Master Gardener Volunteer Newsletter – Hancock County – March 2024

Table of Contents


Upcoming Dates to Remember!

March 16       Seed Swap – Ellsworth Public Library
March 21       The Problem with Peat – Webinar
March 23/24 Maine Maple Syrup Sunday (and Saturday for some)
March 27      Cooking for Crowds – workshop
April 1            MGV Advisory Meeting – Zoom



Happy March!

This month we continue introducing you to members of the Master Gardener Volunteer Advisory Committee (MGVAC). Below is the full list of Committee members.

Jane Ham, co-chair
John McClement, co-chair
Betsy Adams, co-co-chair
Patty Perrson, co-co-chair
Jody Blake
Jim Bradley
Pier Carros
Dorcas Corrow
Connie Curtin
Alison King
Greg Mekras
Kate O’Dell
Heidi Welch

We are always on the lookout for articles you’d like to see here, including anything you would
like to write. Contact us at

This month we feature one of this year’s new members, Lynne Altvater. Our other new member, Pier Carros, was profiled last October and can be found here:

Getting to Know Lynne Altvaterl altvater Master Gardener Vol

Hello, my name is Lynne Altvater, a Master Gardener Volunteer from the University of Maine Class of 2022-2023.  I have been an avid gardener for over 40 years specializing in orchids, perennials, and container gardening.  Upon moving to the seacoast in Gouldsboro, I realized perennial gardening here in zone 6 was far different from my zone 4 inland garden in New Hampshire, and that there was a lot more to learn.

I had always wanted to become a Master Gardener, and it was a thrill to be selected for the program given the number of applicants.  The on-line curriculum had its challenges, but I found it to be quite informative and enjoyable.   This program enabled me to connect with a network of highly knowledgeable and skilled MGV professionals to realize my dream.

Volunteer Internship found me at Incredible Edible Milbridge (IEM), which grows free, pick-your-own vegetable gardens and provides educational initiatives designed to create a community that is stronger, healthier, and more food-independent.  This program is sponsored by Women for Healthy Rural Living and was added last year to the list of approved MGV projects thanks to the help of Zabet NeuCollins, formally on the UMaine MGV Advisory Committee.  Working under the wing of Becca Galat, formerly the lead gardener for Rockefeller Gardens, and alongside Lavon Bartel, long-time MGV and former dean and director of UMaine Cooperative Extension.

I assisted with the planting and nurturing of vegetables and companion annuals for the wet 2023 growing season.   Knowing truly little about vegetable gardening I found the assignment quite enlightening and rewarding; IEM will be my forever home for MGV volunteer hours. I encourage anyone to join us in this worthwhile volunteer initiative on Wednesday mornings throughout the growing season.  (Although this is in Washington County it is only a 30-minute drive from downtown Ellsworth!)

When I am not in the garden, I can be found in my beautiful 200 sq ft greenhouse built for me by my husband, Mark.  (By the way, this moveLynne Greenhouse 2 was contingent upon the new greenhouse.) There I am tending to plants admitted to “intensive care”, starting seedlings, over-wintering tropical plants, and sheltering my potted containers from cold, rainy springs.

I look forward to my 3-year tenure with UMaine’s MGV Advisory Committee for Hancock/Washington County and being of service to the MGV community.  You can contact me anytime at, or you can find me volunteering at IEM!   (Photos Courtesy of Lynne Altvater)

(Additionally, for anyone wishing to volunteer at the Incredible Edible Milbridge Gardens, the project is listed under WA County and officially listed as Milbridge Wellness Commons.)

Jumping Worms and Plant Sales

by Kate O’Dell, MGV

Jumping Worm Photo
Educational photo courtesy of US National Park Service

We’re approaching Maine’s spring, that brief and wonderful time when gardeners reemerge refreshed from their winter hibernation to start the fun of buying and trading plants. But this year, we’re faced with heightened concern about the ease with which our plant exchanges can spread harmful pathogens and invasive species, including several similar species commonly referred to as Asian jumping worms (Amynthas agrestis, A. tokioensis, and Metophire hilgendorfi). This article briefly reviews why jumping worms are a threat to Maine ecosystems and how to identify them, and then summarizes best practices for plant sale organizers, donors, and customers as we seek to minimize the damage jumping worms can cause.

New England lost its native earthworms to soil removal by glaciation, but earthworms from other continents have been re-introduced and proliferated, often improving the agricultural soil they inhabit. The USDA Forest Service (2022) describes jumping worms as a unique problem because, rather than just aerating and fertilizing garden soil, they feed voraciously on organic matter, changing the chemistry and microbiology of the soil they inhabit, while growing and reproducing more rapidly than other earthworms. Their egg cocoons are easily spread to uninfested soil on plants and tools, in compost and contaminated soil amendments, on raked and blown leaves, and the shoes of hikers and the feet of their dogs.  In Maine’s forests, jumping worms can decimate the leaf litter (duff) on the forest floor. This loss can threaten the forest ecosystem that normally thrives because of that layer, including our wildflowers, fungi, shade-dwelling natives, tree seedlings, invertebrates, birds, and mammals. Meanwhile, in Maine’s horticultural settings, these newer invasive worms’ voracious dining on organic matter results in the loss of soil structure, soil infertility, and direct root damage, which then increases erosion and inhibits crop growth.

The Minnesota Cooperative Extension reports many reasons why it is difficult to eradicate jumping worms in northern gardens. First, there are currently no recommended, safe, effective pesticides for that purpose. In addition, ‘solarization’, an eradication method used effectively in southern states—plastic sheeting is used to cover the soil, while solar energy heats it to the necessary depth at 105-130 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 72 hours—often has mixed results in cooler, variable climates where providing sufficient depth of prolonged soil heating can be unreliable. Removing adult worms from the top 4 inches of soil during the summer has been shown to help limit population growth, but doesn’t reliably eradicate an infestation. Similarly digging plants and washing roots to remove infested soil can be cumbersome, and unreliable for cocoon removal, and results in the need to safely sterilize or dispose of contaminated wash water and the removed soil. While home composting typically doesn’t generate enough heat to kill egg cocoons, commercial composting should be monitored to reach necessary temperatures (Maine Department of Environmental Protection rules for composting facilities require 110 to 160 degrees F for at least 21 days). But commercial composters then face challenges in assuring that the subsequent cooling and holding piles of finished compost are not re-contaminated. For example, to decrease the risk of contact with jumping worms or their cocoons, resting piles either need to be immediately bagged, elevated above ground level, or placed on barrier edged concrete or plastic sheeting to keep worms from crawling in, and egg cocoons from reaching the compost via soil on workers’ boots or blowing leaves.  The Composting Association of Vermont offers best practice guidelines for commercial composters, as well as recommendations for compost customers, which include the recommendation to sufficiently re-heat even compost purchased in plastic bags prior to use.

Identifying jumping worm infestations

It’s important to know how to identify jumping worms if you are trying to prevent their spread.  There are many helpful identification guides available on-line, offering photos of cocoons and adults (see UMaine Extension, 2022). Jumping worm cocoons are mustard seed size, soil colored and very difficult to identify by gardeners. An adult worm’s life-cycle is one Maine growing season, from its spring hatch, when soil temperatures reach 50 degrees consistently, to its die off when the ground freezes in autumn. Juvenile worms are difficult to differentiate from other worms. However, adult jumping worms are more distinctive: they only inhabit the top 2 to 4 inches of soil, so they are easily seen by mid-summer, as they rapidly reach up to 8 inches in length. Because they can reproduce asexually, one worm can quickly start a whole population. Other features used to distinguish them from our common European earthworms, like night crawlers, include jumping worms’ deeper gray to brown coloring, often with a darker head and larger, more pronounced mouth. Their clitellum, the band that encircles an earthworm’s body, is closer to the head, complete (meets on its underbelly to form a complete ring), and flush with the rest of its body surface.  In warm weather, jumping worms are notoriously hyper-wiggly, moving in an S-curve or snake-like pattern. Infested soil is remarkable in that it is devoid of moisture and nutrients, and shows uniform granulation, often described as coarse coffee grounds.

Recommendations regarding plant sales and exchanges

With all this potential for cross-contamination and resulting damage, concerned gardeners should follow best practice recommendations as they try to manage and slow the spread of jumping worms. Current recommendations developed by reliable sources such as the University of Minnesota Cooperative Extension, Native Plant Trust, and Cornell University include:

At all stages of plant preparations and sale:

  • Clean tools with rubbing alcohol (isopropyl), and use separate tools for any areas you suspect could be infested.

Gardeners planning to donate plants:

  • Routinely check garden soils for jumping worms, including lifting duff or compost, and stirring the top 4 inches of soil regularly in the summer growing season when worms are large enough to be easily identified. The UMinn Cooperative Extension suggests effectiveness of this search can be increased by a “mustard pour” (mix 1/3 cup dry mustard seed powder with 1 gallon of water, which appears to irritate adult worms enough to bring them to the surface).
  • Before you bring in compost or other amendments from off-site, check that the provider has a jumping worm management plan. Then try to sufficiently solarize both bagged and bulk compost. For bulk, wrap completely in clear plastic sheeting in the sun, seal seams, and try to monitor for sufficient heat duration.
  • Do not donate plants if you have observed jumping worms in your gardens.
  • If your gardens have no evidence of infestation, after digging plants, remove all soil from divisions, paying special attention to the roots and near the soil line, inspecting for worms or root damage. Wash plant roots, and then protect cleansed roots in a moist newspaper or plastic for transport.

Plant sale organizers:

  • Make sure all potential donors or vendors are educated about jumping worm identification, and believe their property to be free of these species.
  • Collect and sell bare root plants whenever possible.
  • If donated plants have to be washed at the site of the sale, remove and carefully contain any loose soil. Completely submerge the bare plant roots in water and wash away the remaining soil. Actively look for worms. Once roots appear clean, protect roots for sale. All removed soil and wash water needs to be sufficiently heated, contained, or filtered for disposal.
  • If plants must be sold in soil, use new pots, or sterilize cleaned pots for re-use (e.g. via alcohol dunk), and procure pathogen-free potting soil from a reputable dealer with safe heating and storage methods, preferably bagged in plastic, despite the other negative environmental impacts of this practice.
  • Keep any potted plants ready for sale elevated above ground level at all times or on trays sufficient to prevent the pick-up of contaminated materials like soil, wandering worms, leaves, or mulch.
  • Make sure workers clean their shoes before and after cleaning plants.
  • Don’t allow dogs at sale sites.

Plant sale customers:

  • Buy bare-rooted plants if possible. Check roots, remove and contain visible soil, and soak roots in a bucket of water to clean soil from plant roots.  Dispose of that soil waste in a plastic bag, and boil wash water prior to disposal.
  • To decrease the risk of worm damage of new plantings, avoid transplanting in the summer when adult worm activity is peaking.
  • Jumping worms have definitely heightened our awareness of the need to purchase and share plants responsibly, but these efforts are important and worthwhile, as they are likely to assure that we aren’t spreading other pathogens and weeds too.

You may want to read more at these and other great resources

Cornell Cooperative Extension, Invasive Asian Jumping Worms, 2021.
Composting Association of Vermont, Jumping worms,, 2024
Maine Dept of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry, Jumping worms, 2024
Native Plant Trust, Staying ahead of invasive worms,, 2023
University of Minnesota Cooperative Extension, Jumping Worms: Plant sale recommendations to reduce jumping worm spread,
UMaine Cooperative Extension Publication #2518, Best practices for plant sale donors and buyers in Maine. 2021
Smithsonian Magazine Special Reports, Highly invasive jumping worms have spread to 15 states, April 22, 2021,
USDA, National Invasive Species Information Center,  2024
USDA Forest Service, Farmer, S. Invasive jumping worms can change their world. 2022 (

Educational photo courtesy of US National Park Service.


MGV’s & Project Leaders – We have a selection of 2023 seeds available for the growing season. Stop into the office and look through what we have on hand.

We are thankful to Salsbury Organic Garden Supply for donating seeds again this year 


March 16, 2024, 10:00 am – 1:00 pmSeed Swap

Bring your extra seed packets to exchange for new and exciting varieties! Volunteers from the Ellsworth Garden Club and the University of Maine Cooperative Extension will be present to help answer questions.  Thank you MGV’s Jane Ham, Mary Jude, and Susan Samuels for representing MGV’s of Hancock County!  SEED SWAP!


Cooking for Crowds – Food Safety Training for Volunteers

March 27 @ 9:30 am – 12:30 pm

Many organizations and community groups rely on volunteers like you for a variety of food events for fundraising, fellowship, food pantries, or other services to the community. But cooking for a crowd is tricky! How do you store all that food? When is the food completely cooked? How long can you leave food on the buffet table? Now there is a workshop on safe food handling designed specifically for volunteers.

Learn up-to-date methods for safely preparing, handling, and serving food for large group functions such as soup kitchens, church functions, food pantries, and community fundraisers.

Workshops cover the following food safety guidelines:

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

An additional Cooking for Crowds workshop will be offered on April 17th as well
FMI: 207.667.8212


SAVE THE DATE –   Saturday, May 11th  9-11 am

The Sharpest Tool in the Shed, a Workshop to Learn and Understand Tool Maintenance.

Offered by Native Gardens of Blue Hill/co-sponsored by UMaine Cooperative Extension
Registration details available soon.

The Problem with Peat   – Webinar

Thursday, March 21, 2024 5:00 PM

Did you know that peat bogs are the world’s largest natural carbon source as they store 30% of land-based carbon? One study estimated that peat bogs store three times as much carbon each year as a growing forest. Did you know that using peat in gardening is a non-sustainable practice and, in fact, using peat moss for horticulture has the same effects as burning fossil fuels?

In this presentation, Master Gardener Volunteer, Tom Witwicki, will discuss this valuable resource, the negative impacts of harvesting peat and alternatives to using peat in the garden.


For a listing of many of Extension’s workshop/webinar offerings, VISIT HERE!

We are always on the lookout for articles you’d like to see here, or topics you would like to write about. Contact us at or contact the Chair of the newsletter subcommittee at

This newsletter gets sent to more than 150 people every month. Do you know an MGV who doesn’t receive the newsletter and would like to? Let us know!

Thank you from
Betsy Adams, Mary Doherty, Nicole Gurreri, Jane Ham, Mary Hartley, and Jan Migneault.