealy bugs, aphids and scale are the four top pests of houseplants. Spider mites prefer dry, hot conditions and lots of light. Plectranthus (Coleus), ferns, and any other thin leaved foliage houseplants are prone to spider mite. Spider mites are highly susceptible to drowning and what can only be called pneumonia, so put the infested plant in a shower and drench it well, turning it over if necessary to get the undersides of the foliage.  Aphids like lush, leafy, foliaged plants and flower spikes. They attack any orchids I have, then they move through the greenhouse looking for choice new growth to dine on. You can wash aphids off in the shower with warm water, or use insecticidal soap or horticultural oils.

Mealy bugs and scale are the hardest to get rid of, as there are usually 3 – 4 stages of insects in a colony at any given time. Eradicating them is very difficult. Mealy bugs on smaller plants can be treated with a warm shower, but for both mealy bugs and scale, I find the best approach is using insecticidal soaps sprayed on the foliage, and then wiping down both sides of the foliage with a soft but sturdy cloth. Scale, which build hard shells over themselves to protect from predation, are usually impervious to any sprays. By wiping with a cloth you can dislodge the scale and then apply a secondary spray to the foliage to get any nymph stages of the pest without protective shells.

Photos by Kyle Fletcher Baker

Photos by Kyle Fletcher Baker

Two Houseplants That are a Must!

SCHLUMBERGERAS – Claw Cactus, Christmas Cactus, Thanksgiving Cactus  Cactaceae Family

The two most common forms of Schlumbergeras grown are the Christmas cactus and claw cactus. Christmas cactus is a hybrid between two Schlumbergera species and is recognizable by its pendulous habit and soft, scalloped-edged leaf segments. Schlumbergera truncate or claw cactus, also known as the Thanksgiving cactus, is recognizable by it’s claw like leaf segments. Both are found growing as epiphytes in the jungles of Brazil, on trees or rocks in high humidity conditions. They demand filtered bright light, extremely well drained conditions and high humidity. They seem to survive in most home growing situations with no added care.

They bloom in shades of red, pink, white and rarely yellow infused. Around mid to late December is it’s bloom time, but with care they can be coaxed into bloom up to 3 – 4 times per year. They prefer high humidity, well drained roots, even moisture and steady temperatures most of the year. Dropping the temperature, outdoors or indoors, is usually what instigates flowering. I have two that have been in the same pots for roughly 30 years and are somewhere between 60 – 80 years of age. I place them outside in early spring, when all danger of frost is over, on the northeast side of the house so they get direct morning sun and then cool afternoon shade. In October I bring them indoors before the first frost and they bloom heavily in late October and December. They bloom sequentially in January and March and usually late April when I move them back outside. Fertilizing is done at ½ strength, once monthly for a 12” hanging basket. Regular watering is roughly 1cup of water each week in winter. Summer I water almost daily, as they’re so root bound that water just runs out the bottom as fast as it is applied. I’ve never encountered any pests on either of these plants.

SANSEVIERIAS – Snake Plant, Mother In Laws Tongue, Devils Tongue, Bowstring Hemp Plant. Agavaceae Family

These are usually the first plant that houseplant lovers grow. They are often neglected and seen everywhere including dark restaurants, homes, businesses and schools. Why? Because the only way to really kill one of these plants is to water it. Most novice houseplant growers make the mistake of thinking that the genus Sansevieria comes from some moist, warm, tropical rain forest and treat them as such, by watering and overwatering. The majority of the genus comes from South Africa and southern Asia, in areas that are full sun for 12 – 16 hours a day, and receive less than 10” of rain per year.

Sansevierias are easy to grow and with a little care can often be coaxed into sending up spikes of deliciously evening fragrant, white flowers. The smell is intoxicating, with a heady scent of Jasmine so strong as to be overwhelming. There is nothing so pleasant as to drift off to sleep, on a dark winter’s night, when its -10 outside and 3 feet of snow is on the ground, than a room filled with the scent of Jasmine.

The Sansevieria family has something for everyone and for every spot in the home or office. Ranging from straight upright plants that add a vertical aspect to a room, to plants that are best grown in hanging baskets, their stems spilling over the sides and cascading, akin to spider plant, to gargantuan specimens that grow 6’ tall with leaves up to 3’ wide! There are about 70 species grown with only a handful of species and their hybrids offered for sale. The most common is Sansevieria trifasciata, and its cultivar S. trifasciata var. laurentii, easily recognizable by its 3’ tall dark green leaves, margined in gold.

Place these plants outdoors in late May, when typically the last frost is done and the spring rains begin to occur on a regular basis. They will not need to be watered. The plants should NEVER sit in water for extended periods, as they will quickly succumb to rot. When given good drainage and allowed to fill a pot completely they should be worry free. In fact, repotting is usually indicated when the plants break the pot they’re in. When the plants are outside, fertilize ½ strength every week. In winter indoors, use water only, every other week. This will often reward the grower with blooms, off and on from November through April.

Pests and Diseases – Over watering leads to root rot. If the plant is suffering from rot, take a 3 -4 “ leave cutting, from any leaves that are disease and pest free, allow to dry for a day, dust the cut edge with rooting hormone and then place it in well draining cactus mix and allow to root. Water sparingly until fully established.  Hand wipe the leaves of plants before bringing them in for the winter.