Below is a micro-season outline for planning a garden for Maine’s climate. Each centered header breaks the climates down, and under each are sections with tasks with descriptions and tips in each section. Links to projects, articles and resources can be found below each section. This is a work in progress and will be updated as the seasons come and go like tides in Maine forever morphing seasonal landscape. As I’m beginning to write this in late winter, that is where I have decided to start.
As winter wears on seed catalogues begin to arrive in my mailbox taunting my deepening case of cabin fever to surface. I chuck all the brightly colored flower and fancy bulb catalogues; they do not excite me. My garden space is limited and I’m all about utility. I lived in an apartment with daylilies out front once and my neighbor pointed out how my plant budded but had not bloomed much. I laughed and told her it was because I’d eaten all the buds other than a few I’d left for the bees. They are lovely in a stirfry. She didn’t make conversation with me much after that and watched me closely as she watered her many bright mostly inedible flowers. I wondered if she suspected my eating them when deer browsed them later that summer.
To get the most of your order, you’ll need to first know how much you have space to grow.
- Growing space limits
- Full sun planting areas
- Available soil to plant in (more on this below)
- Yard size
- Starting seeds inside (counter space)
- Time requirements
- Weeding & Thinning
- Planting outside
- Starting indoors vs. buying plants
Required Space Estimates
Starting Seeds Indoors
Using Cold Frames
To find out your soil type and recommended soil amendments, you can take a soil sample and send it to the University’s soil lab. I took classes and worked briefly in the lab there. The soil is dried and measured for organic content. Once the organic content is removed the soil is then classified depending on the amount of sand, silt and clay in the sample. The lab will give a report of the soil type and recommend amendments depending on what you plan to use the soil for.
Maine’s official soil type is called Chesuncook and can be found in our characteristically acidic, relatively young forest soils with thin soil lying over granite bedrock. Much of our productive farmland in Maine is glacially sorted and deposited soils. Glaciers were covering Maine only 13,000 years ago. As these thick ice mats slowly slided back north and melted they eroded Maine’s mountains to rounded over, soft peaks, and deposited those soils in valleys and in snake-like ribbons along flat areas called eskers. These are well drained, mixed small grains and gravel often with large stones that need to be removed to make room for plants.
More recently water transported soils along floodplains near our largest rivers are both productive and generally free of larger rocks but will have heavier layers of grass that must be removed and tilled to use for as farmland.
Many areas that were once farmed have old pastureland grown into young forests and can be reclaimed with some work in removing trees. The good news is the stones have likely been removed, a key indicator is a nearby rock wall in an area with trees all of the same size. This is very common in Maine. Old wire can be found growing into trees that grew up over, around and through it as it was forgotten as time and technology moved on.
Our home is on the edge of a bog that has deep black muck under a layer peat moss. Alders line the edges, sparse tamaracks dot the vast open meadow of cattails planted firmly in the peat. Our miles-long view from the cabin of the sunny waving cattails is lovely, but we have many large mature pines and fir as the alders recede then maple, beech and poplar as the soil turns sandy and gravel laden. This mix is extreme, varying wildly across our 14 acres. A stream meanders through the meadow and woods on our property. The stream is lined with gravel beds, thick mossy banks, tall maples lean overhead and thick fir groves give shelter to partridge and wild turkey at night.
With a thin organic layer mostly made of coniferous needles, acidic muck, deposits of sand and gravel, larger cobbles in clumps underground wherever we dig and pockets of clay; it is near impossible to have a proper in-ground garden on our property. We would hate to disturb too many mature trees or impede upon our pristine view of the meadow. For some time I contemplated putting a deck out over the meadow to get sunlight and instal an extensive container garden out there. Instead, we have decided to drop a few choice trees that are leaning too close to our home anyhow and build a raised bed system with cold frames. This plan leaves all our mature maples up for tapping, reduces fall risk on our home by big pines, and make the issue of soils less complex.
Many considerations must be made in planning a garden for Maine’s climate and soil is high on the list. If your soil is lacking nitrogen, compost can be added. Each with it’s own pros and cons and some easier to come by than others. It’s best to use what you have on hand, is local or the cheapest.
- Horse and Cattle Manure
- Pig Pen Rotational Planting
- Poultry Manure
- Fish Poo
- Kitchen Compost