May 21, 2018
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Tips to help start the gardening season right

By Reeser Manley

Weather permitting, peas will be sown in Marjorie’s garden this weekend. The soil temperature at pea depth in the bed where they will grow peaked at 50 degrees during the day on Easter, the bare minimum for sowing peas, but it has been a warm week. It is time.

It is time because I can’t wait any longer to put something in the ground. Sunday morning, while the coffee is brewing, I’ll empty the pack of dry wrinkled Sugar Ann seeds into a bowl of water to imbibe and swell. After church I will prepare the bed, dig in a little compost and rake it smooth, then plant the plump seeds in holes made by two fingers, index and middle, “walking” down each row.

After covering the seeds, watering them in, and laying down a thin mulch of straw, I’ll search the woods for twiggy birch and cherry branches, the best kind of pea stakes, ending the gardening day by pushing them into the soil on either side of each row, interlacing the twigs to form a lattice for tendrils.

In this manner, the garden season officially starts.

Meanwhile, in the new Eastport Schoolyard Garden, my students are growing broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce and Swiss chard transplants under lights in the classroom, preparing to plant them in new raised beds just before spring break. It is time for these cool-season crops, as well.

It is not time for tomatoes. Nor for peppers, cucumbers or squash. These are summer crops, requiring air and soil temperatures much higher than Mainers are likely to see for several weeks.

Kirby Ellis, owner of Ellis’ Greenhouse in Hudson, tells me that she had folks stopping by this past week looking for tomato, pepper and cucumber plants. If Kirby is on the same production schedule as my students, she won’t even sow the seeds to produce transplants of these veggies for another week or so, aiming to have sturdy transplants garden-ready by Memorial Day, the end of May.

You can grow your own seedlings, of course, transplant them to the garden two weeks ahead of everyone else, gamble on warmer-than-normal temperatures in early May, pull out all the tricks to protect the plants from injury when nighttime temperatures dip into the 40s, or colder — way too cold for chilling-sensitive tomatoes. What have you got to lose?

Tomato blight concerns

No gardener who tried to grow tomatoes and potatoes last year has forgotten the devastating late blight disease. Gardeners and farmers across the eastern U.S. lost their entire crops to the late blight fungus. In the Northeast, including Maine, infected plants were widely distributed by large retail outlets. This distribution, coupled with cool, wet growing conditions, created the perfect storm, a disastrous year for tomatoes and potatoes.

The good news for tomato growers is that the late blight disease is not seed-borne (it is, however, tuber-borne in potatoes). Thus, tomato plants started from seed in local nurseries or at home should be disease-free. If ever there was an argument for buying plants from local greenhouses and nurseries, this is it.

The late blight fungus does not survive the winter, so gardeners do not need to worry about transmission of the blight from tomato fruits or seeds left in the garden over the winter or from tomato cages or stakes.

Greenhouse, nursery day

Greenhouses, nurseries and garden centers throughout Maine will celebrate the first Maine Greenhouse and Nursery Day on Saturday, May 1. Thirty family-owned businesses around the state will hold special events to highlight the joys (and challenges) of gardening in Maine.

Planned activities among the 30 participating businesses include giveaways, door prizes, raffles, plants and balloons for kids, container planting demonstrations, landscape design advice, personal tours and a free planting calendar for Maine. Find your local participating greenhouse or nursery at and get the details.

Send queries to Gardening Questions, P.O. Box 418, Ellsworth 04605, or to Include name, address and telephone number.

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