The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram » Source Thu, 01 Sep 2016 02:00:46 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Farm leftovers to be used to feed 5,000 in Portland Tue, 30 Aug 2016 21:00:00 +0000 On Oct. 7, a coalition of groups concerned about hunger will feed stew made from left-behind produce to thousands in Portland.

At harvest time, farmers and food lovers celebrate the season’s bounty coming out of the fields. But often, too much of that bounty is left behind in the field, wasting food that could feed the hungry.

Now a large coalition of Maine groups concerned about hunger is bringing attention to the issue by organizing volunteers in southern Maine to glean produce from local farms. Their efforts are intended to ensure that fresh produce can get into the bellies of the people who need it instead of rotting in the field.

Produce is often left in farmers’ fields because mechanical harvesters cannot pick up all fruits and vegetables; also, pick-your-own farms may have leftover fruits because customers don’t pick trees and bushes thoroughly.

On Oct. 7, the coalition of groups plans to serve thousands of bowls of free hearty stew to the general public in an event called Feeding the 5,000. Some 2,500 bowls will be dished up in Monument Square in Portland, with the remainder going to schools, local companies and hunger prevention programs that serve people who rely on donated food for their meals.

The event, the first of its kind in Maine, is part of a global campaign spearheaded by Feedback, an organization based in London that has held similar events in more than 40 cities around the world.

In the last year, the issue of food waste has received much attention both nationally and internationally. In the United States, U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, has proposed a bill intended to eliminate food waste in part by changing sell-by labeling laws.

“We’re the smallest city to do this by far, so getting 5,000 people to eat our food is going to be a lot more challenging,” said Sarah Lakeman, the Sustainable Maine project director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

The event is intended both to educate the public about food waste and to create an organizational structure for future gleaning efforts. The meal won’t use any food destined for local food pantries and soup kitchens.

Local organizers of the project include the Cumberland County Food Security Council, Healthy Acadia, the Natural Resources Council of Maine and Garbage to Garden, which has been recruiting volunteers for a Food Recovery Crew that is part of the Maine Gleaning Network. Other participants include the Portland Food Co-op, University of Maine Cooperative Extension, the city of Portland and Maine Farmland Trust.

In addition to feeding people in Monument Square, Lakeman has been speaking with schools and companies such as L.L. Bean, Unum and Idexx about taking a pot of stew to serve their students and employees. Any leftover stew will go to Preble Street Resource Center in Portland, which feeds the hungry.

Jordan’s Farm in Cape Elizabeth is among the local farms that has agreed to let volunteer gleaners pick their fields. Most farmers simply turn unharvested produce (which, if imperfect, supermarkets frequently reject) back into the soil, “but I think their preference as well as ours is that it get eaten,” said Jim Hanna, executive director of the Cumberland County Food Security Council.

“There is no coordinated gleaning effort in southern Maine at this time,” Hanna said. “Right now most efforts are through the Cooperative Extension, and they don’t have the volunteers they can mobilize at the spur of the moment.”

After the produce is gathered and two days before Feeding the 5,000, more volunteers will peel and chop produce for the stew at a “disco chop party” at the new Fork Food Lab in West Bayside. There, speakers and guest chefs will talk about the issue of food waste and do cooking demonstrations.

Among those who have signed up to help are David Levi of Vinland and Andrew Taylor and Mike Wiley of Hugo’s, Eventide Oyster Co. and The Honeypaw. Others! coffee shop in Monument Square has offered to make a sorbet out of melons or other fruit that would have otherwise gone to waste.

To learn more about the event, or to volunteer, keep an eye on the Feedback website,

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Mussel population loses strength in Gulf of Maine Sun, 28 Aug 2016 23:35:31 +0000 New England is running out of mussels.

The Gulf of Maine’s once strong population of wild blue mussels is disappearing, scientists say. A study led by marine ecologists at the University of California at Irvine found the numbers along the gulf coastline have declined by more than 60 percent over the last 40 years.

Once covering as much as two-thirds of the gulf’s intertidal zone, mussels now cover less than 15 percent.

“It would be like losing a forest,” said biologist Cascade Sorte, who with her colleagues at the university conducted the study and recently published their findings in the Global Change Biology journal.

The Gulf of Maine stretches from Cape Cod to Canada and is a key marine environment and important to commercial fishing. Blue mussels are used in seafood dishes and worth millions to the economy of some New England states, but are also important in moving bacteria and toxins out of the water.

“It’s so disheartening to see (the loss) in our marine habitats. We’re losing the habitats they create,” Sorte said.

Disheartening, and also sometimes a smelly nuisance. Thousands of dead mussels washed up last week on the shores of Long Island, New York, and a Stony Brook University professor said the die-off could be attributable to warm water temperature.

The Sorte study focused on 20 sites along the gulf, using historical data to compare today’s mussel populations to those of the past. She said the decline of mussels isn’t from just one factor – warming ocean water, increases in human harvesting and the introduction of new predatory invasive species all appear to play a role.

The marine environment will suffer, she said, if they continue to decline, and it’s possible they could become extinct in some areas.

Scott Morello, a researcher who has studied mussels with The Downeast Institute for Applied Marine Research & Education in Maine, said Sorte’s work reflects observations that people who work on the water have made in recent years.

“It’s not just scientists,” he said. “I can tell you that most residents I’ve talked to, most fishermen I’ve talked to, will point out the same dramatic decrease in mussels.”

The nationwide value of wild blue mussels has reached new heights in recent years, peaking at more than $13 million at the dock in 2013 – more than twice the 2007 total.

They were worth more than $10 million in 2014, when fishermen brought nearly 4 million pounds of them ashore.

Maine and Massachusetts are by far the biggest states for wild mussel harvesting, and many are also harvested in Washington state. They are also farmed in aquaculture operations. The vast majority of the mussels that people eat are farmed, and most that are available to U.S. consumers are imported from other countries, such as Canada.

Mussel farming is dependent on wild mussels, which produce the larvae needed for the farmed shellfish to grow.

Andrew Pershing, chief scientific officer of the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, said the loss of wild mussels is troubling for aquaculture because if wild populations decline further, it could constrain the growth of the industry.

Pershing also said Sorte’s study shows there is a need to get better data about the abundance of mussels and how they are affected by warming waters and commercial harvesting.

“If we had a record of how mussels changed from year to year, it would be possible to see whether declines were more pronounced during particularly warm years or are related to some other event or process,” he said.

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Grow: Rose of Sharon goes from ungainly to gorgeous Sun, 28 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Rose of Sharon is an odd sort of plant that can be tricky to grow. Why bother then? Because for a few weeks each year it can be absolutely stunning.

The botanical name for this woody plant – either a small tree or a large shrub, depending on how you prune it – is Hibiscus syriaca. Not to be confused with the hibiscus perennial (common name mallow), or the tropical hibiscus, which is gorgeous in its own right.

Most of the year, rose of Sharon looks twiggy and ungainly. It may die back in extreme winters and heavy snows can bend or even break it.

But in mid- to late August, the hibiscus produces a profusion of large blossoms that brighten up an otherwise dull time in the garden. The most common color for rose of Sharon is in the lavender range, but they come in many other colors, including white, peach, pink, near red and almost blue. For that brief and glorious spurt of color, they are worth all of the problems.

You can plant them from now until October. They want full sun to light shade and well-drained soil.

Pick a location with lots of space because Hibiscus syriaca can be quite wide and you don’t want to lose your blooms by pruning to keep the shrub small.

Dig a hole as deep as the root ball is tall and at least twice as wide. Add a little compost if the soil is poor, but don’t fertilize.

Water heavily when planting and at least every other day until the ground freezes. And get ready for a vibrant show in August when most other trees and shrubs are green or brown.

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Abbie Sewall cultivates a passion for elderberry on her Freeport farm Sun, 28 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Mainers who love history or photography or both may already know who Abbie Sewall is. The fine arts photographer is the author of “Message Through Time: The Photographs of Emma D. Sewall 1836-1919,” a book of and about her great-great-grandmother’s work, and “The Voice of Maine,” a book of photographs and essays on Maine characters co-authored with Bill Pohl.

But after she retired from a job teaching photography at North Yarmouth Academy, she jumped into a new career in agriculture, starting Bailey Farm, a certified organic elderberry and Aronia farm in Freeport. We called her up to talk colds, antioxidants and reinvention.

HARVEST MOON: We caught Sewall just as her harvest was kicking into high gear. “Last night I harvested about 13 pounds.” And she’s just getting started. “It’s typically mid-August through all of September,” she said. And onward. “By October I am usually tearing my hair out.” Her 285 elderberry bushes are indeterminate, which means they continuously bloom and produce fruit.

SEXY BERRIES: At this point in the conversation, we profess our utter ignorance of the topic at hand, which Sewall assures us is perfectly normal. “You are not alone! There are so many people in American who don’t know what elderberries are and what they do.” We’re all used to what Sewall calls the “sexy berries,” i.e. blueberries, raspberries and strawberries.

While consumers have largely learned that blueberries in particular are filled with antioxidants, those natural chemicals that benefit health, elderberries, which Sewall said pack an even higher antioxidant punch, don’t get the publicity they deserve. That’s partly because they aren’t nearly as easy to consume. “You have to work to get them into your body.” Like baking them into muffins or making a sauce, syrup or tincture. Elderberries are tiny, about the size of a wild blueberry, and are filled with crunchy seeds. Raw “they don’t taste all that great,” but toss them into a peach pie or any sort of muffin and it’s a different story.

ROYAL BERRIES: The same is true of Aronia, which Sewall grows in smaller numbers but says is easier to cultivate. “The berries are bigger and you can pull a clump of them off.” Their skin is leathery and – bonus – the birds don’t like them. But when she makes a shrub out of Aronia, it tastes to her just like elderberry. There’s no commercial market for it (yet). She tends to keep quiet about the Aronia she grows. “It’s a challenge because there is so much of a learning curve about elderberry. If I also add in Aronia it is just too much information.” In her book though, they’re both royalty. “I call Aronia the king of antioxidants and elderberry is the queen.”

GETTING HERE FROM THERE: How did Sewall get into growing obscure berries? About 15 years ago, when she was teaching at North Yarmouth Academy and exposing herself to every winter cold and flu her students had, she started trying various holistic methods to boost her immune system, starting with mushroom compounds made into pill form. Even with sniffling students in the closed space of the darkroom, she suddenly felt protected. “I thought I had armor around my body,” she said, laughing.

Her husband traveled for work, but she started sending him off with tinctures. (Turmeric is a favorite, along with elderberry.) Their daughter, who struggled with sinus infections, stopped getting them. Everyone in the family felt better.

SPREADING THE WORD: “The idea of living an intentional life as opposed to just reacting to life hit home for me at age 48,” she said. “I realized that I was about to turn 50 and didn’t have a clue about how to live.”

Sewall’s interest continuted to grow as she took a year-long health coaching and nutrition course at the Institute of Integrative Nutrition. And so did her desire to share what she was learning. “At a certain point in your life you have to decide how you are going to live your values.”

Her perspective became, let’s take back our health. “Let’s only go to the doctor if we have a broken arm or cancer.” She was, she said, either going to become a health coach or be a farmer. “They are all under the same umbrella.”

FINDING THE FARM: She got serious about becoming a farmer around 2007, when she and her husband found a three-acre, south-facing field in Freeport. “I couldn’t believe that such a thing would exist that wasn’t part of a development.” She only uses about a quarter of an acre for the berries. “You don’t need a lot of land to grow your food and your medicine.” She’s got a grape arbor too, partly because she wanted grapes, but partly as a sacrificial plant for the Japanese beetles to feast on.

GROWING BUSINESS: Her first harvest, four years ago, was a lone pound. “The second year was 400 pounds, and the third year 703 pounds. This year I am estimating between 800 and 1,000.” Although she makes tinctures for herself and her family, she has yet to make a value-added product to sell. “If I were in my 20s or 30s, I would probably be making a shrub.” But as is, she said, “it’s all I can do to farm. I am a single-person farm here!”

Her elderberries go to a few private buyers, including beer makers and Urban Farm Fermentory, where elderberries are used for kombucha, but you won’t find Sewall selling berries at farmers markets. “Occasionally I get a customer who comes in and wants to buy a small quantity to make a shrub or a tincture and I’ll weigh them out.”

WHAT NEXT? “I realized at age 64 that I am a project person,” Sewall said. “I get fired up by taking on a challenge.” She’s got at least one book idea, related to elderberries, and in the future she plans to get back to her first art, photography, which has evolved so much in her lifetime.

“I’m so old that I started in black and white film and spent half my life in a darkroom.” She loved the magic of the darkroom, but she’s happily adapted to digital photography, particularly in the ways in which it is more sustainable. “I am thrilled that we no longer have to use chemicals and water.”

MISSION STATEMENT: Sewall’s mission is this: “The most important political act I can make is to grow my own food and plants for medicine and try not to be preachy but to share my experience of taking back my health.” And like another Maine lady with a penchant for planting – albeit lupines – she thinks in terms of a gift to the world. “Like Miss Rumphius,” she said. “I think, what is my last gift to the world? If I had to put my life into one word, it is healing.”

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Savor corn three ways – on cob, in soup and in water-saving Sun, 28 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Editor’s Note: Christine Burns Rudalevige will return with next week’s Green Plate Special.

One blueberry muffin or panzanella or quiche recipe is pretty much like another. But occasionally, you stumble on a recipe so clever, it rises above the cacophony that constitutes today’s frenzied food world. The website Food52 has a term for those: genius recipes.

Earlier this summer, I was thumbing through “Mr. Todiwala’s Spice Box: 120 Recipes from Just Ten Spices,” a new Indian-Western fusion cookbook that arrived in the mail, when my eye was caught by his recipe for Spiced Corn on the Cob. It wasn’t merely the surprising idea to cook the cobs in a spiced milky broth – though that in itself struck me as unusual and smart. It was writer Cyrus Todiwala’s further suggestion that home cooks then use the spiced (and now corn-inflected) broth to make soup.

Genius! A friend of mine more modestly praises such thinking as Depression Era cooking, the waste-not-want-not mentality. Or you could label it The New Sustainable Cooking.

I set Todiwala’s recipe aside and waited patiently for corn to arrive at the farmers market. Now it has, so last week I got to work in the kitchen. Not much work, truthfully, as both parts of this recipe are fast and easy.

I served some of the spiced, broiled corn on the cob to an unexpected lunch guest. I shaved the kernels off the two remaining cobs to add back to the soup, which I enjoyed for lunch all week.

The original version purees the soup and garnishes it with croutons. I took Todiwala’s concept but adapted his recipe, turning my version into a sort of Indian-spiced corn chowder, using the corn kernels I’d held back, green beans, carrots and potatoes.

Both the spiced corn and the soup were fragrant and tasty.

The corn-on-the-cob cooking water did not go down the drain as usual at a time when southern Maine is experiencing a drought, and I am feeling especially conscious of water waste. The cook – me, this is – felt both well-fed and virtuous.

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More uses found for Mason jars Sun, 28 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Throw a stick just about anywhere these days, and you’re liable to hit a Mason jar.

Hipsters drink from them. Restaurants set tables with them. And, of course, gardeners use them to preserve the season’s harvest. Amanda Walton turns them into wall-hanging vases.

Walton, who lives in Standish, gathers wooden pallets tossed away by businesses and uses the wood to create a mount or shelf for the jars. She strips the wood, paints it with non-toxic paint and distresses it in her home woodworking shop near Sebago Lake. Then she adds the glass mason jars.

1030001_292109 Mason2.jpgSome of the jars are clear glass, others are painted with chalk paint in colors such as ocean blue, coral peach, white and yellow. (The painted jars are not dishwasher safe.)

Walton said the people who buy her jars use them for flower bouquets, as planters for herbs and other plants, as toothbrush holders and art organizers.

She also makes beautiful shelves that can be used to display the mason jars, hold wine bottles or bottles of olive oil.

Walton’s business is called Revamped and Revived. She sells the hanging jars and her other handmade products only through her shop.

The jars vary in price, starting at $18 and going up to $48 for a set of three.

Walton will exhibit a range of her work in October at a contemporary folk art show at the WREN Gallery in Bethlehem, New Hampshire. WREN stands for Women’s Rural Entrepreneurial Network.

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Fedco bulbs grown locally benefit Maine farmers and buyers Sun, 28 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 When I peruse the various Fedco catalogs – for seeds, trees and bulbs – one of the first things I look for is the number of producers from Maine. It is part of my slow-but-steady shift toward buying local.

I’m making that shift both to help the state’s farmers and also because I know that if Maine seeds and bulbs are available for sale, obviously those plants have already flourished in Maine, at least once.

My expectations vary by product. In the Moose Tubers section of the catalog – devoted to potatoes – I expect almost all the offerings to be from Maine. But for such exotic plants as peonies and daffodils, I am surprised that there are any Maine producers at all.

Typically, when you buy tulip and daffodil bulbs, they are coming from a long way away – often the Netherlands. In Washington state, Skagit Valley has a growing industry producing flower bulbs. (Several years ago, my wife Nancy and I attended the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, where we saw acres of muddy fields – it was raining hard – filled with gorgeous blossoms.) A lot of seed production comes from the Midwest, too, and from major agriculture states like Florida and California, where the warm weather helps.

The Clinton-based Fedco Bulbs catalog – with a fast-approaching deadline for ordering this coming Friday – features a surprising number of Maine growers.

“We like buying from as many Maine growers as we can,” said Kip Penney, Fedco’s bulb division coordinator. The seed cooperative operates out of Clinton. “We are always trying to increase the farming population in Maine.”

Growing seeds for catalog producers is a small but significant source of income for some Maine farmers. The number of Maine growers in Fedco’s catalog varies from year to year, Penney said. “That’s the nature of the small-volume grower in Maine,” he said. “For many, they like it for a while, and then they don’t. And then they discover that they can’t do it for a reasonable price.”

For Allen Reynolds of Green Garden Farm in St. Albans, located about 40 miles west of Bangor, selling wholesale to Fedco works out well – mostly because trucking one big order to a single customer is convenient for him. He has sold a variety of bulbs to the seed catalog since 2009, when he attended a program on the subject at the Common Ground Fair.

“That’s where I met Kip (Penney), and he just happened to have 60 pounds of German Extra-Hardy garlic seed,” Reynolds recalls. “It was already late in the season, so I bought it, and that’s where it started from.”

With more than two tons sold a year, garlic is the biggest seller in the Fedco bulbs catalog, although this year’s drought may limit production, Penney said. Garlic sales have been growing steadily, up from about 1,500 pounds a decade ago.

The beauty of garlic is that it is fairly easy to grow. Reynolds plants his in late October or early November and harvests it in late July. He sells most of what he grows to Fedco, and attributes about 90 percent of Green Garden Farm’s income to garlic.

In the remaining 10 percent is a more unusual bulb, colchicum, also called fall crocus. Reynolds got a head start in colchicum production by buying all the stock from a colchicum grower who was going out of business.

“It comes up in spring with a beautiful bright green foliage, very vivid,” Reynolds said. “In mid-summer the leaves die back so you can’t even see them, but in the fall all these flowers burst out of the ground and put on a huge show.”

It takes about seven years for colchicum bulbs to grow enough to be divided for sale. While home growers won’t have to dig and divide them that often, Reynolds divides the ones he plans to sell every two or three years so they won’t get crowded.

Green Garden Farm also grows an acre of peonies that it sells to consumers as cut flowers, and it has a few varieties that it sells to Fedco as root stock; Fedco, in turn, sells the root stock to consumers to plant in the fall.

Reynolds has recently started selling a variety of double daffodil that does well in Maine to Fedco.

The bulbs do not have to be inspected or certified before they can be sold to Fedco, Reynolds said. But the fact that Green Garden Farm is certified organic does help sales, he said.

Although he makes money from the farm, Reynolds said he earns significant off-farm income working as a landscaper with a specialty in stonework, mostly in Connecticut.

“Growing bulbs is my retirement income,” he said. “I’ll probably be going out in my wheelchair and pulling garlic.”

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at 767-2297 or at:

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A fig tree grows in Maine Sun, 28 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 SCARBOROUGH — Ten years ago, Don Endrizzi planted a fig tree outside his home, which sits a long stone’s throw from Maine’s largest salt marsh. Beach plum, cord grass, quack grass, foxtail barley, chaffy sedge, glasswort, poison ivy and cattails – also mosquitoes – call the marsh home. Fig trees do not.

Home is the Mediterranean, where the fruits of the fig grow large and plump and voluptuous. Scarborough, it hardly needs saying, is a long way from the Mediterranean. Figs are thought to have arrived in America with Spanish missionaries in the 18th century. Thomas Jefferson brought cuttings of the Marseilles fig to Monticello.

Over the centuries, fig trees happily took to hot places with sluggish, lingering summers. Places like Texas and South Carolina. Scarborough is not especially hot and the summers march along briskly. Tragically so.

None of this entered Endrizzi’s gardening calculations when he got a fig cutting from his then-85-year-old father a decade ago.

Endrizzi, 59, is a first-generation Italian-American who grew up in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Like many Italian and Greek immigrants who settled in Brooklyn and Queens, his maternal grandfather planted fig trees, tenderly swaddling them in burlap and protective buckets each winter because New York City, like Scarborough, is many miles north of the tree’s natural habitat.

Just five houses away, his paternal grandfather did the same. Years later, his father inherited one of the houses – and with it, the fig trees.

Endrizzi had fond recollections of his 1960s fig-filled Brooklyn boyhood, and they fueled his – some might say quixotic – attempts to grow his own tree in Maine.

“We looked forward to the figs every year. Once the figs were ripe, we were so excited about it,” he said. “There was nothing like going down to the garden and walking to the tree and finding some ripe figs and just picking them and eating them. And that’s what we did.”

Endrizzi and his wife, Peggy Pennoyer, already grew more typical Maine produce in their Scarborough garden. They had a raspberry patch, an asparagus bed and high- and lowbush blueberries. But although Endrizzi can comfortably toss off and competently define terms like “apical meristem,” for him the quest to grow figs wasn’t really about gardening. It was about family.

“My father had a tree and his father had a tree, and I just wanted to keep that tradition going,” said Endrizzi, himself a father of three.


Endrizzi’s paternal grandfather came to America from the Trentino region of the Tyrol in the 1920s, perhaps earlier. He worked for a time, earned money, returned home – where, Endrizzi adds wryly, he got his wife pregnant – then traveled back to the States to repeat the pattern. America beckoned for the obvious reason, for the reason immigrants have always been drawn here: because life in the old country was hard and life in the new held promise.

A 4-foot by 1-foot panoramic photograph hangs in the Endrizzis’ dining room. Hundreds of men, women and children dressed in their Sunday best stand facing the camera. In the bottom corner, the scene is identified in precise, even handwriting: “The general mass meeting of friends and members of the United Mine Workers of America, Osage, West Virginia, May 17, 1931.”

Pennoyer singles out a man near the back. He is smoking a pipe and neatly dressed in a fedora, jacket and tie. That’s Donato Endrizzi, then a carpenter and a mineworker.

By 1936, Donato Endrizzi had earned enough money to bring his family to America and settle here for good – his wife, his four daughters and his 15-year-old son, Santo Endrizzi. They moved to Bushwick, a place Don Endrizzi jokingly describes as the “Tyrolean ghetto.”

Around 1929, Don Endrizzi’s maternal grandfather, Pietro Facini, also arrived in America from the Tyrol, his wife and two children, including 5-year old Ida (named for the opera “Aida”), in tow.

He, too, moved to Bushwick and he, too, worked as a carpenter, helping to build one of New York City’s most iconic landmarks – either the Empire State Building or the Lincoln Tunnel. Don Endrizzi’s other grandfather helped build the other. “I can’t for the life of me remember which one did which,” Endrizzi said.

Santo Endrizzi learned English, though he never finished high school. He played the accordion at resorts in the Catskills. During World War II, he fought for his new homeland, the United States, against his old homeland, Italy. At some point, Santo Endrizzi and Ida Facini fell in love and in 1954, they married. They had three daughters and one son, and they named the boy Don Peter Endrizzi, after both of his grandfathers.

When Don Endrizzi was in high school, his father returned to high school, too. GED in hand, Santo Endrizzi gave up the saloon he part-owned and secured a job with the New York City Transit Authority. He retired from the agency 28 years later.

Now 95, Santo Endrizzi still grows figs, and he still plays the accordion as a member – the oldest member – of the Long Island Accordion Alliance. His son, Don, too has played the accordion since boyhood, and he hoped to add figs to his life CV.

The fig doesn’t fall far from the tree.


Don Endrizzi chose a protected spot between the garage and the house for his fig tree. It had nice southern exposure, so lots of sunshine, and he thought the high retaining wall of sun-absorbing concrete at the tree’s back would shield it from the worst of Maine’s snowy, frigid winters. Even on cold days, the wall feels warm to the touch. In this micro-climate perhaps his little fig sprig would survive and thrive.

Each year for the next six, Endrizzi conscientiously cared for his tree. He watered it during especially dry spells. He fertilized every growing season, and he topped it off with a little compost to encourage it to flourish.

Bugs never seem interested – maybe they couldn’t even recognize the southern interloper? But mostly, Endrizzi fretted about the cold.

So one year he wrapped the tree in burlap for the winter, like he’d learned to do as a boy in Brooklyn. Another year, he wrapped it in burlap, then added a layer of bubble wrap. His theory was that the sunshine would heat up the cells in the bubble wrap, which, combined with the burlap, would keep the tree comfortable.

When that failed, he tried enclosing the fig tree in a Plexiglass greenhouse he rigged up himself.

“I don’t know how well thought-out these attempts were,” he admitted.

Each winter but one it was the same story: The tree died back to the ground and the next summer would expend so much energy putting out new leaves and branches, it had none left over to set fruit.

One especially mild winter, the tree survived, and the following summer it grew “at least 7 or 8 feet tall,” Endrizzi recalls.

As the tree grew sizable, Endrizzi grew hopeful. But did he get a fig crop that year? Did he get a fig crop any year?

“Never,” he said.


Endrizzi asked for and got a new cutting from his father.

The original fig tree remained in its protected spot near the garage, where each subsequent year it has continued to leaf but not fruit.

He planted the new cutting in a pot, and he overwintered it, wrapped, inside the shed. In the spring, it emerged scrawny and unsightly, with just a few brown leaves clinging to its trunk. Even the shed was too cold for the Mediterranean migrant.

So Endrizzi scaled back his ambitions. He moved the potted tree inside for good and decided to grow it as a decorative house plant – the leaves are pretty, after all – a living reminder of his roots in Brooklyn and Italy.

To disguise its homeliness that first year, Pennoyer draped it with a string of Christmas lights. “I protested against that,” Endrizzi said. Unsuccessfully. The lights still hang on the tree.

Soon, things began to turn around. The new cutting grew. Endrizzi had to move it to a bigger pot, and then a bigger one yet. Summers, the tree stayed in the living room, near the baby grand piano and a bank of windows. Winters he kept it in the kitchen for sun and for warmth.

“The angled light in the winter is just great here,” Pennoyer said, pointing to the spot. “It’s drenched in sun.”

A couple of years ago, Endrizzi was watering the tree and inspecting it as he does every day “to make sure it’s doing okay” when he noticed something lumpy underneath one of the branches – “these little bulbous shoots coming out. Little figs!!!” as he wrote in an email. Four figs to be exact.

He took photographs. He sent them to his three grown children. He sent them to his father. And that January, he harvested his first crop. Think about that: Fresh local figs. In Maine. In January.

Earlier this summer, the couple contributed a cheese platter with fresh figs to a potluck party in North Yarmouth. Their own, Maine-grown, hyper-local figs. Pennoyer jokingly introduced her husband to another guest as “my husband, the fig farmer.”

In actual fact, he is an orthopedic surgeon and she is an allergist and immunologist.


How is the fig tree pollinated if it lives inside? The question stumps Endrizzi. Pennoyer, who grew up in Portland and got her first taste of a fresh fig when she was dating Endrizzi, googles it. It turns out figs can self-pollinate.

Since they’re online anyway, they call up Google Earth and locate the Endrizzi and Facini homesteads in Bushwick, swooping in to peer at the backyards where Endrizzi played as a boy. Small as they were, his grandfathers’ gardens teemed with tomatoes, green beans and bell peppers. The yards are asphalt now, and the fig trees are gone.

Had Endrizzi’s grandfathers smuggled fig cuttings from Italy in the bundles they carried to America? Many Italians who settled in Brooklyn and Queens did just that, planting themselves and the cuttings in their adopted home and hoping to grow strong roots. Don Endrizzi can’t answer that question, either. But he knows who can.

Seconds later, he is on Facetime. “Hi Dad!” Endrizzi says, excited and jolly. “Are you busy? Got a minute? I have questions about the figs.”

Santo Endrizzi’s eyes are merry, his manner is lively and sociable, and his round cheeks look like he is hiding nuts in them. After 80 years in America, his accent remains thick and as warm as sun-ripened figs. For several minutes, father, son and daughter-in-law chat and laugh. Affection and love spill from the phone.

This habit of fig-growing and fig-eating, it turns out, dates back just three generations. The Tyrol region is in the Alps, Santo Endrizzi reminds his son. In Italy, the family lived 868 meters above sea level. Like Maine, it’s far too cold there for fig trees.

It was southern Italian immigrants in New York City who introduced the Endrizzis and the Facinis to the fruit. “I never had (figs) until I get to America,” Santo Endrizzi tells his son.

The families started a new tradition in a new country.


This year, his second as a successful fig farmer in Maine, Don Endrizzi has harvested a crop “just slightly into double digits,” he says, standing by his one productive and (it must be said) merely shrub-sized tree. “In fact, this one looks about ripe, so I’m going to pull it off. Feel it. It’s so soft. Yeah, we’ll eat that one today.”

“Look at this,” he says, proudly counting out the 10 figs ripening on just a single branch.

Back in the kitchen, he pulls out a small, well-used cutting board that once belonged to his paternal grandparents. He quarters the fig and shares it.

Fresh figs from Whole Foods or Hannaford, available in Maine seasonally, are neither this yielding nor this sweet. They can’t evoke boyhood or Brooklyn or the immigrant experience, either.

The youngest Endrizzi, Doug, who is 28, lives in Madison, Wisconsin, where he is studying for his doctorate in physics. Average temperature in winter? 20 degrees. Not fig country.

But Doug Endrizzi loves to grow things. As an undergraduate at Yale, he helped run the university’s farm. He is hunting for a house of his own now, and his mom says the houses he has looked at barely seem to have registered. What has excited him is the size and situation of the potential garden.

Doug Endrizzi’s “grandpa” gave him a fig cutting recently. Like his dad, he planted it in a pot. He keeps the tree outside in the summer and moves it inside when the temperature begins to fall. Earlier this month, he phoned his parents with some news.

“Dad,” he said, “I got figs on my tree!”


]]> 3, 27 Aug 2016 19:20:15 +0000
Gleaned beans feed the hungry Sun, 28 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Under an August sun, 13 volunteers crouched in a field pulling bean plants out by their roots.

The process is called gleaning – gathering any produce that remains in the field after the main harvest. The idea has its roots in the Old Testament, but has recently become popular as a way to combat food waste and feed the hungry.

In this case, the beans – flat, yellow and classic green – were bound for Maine food pantries.

Garbage to Garden, a curbside composting service, provided most of the volunteers. The beans were offered by Penny Jordan of Jordan’s Farm in Cape Elizabeth.

The work and distribution were organized by a coalition of groups – the Maine Gleaning Network, Maine Cooperative Extension, Healthy Acadia and the Midcoast Hunger Prevention Program.

In two hours, the group gathered more than 250 pounds.

If you are interested in gleaning opportunities in Maine, contact Hannah Semler at

]]> 0, 27 Aug 2016 22:45:32 +0000
On trip to Greenland, Sen. King finds effect of climate change ‘amazing and scary’ Fri, 26 Aug 2016 02:09:00 +0000 Maine’s U.S. Sen. Angus King returned from a fact-finding trip to Greenland on Thursday determined to push for more icebreakers to clear emerging Arctic trade routes, some of which could be built in Maine.

The United States has only one working heavy icebreaker capable of clearing shipping lanes through Arctic waters as the ice sheet there melts, while Russia has at least a dozen, King said. Icebreaking abilities are essential in a warming world, he said.

Arctic trade could play a big role in the Maine economy, with Maine ports being the first ones reached by ships traveling east through the Northwest Passage, King said. So icebreaking is important to the state’s economic future, as well as America’s, he said.

U.S. and Danish defense and meteorological delegations survey an iceberg array off the western coast of Greenland. Maine's U.S. Sen. Angus King took part in the three-day fact-finding mission.

U.S. and Danish defense and meteorological delegations survey an iceberg array off the western coast of Greenland. Maine’s U.S. Sen. Angus King took part in the three-day fact-finding mission.

President Obama has set aside money for another heavy icebreaker to be built in the future, but by the time it is done, the existing ship will probably need to be retired, still leaving the United States with just one, King said.

King spent three days touring the massive, mostly icebound island, meeting with government officials to learn about impacts of warming Arctic waters. He visited Greenland’s largest glacier and surveyed the increasing number of icebergs.

“What’s happening there is amazing and scary,” King said of Jakobshavn Glacier. “The glacier has moved as much in the last 10 years as it has in 100 years before. That summarizes what has been happening as a result of climate change.”

When the Greenland ice sheet melts – and all science says that it is doing just that, it is just a question of how fast, King said – the sea levels across the globe will rise by 24 feet, King said. Scientists predict the sea will rise about a foot in the next 15 years or so, he said.

“A foot doesn’t sound like that much, but if you add a foot to high tide surge or a storm it really makes a difference,” King said, citing Portland’s Old Port, which was built on fill, as a prime example of a port in need of infrastructure improvements to cope with climate change.

Sen. Angus King, Coast Guard Commandant Paul F. Zukunft and Danish defense and meteorological officials work Monday during a three day fact-finding mission to Greenland, examining the environmental and security implications of the warming Arctic climate.

Sen. Angus King, Coast Guard Commandant Paul F. Zukunft and Danish defense and meteorological officials work Monday during a three day fact-finding mission to Greenland, examining the environmental and security implications of the warming Arctic climate.

Speaking at the Portland International Jetport after getting off a plane, King said he wasn’t certain exactly how much the trip cost. The Coast Guard was going anyway, he said, so the only cost to taxpayers was lodging for him and two staff members.

King was the only member of Congress to participate in the fact-finding mission. Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski was supposed to go, but had to cancel, King said. Commandant of the Coast Guard Adm. Paul F. Zukunft also attended.

King said he talked with Zukunft about a pending $10 billion contract for Coast Guard cutters, which is due to be awarded in the next month or two, but he didn’t learn anything new. Bath Iron Works is a finalist for the contract.


]]> 9, 26 Aug 2016 13:14:53 +0000
Q&A: New rules for beekeepers who use antibiotics Sun, 21 Aug 2016 08:00:01 +0000 Why is the U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulating the use of antibiotics in honeybees?

The new rules are designed to fight antibiotic resistance to drugs that are used in both agriculture and human medicine. They target all food-producing animals, which includes honeybees as well as cows, poultry, pigs, sheep and goats.

What do the new regulations mean for Maine’s beekeepers?

Previously, beekeepers who discovered disease in their hives could purchase antibiotics over the counter, through their local farm store or bee supply shop. Now a veterinarian must diagnose the bees and then approve of all treatment with antibiotics.

What antibiotics do beekeepers use?

Oxytetracycline (Terramycin); lincomycin (Lincomix); and tylosin (Tylan).

Are there antibiotics in the honey I eat?

No. According to former Maine State Veterinarian Don Hoenig, antibiotics used on bees must be used several weeks before the honey flow starts in order to keep any residues out of the honey.

Can’t beekeepers just stock up on these drugs before the new rules take effect?

They could, but the antibiotics have expiration dates. They could also get in trouble with the FDA after the new rules kick in on Jan. 1.

If bees are treated with antibiotics, can their honey be labeled organic?

There are no USDA standards for organic honey.


]]> 0 Fri, 19 Aug 2016 13:19:07 +0000
Homegrown: Whimsy marks Maine bottle opener Sun, 21 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Tired of searching in that cluttered kitchen drawer for the lost bottle opener? Chris Davis has your back.

Davis’ quirky bottle openers mount on the cabin wall, the refrigerator, hubby’s man cave, or even a tree. Each one is decorated with humorous words and graphics, such as “Thirst Aid,” which comes with a Red Cross design, “Beer Season,” which includes a silhouette of a beer bottle with antlers growing out of it, or “Catch A Cold One,’ which has a drawing of a fish.

1020272_172049 Bottle opener 2.jpg“Chillin Like a Villain” – a bottle opener featuring Darth Vader downing a beer – is only a year old but has become wildly popular with Star Wars fans. It’s one of the company’s top three sellers, Davis said.

Three years ago, Davis was working as a graphic designer for a sign company when he noticed a lot of reclaimed wood being tossed aside. He doesn’t like waste, so he started using the wood to make a few small signs. One day he attached a bottle opener to one of the signs, and it wasn’t long before his part-time project became a new business called “Say It Don’t Spray It” (, based in Arundel. His products are now in more than 50 stores, including 18 in Maine, and are sold on Amazon and Etsy. Customers also custom order them for weddings and other events, Davis said, and breweries order openers that feature their logos.

Davis had to stop using reclaimed wood because hidden nails were constantly breaking his equipment. But he still uses eco-friendly pine wood grown and harvested in Maine. All the paints and finishes are water-based and nontoxic.

The wall-mounted openers cost $24.99. The refrigerator openers cost more ($30) because they have an extra magnet attached that captures the bottle caps before they hit the floor.


]]> 5, 19 Aug 2016 13:34:32 +0000
New map depicts Washington County Farmers’ Market Trail Sun, 21 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 We know of cheese trails, beer trails and wine trails, but this is the first we’ve heard of a farmers market trail. The Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets has just published a handsome illustrated map of what it’s calling the Washington County Farmers’ Market Trail. Should you be so inclined, you could pick up duck eggs at the Lubec Market, a rutabaga at the Milbridge Farmers’ Market and fiddleheads at the Calais Farmers’ Market – though admittedly it’d be hard, probably impossible to hit all the markets in a single day.

On one side, a map pinpoints the location of several Down East farmers markets. On the other, six markets get a street map detail, a brief description, watercolor illustrations by Machias artist Nicole DeBarber and a list of possible free nearby activities. After you’ve finished your grocery shopping in Machias, for instance, you can watch eagles fish near a roaring waterfall; in Eastport, you can take a self-guided historical walking tour that covers 100 years of American architectural styles.

“For anyone who loves fresh, local food, and loves to explore Maine, these markets are perfect destinations to start or cap off a day trip Downeast,” touts a blurb on the map.

The maps, which are free, were funded by the Quimby Family Foundation and designed by cartographer Margot Carpenter of Belfast-based Hartdale Maps.

Leigh Hallett, executive director of the Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets, said that in addition to letting tourists and daytrippers know about the markets, she also hoped to spur collaboration among Down East markets and to help the markets play larger roles within their communities.

“Those markets are further apart from one another than those in central and southern Maine,” she said. “It’s harder for them to network with one another. We want more people to remember the markets are there with fresh food that is relatively uncommon in Washington County, to get people to think of farmers markets as an important part of their community. Here’s a tool to help do that.”

Hallett says the Washington County Farmers’ Market Trail was a pilot project. Interest in doing a similar project elsewhere in Maine is high, and the federation is already discussing how to organize future maps – county by county? A coastal trail?

Meanwhile, 5,000 of the Washington County maps were printed and have been distributed at the markets themselves, visitors centers, libraries and chambers of commerce. Should you be heading Down East, you can also request a map at and find information about the Washington County Farmers’ Market Trail at


]]> 0, 19 Aug 2016 13:34:30 +0000
Hussein Muktar nurtures understanding between cultures Sun, 21 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 It takes a lot brainstorming, negotiating and planning to start any new farming venture. But factor in that the farmers are from another land, speak English as a second language (and even then, haltingly) and their financial backers and guides include multiple agencies, and complexities intensify.

That’s the case at New Roots Cooperative Farm, just formed by four Somali-Bantu immigrants who will start planting on 30 acres of fallow dairy land in Lewiston next spring. They likely couldn’t have done it without Hussein Muktar, who has served as translator throughout the process.

We called Muktar, a farmer himself, to ask how he found himself being the voice of his community, the responsibility entailed in translating and his own journey from Somalia to Maine. And we asked what presidential candidate Donald Trump’s recent inflammatory words directed at Maine’s immigrants meant to him.

OLD ROOTS: His parents farmed in Somalia, growing crops year-round, from eggplants and zucchini to mangoes and lemons. His job as a boy was to guard the crops. “I watched for the birds. And the monkeys.” The family was driven from their home by civil war that erupted in 1992.

“There was no control. People come to your house and kill you or beat you and take whatever you have,” he said. “You have no power.” The violence had no rhyme or reason. “Sometimes they might say, ‘Oh, one of your tribe killed somebody in our tribe.’ ” Eventually, as violence closed in, he and his family set out walking toward the potential refuge of Kenya. He can’t remember whether he was 6 or 8.

THE LONG WALK: On the second day of a month-long walk, the Muktar family was robbed of the food and water they’d brought with them. “Then you know, people started eating the leaves on the trees,” he said. “Digging the roots to suck the water from the roots.” Muktar and his parents were lucky; they found people willing to give them food and water along the way, and they stayed strong enough to make it across the border.

CAMP LIFE: They lived in two different camps in Kenya over the course of a decade – this is where Muktar learned to speak English – before being issued papers to come to America. In the beginning, they lived in Atlanta, and while they were grateful to be in America, this place felt all wrong for the family. Overwhelming, from taking public transit to finding jobs. “It was life in a big city.” Farming was out of the question.

NORTHWARD: Muktar struck out on his own for about 18 months, moving to Burlington, Vermont, where friends had settled. He learned to drive. His eyes were opened to the possibility of a more satisfying, rural life in America. When his family moved to Maine, his mother immediately began looking for farmland, he said, and soon he decided to join them.

In 2006, he began working part time as a translator for Coastal Enterprises as the Somali immigrant community settled into Lewiston and began farming programs at places like the Packard-Littlefield Farm in Lisbon. That evolved into a job with Cultivating Community, which helps facilitate programs for these displaced farmers. “I wear multiple hats,” Muktar said.

MAMA MIA: One of the four co-owners of New Roots is Muktar’s mother. “She is strong and has a lot of ideas about how we can come together as a community instead of as individuals.” Sharing costs for farm infrastructure is a key component of the New Roots philosophy; what they might struggle with individually will be easier together. “To do everything by yourself is to feel frustrated.”

NEW ROOTS: This new farm was purchased by Maine Farmland Trust in January, with a plan to transition ownership to the Somali immigrants eventually. These shared 30 acres, Muktar said, offer a chance to intensify that feeling of community he already experiences in Lewiston. He drives from one side of the small city to another, seeing friends all along his route. New Roots is an opportunity to feel united. The plan is to put up buildings on the farm – there is no real infrastructure there now – and they’ll have a farm stand there as well. “This will be bringing together the family and friends to feel like a home.”

For now, Muktar himself will continue to farm at Packard-Littlefield, on the acre he shares with his wife, but it is his hope that he will join the New Roots cooperative.

THE WEIGHT OF WORDS: During our conversation, Muktar paused several times to answer questions from colleagues, moving easily between English and his own Somali dialect, Maay, and the demands on him were obvious. As he was learning English in school in Kenya, he never planned to become a translator. But Muktar is uniquely qualified. He knows farming, he knows these farmers, and what their hopes, dreams and needs are. “If something goes wrong, I know how to fix it.”

This is not an easy task. “You are holding that accountability or responsibility,” he said. “A lot of people are counting on you.” And he knows that translation is imperfect, that things could be lost. “When you are changing one person’s language into another, it is not going to be the same.”

FUTURE FARMERS OF AMERICA? Muktar and his wife have seven children; the youngest is 8 months old, the eldest is 9. They too, are bilingual, speaking their parents’ mother tongue at home and English at school. “The easy language for them is English.” He’s learning from them, filling in those remaining gaps in his own English, including the colloquial American expressions that come so easily to them. “There is a lot things that I don’t know that they know.” Will they be farmers? Maybe, he says, but for now it is soon to tell.

DREAM LANGUAGES: After all these years of going back and forth between languages and dialects, what language does he dream in? “Not in English,” Muktar said, laughing. “I don’t think it will happen.”

TRUMP THAT: When Donald Trump visited Portland earlier this summer, he made a point of stirring up fear of Maine’s immigrant population, particularly the Somali. Muktar says he himself is not political. “I sometimes listen on the radio.” But hearing about Trump’s speech, which led to a rally the next day in support of Somali immigrants, was unavoidable. Muktar chose to ignore the hurtful words. “Because that is what a crazy person is saying.” Trump can keep talking, Muktar said, but, “I’m thinking and I’m hoping he will not be our president.”


]]> 6, 19 Aug 2016 13:34:31 +0000
Let your garden grow wild and it’ll surprise you Sun, 21 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Gardeners love surprises.

A classic design technique is to create a spot where a visitor turns a corner and sees something – an unusual plant, a sculpture, a bright piece of furniture – that is totally unexpected.

At a class at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens earlier this month, writer Larry Weaner described the problem with this technique: “For the owner of the property, there is no mystery anymore,” he said. “The owner has already come upon that spot 100 times.”

But Weaner, co-author with Thomas Christopher of the just published “Garden Revolution: How our landscapes can be a source of environmental change,” has a solution: “But if you plant a landscape that changes over time, you will have some new plants that just come up and provide you with a new experience.”

Weaner, teaching at a sold-out six-hour class, has expanded on the ideas of Doug Tallamy, who wrote the native-plant treatise “Bringing Nature Home,” and Thomas Rainer and Claudia West, authors of “Planting in a Post-Wild World.”

Tallamy outlined how native plants are needed to support the native habitat; Rainer and West wrote about the best ways to arrange the plants for the good of the environment, Weaner explained, while he (and Christopher) emphasize how native landscapes develop over time, usually beginning when the soil is disturbed.

In the book he notes that one of the first plants to sprout in disturbed soil is often the cardinal flower, or lobelia. It seeds quickly, but is eventually taken over by longer-lived meadow perennials, such as black-eyed Susan, aka rudbeckia. Because the northeastern United States is naturally forested, the landscape will go through a shrub stage with plants such as viburnums and then eventually fill with trees, such as oaks, pine and maples.

The book describes how gardeners can direct that natural progression.

“You will accept that the garden never stops evolving, that it will always be a work in progress,” Weaner writes in the introduction. “Your role as the gardener will be to watch, interpret, understand and, at critical moments, give a push to direct the landscape into a path that you can enjoy.”

Many of the gardens Weaner shows in the book – and that he created through his Pennsylvania landscaping company – are meadows. He brings in plants and allows others that he wants to sprout. All the while he eliminates, through high mowing or cutting, the succession plants such as shrubs or trees that he does not want. Some other gardens are shrublands or woodlands, and on larger properties, homeowners can have some of all three.

While many of the pictures in the book are of large gardens, Weaner has incorporated the techniques at his own home, which sits on just one-third of an acre in the suburbs of Philadelphia.

He said that most properties of that size have a small traditional garden, with ornamental plants separated by mulched soil, and the rest of the property a lawn. What he suggests people do is eliminate half of the lawn and create his kind of natural, evolving garden – keeping it in scale with the property.

Because of all the weeding, fertilizing and mulching that would be required, a traditional garden that size would require too much work to maintain. But with a natural garden, which covers all of the soil with plants and where the evolution of the garden is encouraged, after a while, it would be much less work. And less stress, too.

“You have to go through a period of much higher maintenance when you are just starting out,” Weaner said, so he recommends that you make the changes incrementally.

And, he believes, the change is definitely something homeowners can do by themselves. If homeowners hire a traditional landscaper, they will end up spending a lot of time teaching the professional what they want, he said.

Weaner stresses that the garden does not have to be all native plants. If you want a vegetable garden, which is mostly non-natives, go for it. If you love roses, grow a rose garden on part of the property. Right next to the house, you can include a lot of exotic flowering plants just because they are pretty.

But if you have an evolving natural garden that you maintain by letting the plants you like to grow and expand while eliminating the ones you don’t mostly through mowing or using a string trimmer, you will have a beautiful, ever-changing, low-maintenance garden that is full of mystery.

Who doesn’t want that?

TOM ATWELL is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at 767-2297 or at:

]]> 3, 19 Aug 2016 13:18:51 +0000
Maine’s apiarists are all abuzz about new federal rules Sun, 21 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Every year Tony Bachelder mixes up a big batch of antibiotics he buys at a local farm store, adds powdered sugar and sprinkles it on his 600 beehives to ward off disease that could wipe out his colonies. He sells whatever he has left over to hobby beekeepers, many of whom have only a few hives and find it easier to pay Bachelder a buck a hive for the medicine.

But last spring, Bachelder had to tell them that his little bee pharmacy is closed. Starting in January, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will require that beekeepers needing antibiotics to keep their hives healthy must hire a veterinarian. That’s right, the honeybee will now be getting its health care needs met in the same way as the family pet or farmer’s cow.

The new regulations have beekeepers and veterinarians, well, buzzing.

“Beekeepers are going to need a veterinarian now,” said Don Hoenig, co-owner of One Health Veterinary Consulting in Belfast and former Maine state veterinarian. “That’s the bottom line. There’s still a lot of issues to be sorted out.”

Some of those issues are pretty big ones. Most veterinarians know as much about bees as they do about Bigfoot. How will they be trained?

“For the most part, they don’t want anything to do with bees,” said Tony Jadczak, who just last month left his job as state apiarist and bee inspector. He laughed: “You know, bees sting people.”

Even with training, are there enough knowledgeable vets to cover the nearly 10,000 registered hives in Maine? Will vets have to inspect all of a beekeeper’s hives to find disease that needs treatment, or just a portion of them? Bachelder worries about having to pay a veterinarian to inspect every one of his 600 hives.

Bee farmer Tony Bachelder, of Tony's Honey & Pollination Service, tends to his hives.

Bee farmer Tony Bachelder, of Tony’s Honey & Pollination Service, tends to his hives. Photos by Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

“It takes me three weeks to go through my operation,” he said. “So if I have to hire a vet for three weeks to go with me to check every hive…”

The clock has been ticking on these new federal regulations since 2013. The rules, a new weapon in the war on antibiotic resistance, are targeted to antibiotics used in agriculture that are also used in human medicine. The primary goal is to curb any use of these drugs in animal feed for growth promotion so that the bacterial infections they target don’t develop resistance to antibiotics, which would be harmful for both animals and humans. Under the new regulations, the drugs can be used only for prevention, control or treatment of disease, and their use is allowed only with the approval of a veterinarian through a prescription or an order called a veterinary feed directive – no more over-the-counter medicines.

The regulations apply to any food-producing animal, which includes poultry, cows, sheep, and goats. They also affect honeybees, which the government considers a “minor” food-producing animal. Hoenig, who gave two presentations about the rules earlier this month at the American Veterinary Medical Association Annual Convention in San Antonio, said the changes will probably have the biggest impact on the swine and poultry industries, where many of these antibiotics have been used in feed. But Maine doesn’t have huge swine and poultry industries, and Hoenig said he doesn’t think it will have much effect on the state’s beef and dairy industries, either. That leaves the honeybee.

“It’s a big change, not just for beekeepers, but this is a huge shift in policy for the FDA,” Hoenig said. “Agriculture has been criticized for so many years for overusing antibiotics. You read figures that say as much as 70 to 80 percent of the antibiotics used in this country (are used in agriculture). Meanwhile, agriculture is not responsible for the majority of the resistance problem, which is a physician-generated problem, and they realize that. But we’re administering a lot of antibiotics to animals over the counter, and that’s mostly going to go away. And that is a good change.”

Three antibiotics used to treat honeybees fall under the new rules. They are used to treat two diseases, American foulbrood and European foulbrood.

To abide by the new rules, beekeepers will have to set up and maintain a relationship with a licensed veterinarian; have the veterinarian diagnose the disease and issue the order for an antibiotic; and buy the antibiotics from a pharmacy, not a farm store or bee supply business.

According to the legal definition of a “veterinary client patient relationship,” the vet must assume responsibility for making decisions about an animal’s health, and must have sufficient knowledge of the patient through examination or visits – in this case, to the bee yard, where the vet must open a percentage (though no one has yet spelled out what percentage) of the hives to evaluate the health of the colony. In other words, no diagnosing or prescribing over the phone or via video, Hoenig said. He guessed such veterinarian visits might add from $50 to $500 to the cost of being a beekeeper, depending on the number of hives and how far the vet has to drive to get to the bee yard.


Richard McLaughlin, a master beekeeper and president of the Maine State Beekeepers Association, said Maine’s estimated 1,200 registered and unregistered beekeepers are confused and nervous about the changes.

“The veterinarians would have to become beekeepers in order to understand the diseases of the bees, and then validate that the bees have the disease and sell us the (antibiotics),” McLaughlin said. “And in that period of time, the disease can get significantly worse. In a week’s time, the disease can spread. It doesn’t usually kill a colony, but it can really set it back where the bees may not produce a honey crop that year.”

Tony Bachelder of Tony's Honey & Pollination Service tends to his hives. Beginning Jan. 1, beekeepers will have to hire a vet to administer antibiotics to sick bees. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Tony Bachelder of Tony’s Honey & Pollination Service tends to his hives. Beginning Jan. 1, beekeepers will have to hire a vet to administer antibiotics to sick bees. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

McLaughlin said it doesn’t make sense to lump in honeybees with large animal food producers. For one, honey is processed, not produced, by honeybees. Honeybees add enzymes to flower nectars that help convert sucrose into fructose and glucose – but that’s a lot different than getting milk from a cow, he said.

“Obviously,” he added, “we aren’t eating honeybees, so there’s no concern there.”

Some beekeepers worry that in all the confusion, beekeepers will slack off on their use of medication, or stop using it preventively, leading to a surge in disease. Jadczak, the former state apiarist, said European foulbrood already has been spiking in the past four or five years in several states including Maine. The disease used to be found in 1 to 1.5 percent of hives inspected annually in those states; now the disease rate can reach as high as 5 to 6 percent.

“We have a rapid response to a disease outbreak, so this (new rule) may slow the process down,” Jadczak said. “We’ll see.”


Though Bachelder has a veterinarian for his other animals, the vet is not trained in caring for bees.

“If you’ve got a problem,” he said, “you need to treat it then, you don’t need to wait. And how are you going to get a vet? To find one that knows what he’s looking for is going to be even harder.”

But Hoenig notes that vets have taken on new aspects of care before. When the aquaculture industry started to take off, many training sessions were held in aquatic animal medicine, and now plenty of vets specialize in the area. “Backyard chickens is another one,” Hoenig said. Veterinary schools are already thinking about adding bee care to their curriculums, and Hoenig said he’s been asked to speak at a meeting of Maine veterinarians in November.

Bachelder inspects his hives.

Bachelder inspects his hives.

Some veterinarians who are also beekeepers, like Hoenig, may already have a baseline knowledge of bees and be happy to take on the insects as patients, he said. And others may see this as an opportunity to expand their practice and earn extra income.

McLaughlin, who tends about 35 honeybee colonies with his wife, said his group hopes the FDA will change the regulation to exempt honeybees altogether. But such an exemption is “extremely unlikely,” Chris Cripps, a veterinarian and beekeeper from New York who has actively followed the issue, said in an e-mail. “A snowball’s chance in Haiti comes to mind.”

Cripps, who also gave a presentation at the national veterinarians’ convention, is one of three veterinarian owners of Betterbee, a beekeeping supply company in upstate New York. He and his partners are also part-owners of Humble Abodes, a Maine company that manufactures apiary woodenware.

Other than outright exemption, there may be wiggle room in the rule for the veterinary feed directive which, as it stands now, does not allow the veterinarian any deviation, even for minor species like bees. The directions on the directive must be exactly what is on the label approved by the FDA, and must be followed exactly.

But in the case of the antibiotic terramycin, the label says it can be used only “for the Control of American Foulbrood.” A vet would have to find actual cases of American foulbrood in the bees in order to prescribe the medicine, Cripps said, but most beekeepers use that drug as a preventive measure. In other words, the label runs counter to the overarching idea that the drugs may be used for prevention, control and treatment. But even addressing that small potential change “is still hotly debated in the FDA,” Cripps said.

McLaughlin has suggested that perhaps the rules could be amended to allow the 15 certified master beekeepers in the state to diagnose disease and advise that the beekeeper treat the hives. But Cripps said that’s not likely to happen, either.

“The FDA is very clear that the veterinarians with their broad training in disease prevention, diagnosis and treatment will be the group that is going to be the gatekeeper of antibiotics in animals,” he said “so the FDA can ensure antibiotics continue to work for people for as long as possible.”

To ease the transition, last week Cripps started a website,, that is kind of like a dating site for beekeepers and veterinarians. Vets can sign up if they have knowledge of bee health and are willing to add bee colonies to their patient list. Beekeepers can search for a bee vet in their area.

It’s a start. Only time will tell if these new relationships blossom.


]]> 30, 24 Aug 2016 16:33:06 +0000
Climate change makes hurricanes, and predicting them, more challenging, expert says Sun, 21 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 As a child, Kerry Emanuel was captivated by thunderstorms – planting himself by windows to watch them. He has followed that meteorological passion through decades of research and teaching at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to become what one science reporter calls “arguably the world’s top expert on hurricanes.”

Most hurricane specialists are weather forecasters, tracking the path of tropical cyclones (the scientific term for storms with sustained wind speeds in excess of 74 mph). Far fewer engage in the sort of research Emanuel does – looking at how climate change may affect hurricane intensity and frequency.

Emanuel’s fascination with hurricanes extends well beyond modeling exercises in the lab. He wrote a book, “Divine Wind,” that weaves together meteorological science, historical storm accounts, artistic renditions and poetic accounts of what William Cullen Bryant called “the shadowy tempest that sweeps through space/A whirling ocean that fills the wall/Of the crystal heaven, and buries all.”

Emanuel met with me recently, overlooking the Maine harbor where his meteorological training began with childhood sailing lessons, to talk about storm forecasting, the chasm between science and policy, and how hurricanes offer yet another reason (as if we needed more) to rein in climate change.

“No natural phenomenon poses a greater challenge to forecasters than the hurricane,” Emanuel holds; some like earthquakes elude forecasting altogether while others are relatively predictable. Knowledge of hurricanes is always imperfect, Emanuel says, which generates great angst because inevitably there’s “an awful lot riding on human judgment.”

Asked about technological advances in forecasting, Emanuel winds the clock back to Sept. 21, 1938 – an overcast day in New England with gloomy newspaper headlines about growing tensions in Europe. The day’s forecast, buried in fine print, predicted “Rain, probably heavy today and tomorrow, cooler.” With no public warning, the Great Hurricane of 1938 slammed into Long Island and New England that day, killing 680 people and racking up damages that would total billions in today’s dollars.

At that time, there were few weather balloons, no Hurricane Hunter military flight crews sent into storms (both began in the ’40s), and no satellites (first launched in the ’60s and ’70s). Better computer simulations, an unsung advance, further refined hurricane forecasting in the mid-1990s.

Thanks to these innovations, Emanuel explains, a four-day hurricane forecast today is likely to be as accurate as a one-day forecast was 35 years ago.

Hurricane forecasts measured in days are life-saving; those measured in months (seasonal forecasts) Emanuel politely calls “inadvertently misleading.” The number of storms forecast for a given season has little bearing on how many make landfall and wreak havoc.

Seasonal forecasts that promise few tropical cyclones may engender a false sense of assurance. Hurricane Andrew, the most costly tropical cyclone to date when it struck Florida in 1992, occurred during one of the quietest hurricane seasons on record.

Emanuel would like to see the whole warning system for hurricanes revisited. The Saffir-Simpson scale that classifies hurricanes based on sustained wind speeds into Categories 1 through 5 is neither useful for public outreach nor especially scientific. (Emanuel jokes that scientists would never settle for something so simplistic as a 1-5 rating system.)

Currently, hurricanes can be downgraded and evacuations canceled, as happened temporarily with Superstorm Sandy, when storm winds drop below an arbitrary threshold.

Emanuel envisions a much simpler means for communicating a hurricane’s hazards – such as a basic “code yellow/code red” alert – based on projections for wind, rain (flooding) and storm surge. This change could reduce what he calls “the tension between public safety and commerce,” making it easier for officials to issue and stand by warnings – even in the face of outcries and threatened lawsuits from those concerned that hurricane warnings will hurt business.

More regrettable still, Emanuel believes, are the multiple policies that subsidize people (through insurance and the structuring of federal disaster relief) to live in flood-prone areas, putting “high-value, low-strength structures in harm’s way.” (Interestingly, a new report by the Congressional Budget Office, Potential Increases in Hurricane Damage in the United States: Implications for the Federal Budget, acknowledges the high societal cost of current practices and suggests reforms in both insurance and disaster relief.)

What’s ironic about the Great Hurricane of 1938, Emanuel observes, is that despite forecasting advances, just as many people might be lost if a similar hurricane struck today due to the intensity of coastal development and the flimsy construction of many modern buildings.

Concerns about flooding – both coastal and inland – will only grow with climate change since warmer air holds (and then releases) greater volumes of water. New England saw intense precipitation events increase by more than 70 percent between 1958 and 2010. Now, hurricanes that can deliver torrential rains may begin dumping even higher volumes.

Climate scientists predict that hurricanes will become more forceful as well, fueled primarily by warmer sea temperatures in the tropics. Since 1980, hurricane power (as measured by sustained wind speeds) has roughly doubled in the North Atlantic.

Most damage is done by Category 3 or higher hurricanes, and recent modeling by Emanuel and others strongly suggests that higher-category storms in the North Atlantic and elsewhere will become more frequent as the climate warms further. Factor in sea-level rise generating greater storm surges, and the scenarios do not look good.

Despite the ominous models, slow progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and political gridlock, Emanuel remains optimistic about tackling climate change – confident that “more and more people, particularly young people, get it.”

MARINA SCHAUFFLER, a freelance writer and editor, is online at

]]> 10, 20 Aug 2016 19:46:37 +0000
Garden herbs that bolt early still have plenty to offer Sun, 21 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Chef, slow food advocate and food writer Deborah Madison waxes poetic in the opening chapter of her “Vegetable Literacy” cookbook about the beautiful flowers a home gardener can enjoy as she looks over her patch of kitchen vegetables and passel of herbs at the season’s end.

In due time, these flowers are all well and good. They signal the point in the plants’ growth cycle when they are ready to produce seeds and ensure future generations of their species. But the abnormally warm and dry weather we are experiencing has many an herb in our area bolting early, leaving cooks and gardeners seemingly unable to experience their flavor for much longer.

No worries, folks. You can still enjoy your bolting herbs. According to Massachusetts-based herbalist Betsy Williams, backyard gardeners can pinch off the flowers from perennial herbs like chives, marjoram, mint, oregano, sage, tarragon and thyme; cut the plants back a bit; and give them a good watering. With that care, they will keep growing.

For annual herbs like basil, cilantro/coriander, dill and fennel, their one and only botanical job is to bear seeds; bolting signals the end of their growth cycle, so you need to use them before you lose them to seed (which really isn’t a loss, anyway, but a head start on next year’s garden if you save them).

Chef Ben Hasty of Thistle Pig in South Berwick uses bolted herbs to make flavored oils for marinating meat and mushrooms. And if the bolted herbs have made it to the seed production part of their life cycle, he uses them fresh to garnish plates of crudo (carefully prepared raw fish and meat dishes) for an interesting look and a pop of flavor.

Hasty also uses them in broths and braises because bolted herbs have the same flavor as non-bolted ones.

For a quick broth that will add great flavor to summertime soups, follow food writer Mark Bittman’s recipe for herb broth. He puts a small handful of rosemary, thyme or sage sprigs (bolted or not), a large handful of parsley sprigs, a few bay leaves, 1 or 2 crushed garlic cloves and a pinch of black peppercorns in a pot with 6 cups of cold water, then brings the pot to barely a simmer, steeps the herbs for 15 minutes off the heat and finally strains the broth before using it.

Williams puts the stems into Garbage Herb Vinegar and uses the flowers (especially those of Thai basil plants) to make flavored brandy by filling a quart mason jar with the blossoms, pouring in a pint of moderately priced brandy, 1½ cups sugar and ½ cup water, twisting on the lid and storing it in a dark, cool place for two to three months before she strains it and saves it for sipping around the holidays.

With the other flowers, she’ll chop them very finely if she has a small number and incorporate them into compound butters for slathering on bread, baked or grilled poultry and fish, and into dressings for both raw or cooked vegetable salads.

For a large number of blossoms, she suggests drying them, spread out on a pan in the sun. She then rubs them together to break them up, puts them in a jar labeled “Flower Power” and shakes them over cooked vegetables all winter long for a burst of summer sunshine.

CHRISTINE BURNS RUDALEVIGE is a food writer, a recipe developer and tester, and a cooking teacher in Brunswick. Contact her at:

]]> 0, 19 Aug 2016 13:34:33 +0000
Old N.J. steel mill could become world’s largest vertical farm Fri, 19 Aug 2016 13:04:54 +0000 NEWARK, N.J. — Stacks of leafy greens are sprouting inside an old brewery in New Jersey.

“What we do is we trick it,” said David Rosenberg, co-founder and chief executive officer of AeroFarms. “We get it thinking that, if plants could think: ‘All right, this is a good environment, it’s time to grow now.'”

AeroFarms is one of several companies creating new ways to grow indoors year-round to solve problems like the drought out West, frost in the South or other unfavorable conditions affecting farmers. The company is in the process of building what an industry group says is the world’s largest commercial vertical farm at the site of an old steel mill in New Jersey’s largest city.

It will contain 12 layers of growth on 3½ acres, producing 2 million pounds of food per year. Production is set to begin next month.

“We want to help alleviate food deserts, which is a real problem in the United States and around the world,” Rosenberg said. “So here, there are areas of Newark that are underprivileged, there is not enough economic development, aren’t enough supermarkets. We put this farm in one of those areas.”

The farm will be open to community members who want to buy the produce. It also plans to sell the food at local grocery stores.

Critics say the artificial lighting in vertical farms takes up a significant amount of energy that in turn creates carbon emissions.

“If we did decide we were going to grow all of our nation’s vegetable crop in the vertical farming systems, the amount of space required, by my calculation, would be tens of thousands of Empire State Buildings,” said Stan Cox, the research coordinator at The Land Institute, a nonprofit group that advocates sustainable agriculture.

“Instead of using free sunlight as we’ve always done to produce food, vertical farms are using light that has to be generated by a power plant somewhere, by electricity from a power plant somewhere, which is an unnecessary use of fuel and generation of carbon emissions.”

Cox says that instead of moving food production into cities, the country’s 350 million acres of farmland need to be made more sustainable.

But some growers feel agriculture must change to meet the future.

“We are at a major crisis here for our global food system,” said Marc Oshima, a co-founder and chief marketing officer for AeroFarms. “We have an increasing population that by the year 2050 we need to feed 9 billion people. We have increasing urbanization.”

Rosenberg also pointed out the speeded-up process.

“We grow a plant in about 16 days, what otherwise takes 30 days in the field,” he said.

]]> 1, 19 Aug 2016 17:34:46 +0000
Scientists unravel mysteries of osprey migration Thu, 18 Aug 2016 15:25:31 +0000 TILTON, N.H. — Scientists have long known ospreys make an epic journey each summer from New England to South America. But the details of their dangerous trip remained a mystery – until now.

Thanks to trackers on the backs of these fish-eating raptors, scientists are filling in the picture. And what they are learning is troubling.

The brown-and-white birds get hit by cars and ships, shot by angry chicken farmers and blown off course during hurricane season. One even ended up on a ship that took it to Portugal.

By some accounts, up to 80 percent of the young birds making the trip don’t return to New England – compared to 15 percent of adults.

In this photo taken Monday Aug. 15, 2016, a captive Osprey is seen at the Squam Lakes Natural Science Center in Holderness, N.H. Iain MacLeod, a researcher at the center, is using solar-powered satellite transmitters attached to the backs of juvenile and adult Ospreys to track the international migrations of birds nesting in the Northeast. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

Despite migration troubles, ospreys are experiencing a resurgence similar to bald eagles: from a low of a few hundred osprey pairs in the 1970s in New England to as many as 2,000 pairs currently, including 1,000 in Maine. Jim Cole/Associated Press

“Some of them make it to South America. A lot of them don’t,” said Iain MacLeod , executive director of the Squam Lakes Natural Science Center in Holderness, New Hampshire, who studies ospreys that spend their spring and summers in the state raising their young.

Despite migration troubles, ospreys are experiencing a resurgence similar to bald eagles: from a low of a few hundred osprey pairs in the 1970s in New England to as many as 2,000 pairs currently, including 1,000 in Maine.

Some of the recovery results from a ban on pesticides like DDT as well as measures such as guards on nests to keep out raccoons and other predators that eat their eggs. Adult osprey can live up to two decades.

Starting in August, the birds travel as much as 5,000 miles down the Atlantic Coast and across the Caribbean before they end up in the northern part of South America and the Amazon basin, where they spend the winter.

Scores of male birds have been equipped with trackers, nearly 500 so far in the United States and Europe. The matchbox-size devices use miniature GPS-enabled transmitters to show the birds’ precise location, altitude, speed and time it takes for them to complete the trip.

First used in 1995, the devices provide a detailed map of the route taken by the birds, including pit stops in Rhode Island and Florida. Juvenile ospreys on Martha’s Vineyard, too, were tracked crossing nearly a thousand miles of ocean on their way to Bermuda.

A captive osprey at the Squam Lakes Natural Science Center in Holderness, N.H., where a researcher is using solar-powered satellite transmitters attached to the backs of juvenile and adult ospreys to track the international migrations of birds nesting in the Northeast. Jim Cole/Associated Press

A captive osprey at the Squam Lakes Natural Science Center in Holderness, N.H., where a researcher is using solar-powered satellite transmitters attached to the backs of juvenile and adult ospreys to track the international migrations of birds nesting in the Northeast. Jim Cole/Associated Press

The trackers show most birds go through a narrow route across the island of Hispaniola that includes the Dominican Republic and Haiti and then onwards over Cuba.

“All of the birds are funneling through a very narrow area,” said Rob Bierregaard , an ornithologist at Drexel University in Philadelphia who has tagged ospreys with MacLeod.

“If something bad happens there, they could be vulnerable,” he said. “You got your eggs all in one basket if you will … If something bad happened in Cuba, virtually all the East Coast and a lot of Midwest ospreys would be exposed to that.”

Should they make it across the Caribbean, the birds, especially juveniles on their first trip, face challenges finding a wintering spot. While the experienced birds typically return to the same safe location every year, the young birds spend several months “house hunting” over a range from Venezuela to Brazil, where they can find plenty of fish. That can often get them killed.

“When they hit South America, they are kind of clueless,” MacLeod said, adding that search can often lead to conflicts with other predators or humans especially fish farm workers. “We can literally see them go to a fish farm and you go, ‘Oh, no, don’t stay there!'”

What the trackers can’t tell scientists is how the young birds manage to find their way to the wintering ground and how they know when to stop. Since they are flying blindly and doing it alone with no help from their parents, scientists suspect they may be using the Earth’s magnetic field to guide them and an internal clock that tells them they have arrived.

“The young birds flying over the Atlantic from Martha’s Vineyard on their first trip fly this amazing straight line for 24 to 36 hours with no land marks and they are correcting for wind drift,” Bierregaard said. “They have some magnetic sense where they are based on magnetic fields. We don’t understand how they do that … It’s fascinating.”


]]> 0, 18 Aug 2016 16:04:32 +0000
Regulators study how many horseshoe crabs die during medical blood harvest Tue, 16 Aug 2016 22:31:41 +0000 Environmental regulators studying the harvesting of horseshoe crabs that are drained of some of their blood for biomedical use say they need to get a firmer handle on how many die as part of the process.

The crabs, which have been on earth for hundreds of millions of years and are older than dinosaurs, are harvested because their blood contains coagulogen, a chemical used to make sure medical products aren’t contaminated by bacteria.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, an interstate authority, voted this month to propose taking into account the death toll associated with medical harvesting when determining the number of horseshoe crabs that can be harvested from the Delaware Bay.

The medical harvest of horseshoe crabs is about 500,000 crabs per year. The prehistoric-looking crabs typically are taken to labs, are drained of about a third of their blood and then are released alive into the same bodies of water where they were found, a spokeswoman for the commission said on Tuesday.

It’s unclear how many of the crabs die in the process, but the estimate is about 15 percent, said Kirby Rootes-Murdy, a fishery management plan coordinator with the fisheries commission. A firmer idea of how many die is important because of the crabs’ place in ecosystems, such as their role as a food source for endangered birds, Rootes-Murdy said.

“Whether biomedical is collecting too much, bleeding too much, that’s really kind of an open question right now,” he said. “There’s uncertainty about whether it’s really a significant impact or not.”

The crabs, which are shaped like helmets and have long tails, also are harvested by fishermen for use as bait in fisheries such as eels and whelks. Those activities are taken into account in fisheries managers’ assessments of horseshoe crab populations, and they are subject to quotas and other regulations.

The value of the commercial harvest of horseshoe crabs has grown from about $400,000 in 2004 to more than $1.8 million in 2014.

The crabs have been around for more than 300 million years, the National Wildlife Federation says. They have been harvested from Maine to Florida, and one of the largest populations in the world is in the Delaware Bay area.

The impact of biomedical harvesting of horseshoe crabs is concerning for fishermen in the bait industry, said Rachel Dean, who runs tours of fishing operations in Maryland and sits on the Atlantic States commission’s horseshoe crab oversight board.

“The statistics on whether or not it’s impacted by the bleeding of the crabs would be important for our industry to know,” Dean said.

Some people in the medical industry defend the harvesting as critically important for products that benefit human health. Benji Swan, who has worked in manufacturing of products that use horseshoe crab blood, said at the Atlantic States commission’s meeting on Aug. 2 that she feels the industry is already transparent about the impact of harvesting.

“Biomedical collection is separate from bait harvest and should be because it is essential to human health,” she said. “Small mortality is unintentional and may be out of our control.”

]]> 1, 17 Aug 2016 10:13:36 +0000
South Portland council approves penalty-free pesticide ordinance Tue, 16 Aug 2016 02:34:57 +0000 SOUTH PORTLAND — The City Council approved a first reading Monday of a revised cosmetic landscape pesticide ban, with several members describing it as a flawed but bold step to reduce chemicals in the environment.

The council voted 6-1 for a penalty-free ordinance that would prohibit the use of certain lawn-and-garden pesticides and herbicides on private and city-owned property.

“We’re making an imperfect leap, no question about it,” Councilor Claude Morgan said. “What we’re doing is leading and moving in a particular direction.”

Morgan and other councilors predicted that shortcomings in the ordinance would be addressed over time and hoped that residents would comply without punitive enforcement. A final vote on the ordinance will be held Sept. 7.

Councilor Linda Cohen provided the sole vote against the ordinance, saying it would be unenforceable and could give residents a false sense that they’re being protected from harmful chemicals.

Under the revised ordinance, retailers in South Portland could still sell banned products, including glyphosate-based Roundup, neonicotinoids and certain weed-and-feed applications. And residents could still buy them.

However, only pesticides allowed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and classified as “minimum risk” by the Environmental Protection Agency could be used within city limits. The local ban also would exempt commercial agriculture and playing surfaces at golf courses, and it would allow waivers for public health, safety and environmental threats, such as mosquitoes, poison ivy and invasive tree insects.

But rather than implement the ordinance in a “punitive way,” city officials plan to develop an education and outreach campaign to promote non-toxic land care practices and help the community comply with the ordinance.

As a result, the revised ordinance eliminates penalties. As first proposed, the ordinance called for escalating fines of $200, $500 and $1,000 per offense following an initial warning.

The revised ordinance also calls for the city’s sustainability coordinator, not police officers, to receive complaints, educate alleged violators to bring them into compliance and keep a public record of how complaints are resolved.

Among other changes, the revised ordinance clarifies the waiver process and prohibits pesticide use within 75 feet of water bodies and wetlands, including ponds, streams and drainage ditches.

And because some synthetic pesticides are allowed in organic methods, the revised ordinance also reframes its focus from organic-versus-synthetic pesticides to allowed-versus-prohibited pesticides.

Activists on both sides of the issue say South Portland’s effort could be copied by other communities across Maine and beyond. Portland residents and officials have been monitoring South Portland’s progress over the last year.

Supporters of the ordinance have noted that the EPA doesn’t require conclusive independent safety testing of pesticides and has acknowledged that it doesn’t know the full impact of many chemicals on humans or the environment.

Rachel Burger, founder and president of Protect South Portland, a group that has pushed for environmental action on several fronts, urged the council to support a move away from being at war with nature.

“Let’s work together at it,” Burger said. “If you give nature a chance, it will take care of itself.”

Opponents of the ban said it will confuse many homeowners who won’t know which chemicals to use and likely pit neighbors against one another. Several spoke in favor of integrated pest management, which promotes a controlled use of pesticides, whether organic or synthetic, that is most effective and least toxic to humans and the environment.

“I don’t favor the ordinance. I favor the smart use of pesticides,” said David D’Andrea, superintendent of the Sable Oaks Golf Club in South Portland.

If approved on a second reading, the ordinance would apply to city property starting May 1, 2017, and broaden to private property May 1, 2018. It would be reviewed during the third year for possible revision.

The ordinance would apply to the South Portland Municipal Golf Course and the privately owned Sable Oaks Golf Club starting May 1, 2019.

Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

Twitter: KelleyBouchard

]]> 12, 16 Aug 2016 11:42:32 +0000
Pogy fishery reopens with strict new rules Tue, 16 Aug 2016 01:00:00 +0000 Maine made bait fishermen and lobstermen happy Monday when it reopened its pogy fishery after concluding there is still enough menhaden left in the Gulf of Maine to keep the population healthy.

Those who hunt for nearshore schools of the flat, oily-fleshed silver fish – the second most popular lobster bait in Maine after herring – must follow strict new rules to prevent unusual damage or imminent depletion of the Atlantic menhaden. If they limit their fishing days to three and their catch to no more than 120,000 pounds a week, Maine fishermen can use up the remaining 2.3 million-pound quota allotted to Maine, Rhode Island and New York during a so-called “episodic” fishing event, when pogies are deemed unusually plentiful in New England waters.

The Maine Department of Marine Resources closed the traditionally quiet fishery on Aug. 5 after initial landing reports indicated the state had used up its usual pogy quota of 166,000 pounds a year and was racing through an extra 3.7 million “episodic event” pounds given to qualifying New England states much faster than expected. With the herring shortage already creating a tight bait market, DMR didn’t want to risk running out of pogies just as the lobster season peaks, when the state’s biggest commercial fishery, with a value of nearly $500 million in landings, need them most. Any overage could also trigger severe federal penalties.

Upon additional review, however, DMR determined that Maine fishermen had not actually caught as many pogies as it had originally believed, that “there is biomass still available” and the fishery should be reopened, according to the emergency rules. Pogy fishermen must declare their participation, and their single fishing vessel, no later than noon Thursday. They can fish Tuesday through Thursday, three days a week, and land no more than 120,000 pounds a week. There is a bycatch exception for those landing up to 2,000 pounds of menhaden a week while fishing for other species.

Despite anecdotal reports of strong lobster landings and prices this season, lobstermen have been struggling to find suitable bait to fill the bags used to lure lobsters into their traps. The offshore supply of fresh Atlantic herring, the go-to bait for most Maine lobstermen, has been in short supply, driving prices up as much as 30 percent in late July. The shortage triggered near-shore fishing restrictions to try to stretch out the summer herring catch in hopes of keeping bait bags full as Maine’s lobster season hits its peak.

With herring getting scarce and expensive, lobstermen have turned to other bait for relief, especially the pogy. A state survey shows it’s the No. 2 bait fish among Maine lobstermen.

Maine fishermen had never landed the state’s entire pogy quota, but this year they had caught all of that and a bit more by July 31. That is when the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, the federal program that oversees both the herring and the pogy catch on the East Coast, granted Maine access into the episodic event fishery, which is triggered when a New England state has used up all of its regular quota, can prove there is still an abundance of pogies in local waters and implements strict rules to prevent overfishing the population. Maine used industry observations and landings data to prove the fish’s abundance in local waters.

New York and Rhode Island had received entry into the episodic event fishery for menhaden in May, according to Megan Ware, the head of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s menhaden program. When Maine was approved for episodic fishing on July 31, 3.5 million pounds of the 3.7 million pounds extra episodic quota for New England states were still available. Statistics show that Maine’s menhaden fleet made the most of that overage: In the one week between receiving the extra quota and the state’s closing the pogy fishery, Maine fishermen landed almost 1.2 million pounds of menhaden, or seven times its regular annual menhaden quota.

Pogies are found in coastal and estuarine waters from Nova Scotia to northern Florida. Generally considered too oily for human consumption, they are prized as a source of Omega 3 fish oil, and as bait for many commercial and recreational fish, from shark to striped bass, but especially for lobster and crab. Pogies are also a prime source of food for whales and seabirds.

Environmentalists’ concern about shrinking stock were partly behind the decision by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission to institute a quota system in 2012. The fishery is believed to be rebounding, however, and the commission voted to increase the quota by 10 percent last year.

]]> 5, 16 Aug 2016 14:35:05 +0000
How hot was it? NASA reports July was Earth’s hottest month in recorded history Mon, 15 Aug 2016 22:14:10 +0000 WASHINGTON — Earth just broiled to its hottest month in recorded history, according to NASA.

Even after the fading of a strong El Nino, which spikes global temperatures on top of man-made climate change, July burst global temperature records.

NASA calculated that July 2016 was 1.51 degrees Fahrenheit (0.84 degrees Celsius) warmer than the 1950-1980 global average. That’s clearly hotter than the previous hotter months, about 0.18 degrees warmer than the previous record of July 2011 and July 2015, which were so close they were said to be in a tie for the hottest month on record, said NASA chief climate scientist Gavin Schmidt.

Scientists blame mostly man-made climate change from the burning of fossil fuel with an extra jump from the now-gone El Nino , which every few years is a natural warming of parts of the Pacific Ocean that changes weather worldwide.

Georgia Tech climate scientist Kim Cobb said this is significant “because global temperatures continue to warm even as a record-breaking El Nino event has finally released its grip.”

NASA’s five hottest months on record are July 2016, July 2011, July 2015, July 2009 and August 2014. Only July 2015 was during an El Nino. Records go back to 1880.

This is the 10th record hot month in a row, according to NASA. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which calculates temperatures slightly differently, will come out with its July figures on Wednesday. NOAA has figured there have been 14 monthly heat records broken in a row, before July.

“The scary thing is that we are moving into an era where it will be a surprise when each new month or year isn’t one of the hottest on record,” said Chris Field, a climate scientist at the Carnegie Institution and Stanford University.

This new record and all the records that have been broken recently years tell one cohesive story, said Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies: “The planet is getting warmer. It’s important for what it tells us about the future.”

]]> 8, 16 Aug 2016 14:35:18 +0000
Maine beekeepers face challenges but their numbers grow Sun, 14 Aug 2016 23:52:44 +0000 If you talk to 10 beekeepers, you’ll come back with 12 different opinions.

That’s what Doug Calhoun will tell you if you ask to talk about the state’s official insect, the honeybee. Calhoun helps run the Waldo County branch of the Maine State Beekeepers Association.

And while more than one veteran beekeeper says there are increasing challenges in beekeeping now, the number of licensed beekeepers in the state has been growing every year.

In 2013, Maine had 874 beekeepers; in 2014, 944; and in 2015, 990. So far in 2016, the state has 959 licensed beekeepers.

But the same can’t be said of the honeybees themselves. From 1990 to 2004, managed populations of honeybees have decreased by 25 percent, according to a fact sheet published by the cooperative extension at the University of Maine.

“There’s a problem with all pollinators,” Calhoun said last week. “Every pollinator is in trouble, I believe … because of pesticides, … fungicides and loss of habitat.”

Calhoun added that beekeepers have the same problems any farmer does, such as bad weather, disease and pillaging fauna.

Still, Waldo County has 12 more beekeepers this year alone, he said. The biggest problem in the county is bears, which will rip apart hives to get the grubs for their protein.

Bees are important to people’s food system because about 33 percent of the food we eat is directly related to the honeybee.

And while pesticides play a role in the decline of both managed and wild bees, pests such as Varroa mites are cited as one of the larger problems – if not the largest – for beekeepers.

Matthew Scott, a retired aquatic biologist who co-founded the beekeepers’ group and has been a beekeeper for 52 years, presented data supporting this theory for a lecture at the Maine Lakes Resource Center in Belgrade. According to Scott, the number of honeybee colonies in the country peaked in the early 1950s at about 5.5 million. Around 1986, the year the Varroa mites arrived in the United States from Southeast Asia, the number started to decline rapidly. By 2004, there were only about 2.5 million colonies.

The Varroa mite is “like a bee vampire” that “sucks blood from the larval and adult bees” and spreads diseases, such as the deformed wing virus, state horticulturist Gary Fish said. He agrees that pests are the largest threat, according to research. “It’d be like us having a backpack on our back,” Scott said.

The mites are a cause of colony collapse disorder, Scott said, when most of the worker bees leave the colony, and only a queen, some nurse bees and immature bees, as well as the food, remain. Without worker bees, a colony can’t survive.

Maine wasn’t harshly affected by the disorder until 2014, when the state lost 65 percent of its colonies. However, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service, the disorder has been decreasing nationally since 2010.

A 2013 study by the National Academy of Sciences found that over the last 100 years, 27 percent of bee species are increasing and 29 percent are declining, while the rest are stable, Fish said. Only four of 187 species show “dramatic declines,” he said.

In Maine, bees are doing well, according to Fish, and not showing larger losses than other states.

The main problems for bees, according to Scott, are pests, diseases, poor diets, progeny and pesticides, in that order.

“The challenges have changed and become greater in complexity,” he said. Before, he only had to worry about Tracheal mites. Now Varroa mites are a much worse problem.

Fish said the next-largest problem is lack of genetic diversity. Some beekeepers disagree with this, and in fact think the opposite. Scott said that keeping the European honeybee genetically pure was important, and that they shouldn’t be Africanized.

Next, Fish lists lack of good habitats as a reason for the decline of some bees. Migratory honeybee colonies are taken to different parts of the country to pollinate specific crops, such as almonds in California. There, 1.5 million colonies pollinate 1 billion pounds of almonds – 82 percent of the world’s supply.

“Bees need a balanced diet, just like us,” Fish said in an email.

Pesticides are last on the list, he said, because professionals are licensed and trained to use them. Insecticides will kill bees, he said, but directions on how to use other pesticides are designed to minimize risk.

“Homeowners may pose great risks because they may not realize that even pesticides approved for organic use can be toxic to bees if they are applied to flowering plants or at the wrong time,” he said.

Samantha Burns, co-owner of Runamuk Acres Farm and Apiary in Starks, agrees that the two largest issues beekeepers face are pesticides and pests.

Varroa mites are a “huge issue,” she said, but pesticides also “kill bees both directly and indirectly.” They can kill either the bees or the food they eat.

“I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that pesticides that are designed to kill a plant will also hurt a pollinator,” she said.

Burns recommends that people do their homework before beekeeping. Growing the right flowers and plants for bees will help them forage, and avoiding pesticides is helpful.

She also said that people can wait to mow their lawns, or reduce their mowing in general, until after the dandelion bloom, which is a big food source for pollinators, to help the bee population.

Beekeepers need to register with the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, but fees are not high for small keepers, according to Fish. Hives are inspected for diseases and pests to prevent spreading of any contagious and damaging diseases.


]]> 3, 16 Aug 2016 11:38:36 +0000
Tiny house in Richmond is home to bigger life Sun, 14 Aug 2016 21:53:46 +0000 RICHMOND — Luke Lucier and Becky Deering are used to drivers slowing down on Route 197 to take a look at their home.

Some even pull into the driveway.

Others — and this makes Deering a little nuts — slow way down in the middle of the road while someone in the back seat takes a photo.

“If we’re here and we aren’t doing anything, they should just stop in,” Lucier said.

You have to pay attention or you’ll miss it. At 220 square feet, including the loft, their green-shingled home with white trim is a tiny house, which they built and moved to the concrete slab just across from the Cotton Cemetery in May.

For Lucier, 35, and Deering, 29, making the switch from their rental home in southern Maine to this home was neither fast nor impulsive.

“I think my dad mentioned it, but I didn’t put much thought into it,” Lucier said. He said that might have been about five years ago.

But the idea slowly took root.

“I pushed for it,” Deering said. “The freedom it gives us most people our age don’t have.”

Lucier is a self-employed carpenter in Cape Elizabeth, and as a side venture has started Tiny Houses of Maine. Deering is a veterinarian technician in Freeport.

“I looked into mortgages to get a house,” Deering said Sunday in her bright living room, but spending $50,000 on a down payment didn’t seem like the best option. Plus, she said, whatever they could afford would require time, effort and more money, in addition to their mortgage, to renovate.

A tiny house, for all its small size, offered quite a bit in exchange for their relatively modest investment of $35,000 to $40,000 for materials and fixtures, for which they paid out of pocket.

Generally, tiny houses range in size from 100 square feet to 400 square feet. They are, in execution, masterpieces of logic and efficiency. Because there is little space, there’s little space to waste. The main floor is home to living room, dining room, office (all in the same space), kitchen and bathroom, The upper floor, a sleeping loft, accommodates a king-size futon and clothing storage. Even the laundry is efficient in a combined washer-dryer. Heating and cooling the space is inexpensive and pretty straightforward with an air exchange system, and cleaning it is a snap.

“We can go out hiking on the weekend, come home and clean the house. In 10 minutes, it’s done,” Lucier said.

That convenience the is the fruit of a lot of labor. First, they had to find someone to fabricate the trailer that could bear the load of the house. And then they had to take a hard look at their lives, their stuff and how much space they would need to do even the simplest things.

“I made him pretend to shave,” Deering said. The point was trying to figure out how much space ought to be dedicated to the bathroom to be comfortable, In the end, they were able to shave a bit of space off the bathroom and add it to the kitchen, where they spend more time.

They had to pay attention to the size of the envelope of the house to avoid being oversize in transporting it.

And they had to pare down their personal belongings and pare down some more. “I threw a lot of stuff out,” Lucier said.

“Who needs 75 T-shirts or more than two pairs of shoes?” Deering wondered. “This has freed us up emotionally from the stress and toll all the stuff and everything to keep it up and spending the money takes.”

They feel as though they didn’t give up anything, though. Lucier still has the posters he collected while he was in the Navy, for instance, and there’s storage for books and their gear.

They chose Richmond because the town seemed more accepting of a tiny house than other communities.

Tiny houses are scattered across the state. In 2013, Waterville became host to a microhome, which at 624 square feet, is large for a tiny house.

Richmond code enforcement officer James Valley said a tiny house would be just about the only option for the property where Lucier and Deering planted their tiny home because of the stream that runs along the back side of the lot. The only requirement he imposed was putting an apron around the base of the house to cover up the trailer and making sure it had a second exit.

Other communities are looking at the tiny-house phenomenon, but they are not yet committing.

In Portland, the city has posted a document on its website, detailing its position on tiny houses because of the number of questions city staff members have received. In part it reads: “The city is actively looking at the issue of tiny houses and what role they might play in helping address our housing needs. The biggest challenge appears to be the state building code, which the city is required to utilize. We are looking into whether we might lobby for changes in MUBEC (Maine Uniform Building and Energy Code) to allow more flexibility for tiny homes, but such changes would not happen quickly, and could require legislation.”

That level of interest is not present in other areas of the state. In Augusta, code enforcement officer Rob Overton said he hasn’t seen any paperwork on tiny houses cross his desk.

Randy Gray, Skowhegan’s code enforcement officer, said he hasn’t seen any in his town.

“There are some small efficiencies and apartments, but there are not any (tiny houses) that I know of,” Gray said.

What he knows about the tiny house he has learned, as have many others, on TV. Shows such as “Tiny House Nation,” “Tiny House Builders” and “Tiny House, Big Living” populate networks such as FYI and HGTV.

In Maine, he said, one room of a house has to be at least 70 square feet. And like traditional houses, tiny houses would have to comply with the state building code. And if they do, he said, he wouldn’t stop one from being built, although they seem more like vacation homes than permanent residences.

“A permanent residence has to be a on a solid foundation,” he said.

Several of the tiny house programs highlight the mobile nature of the homes, and in that way, Gray said, they are no different from recreational vehicles. “I live in an RV all summer long in the campground,” he said, but he doesn’t see it or a tiny home as a year-round residence.

“When we’re using our RV, it gets you out doing other things,” he said. “I live with a redhead, so this wouldn’t be my way of living.”

Deering said living in a small space requires a strong relationship and the ability to talk things out.

Deering and Lucier don’t have plans to hit the road with their home. Tied to town water and sewer, they like it just where it is.

Their work is not quite done. Lucier has plans to build a storage space on the property to store his tools, and Deering is planning a garden for next year.

They are also going to have train friends and family not to bring them things for the house.

Lucier said his father gave him a flag for the house, and that’s fine.

“My family is huge and they like to give gifts,” Deering said. “I have had to train them by saying, ‘I need this,’ ‘I don’t want that.'”

She said she was excited that her mother gave her a couple of birdhouses. If anyone else wants to give a gift, she said, forget the rice cookers and kitchen appliances; instead, she recommends perennial garden plants.


]]> 4, 15 Aug 2016 15:13:56 +0000
Fences make good (animal) neighbors Sun, 14 Aug 2016 08:00:34 +0000 Consistency is overrated.

We gardeners are encouraged to grow native plants and maintain wild patches in our yards so the wildlife indigenous to our region can thrive. But if that selfsame native wildlife – in the form of chipmunks, woodchucks or blue jays – comes into our yard to eat our tomatoes or tulips, we haul out the traps or .22s to try to get rid of them.

Yes, we want wildlife, but not so much of it that we can’t enjoy the fruits and flowers of our labors.

What to do? The range of options is wide, but for this column in Source – which promotes sustainable living – I will ignore those that involve killing the pests. Yes, firearms, lethal traps and poisons do work, are legal in many areas and can be used in ways that are safe for humans, but I think most Source readers aren’t interested in those methods. If you are, search elsewhere.

I also advise against Havahart traps. Despite the warm and fuzzy name, the popular contraption is heartless.

“Trapping and relocating is rarely a long-term solution and can actually cause the spread of wildlife diseases and certainly cause a lot of animal suffering,” according to an article at, an organization based in Ithaca, New York, that works to protect wild animals.

“More than 70 percent of relocated animals die soon after relocation due to stress, starvation, dehydration and aggression of resident animals.”

The relocated animals aren’t familiar with the new area and won’t know how to survive there. The animals that already live in the new spot consider the relocated animals predators and attack them. Any babies moved won’t yet have learned survival skills and if any parent animals are moved, that spells death for their babies.

Even if a Havahart lets you move a healthy pest from your neighborhood to someone else’s, that isn’t a neighborly act. You wouldn’t want people to drop woodchucks off on your street, would you?

The best answer to fighting pests is barriers. Mostly, that means fences, which can work on four-legged pests as small as chipmunks and as large as deer.

Although you could put up fences now, the gardening season is nearing its end so they wouldn’t do much good. In addition, woodchucks are especially damaging in early spring when they have been hibernating all winter and wake up really hungry. So whether you install the fence this fall or next spring, you are doing this work for next year’s garden season.

Chicken wire is a solid bet. It should be small mesh, so small pests can’t squeeze through the holes. Most mammalian marauders are capable climbers and deft diggers, so the fence should be at least 3 to 4 feet high and be buried at least 10 inches deep.

If you don’t want to dig, you can bend the fencing at a 90 degree angle and run it at least a foot along the ground in addition. For an additional deterrent, leave 12 inches at the top of the fence unattached to posts, so the fencing will flop if an animal tries to climb it.

If your problem is as simple as critters eating tulip bulbs, place the chicken wire on top of the bulbs, removing it when the tulips begin to sprout.

Either instead of or in addition to a chicken-wire fence in the vegetable garden, you can install an electric fence. Sometimes a single wire 4 inches above the ground will work, but some websites recommend two or more strands at different heights – depending on the size of the animals you hope to keep out. Keep in mind that an electric fence requires that you pull or trim weeds so they don’t grow up to the fence.

To stop hungry birds, you’ll need netting. You can buy netting of many different materials that will protect your high-bush blueberries and fruit trees. The netting makes picking harder, and you have to attach the netting to the ground to keep pests from crawling under the barrier.

But if you are losing most of your fruit, it’s worth the trouble.

You also can harass pests with smells and flavors they don’t like. When we had woodchucks living under our garden shed, I covered the exits with stones and clumping kitty litter doused with ammonia. Used kitty litter works better, but we no longer had cats – and the ammonia worked almost as well. The Humane Society recommends that method for chipmunks and other burrowing animals, as well.

Many websites recommend spreading hot pepper flakes throughout the garden, spraying plants with a mixture of water and garlic puree or putting Irish Spring soap in the garden. Several companies make commercial products to repel pests, which some gardeners have had success with. But the animals grow accustomed to the smells after a while, so you have to switch products regularly.

The same holds true for scare tactics. While bright silver balloons and make-believe owls will spook both ground pests and birds for a while, sooner or later the once-scary fixtures become just another part of the landscape.

One product I hadn’t seen before I researched this column is an electronic rodent repeller, which emits rodent distress calls. I haven’t tried these, and only about half of the online reviews are positive, but if you are willing to gamble $20 on one, it might be worth a shot.

The biggest problem in our garden this year has been chipmunks. They munched on our strawberries, green tomatoes in pots on our patio and even raspberries I picked that were in pint boxes I set down before taking them inside. It’s hard enough to keep ahead of raspberry production without thieving chipmunks.

So far my solution has been to put the tomato pots up on the patio tables and carry the filled raspberry boxes inside before I continue picking. It’s too late for the strawberries, which are done for the season.

But mostly, I’ve (somewhat begrudgingly) shared the bounty with them. They look like Chip and Dale, after all.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at 767-2297 or at:

]]> 0, 14 Aug 2016 14:54:35 +0000
Greg Rogers is a grower who rises to challenges Sun, 14 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Greg Rogers is a 35-year-old man with Down syndrome. He’s got a pug named Zambi whom he adores. He also has backyard chickens, some loaded blueberry bushes and a garden he zealously cultivates.

Not that he eats what he grows; he donates his fresh-grown produce to Portland-based Wayside Food Programs. “I tried to buy a cucumber off him once,” said his mother, Joan. He told her no, because his crops go to the needy. We visited Rogers at his North Deering home for a tour of the garden. The result is a different sort of Meet, light on conversation, high on inspiration.

FARMER GREG: While Rogers finishes up his lunch, his mother explains how he got into farming. When he was 18, she and her husband sent Rogers to a special school, Camphill Soltane in Pennsylvania, where he learned how to mulch, prune, weed and harvest with the program’s fruit and berry operation. He was so engaged, she said, that he would phone the school to check in on the health of the peach trees during his spring break.

In his late 20s, he volunteered at a flower and a vegetable farm in Maine and raised chickens, apples and vegetables on his own small, backyard farm in Naples. Since moving to Portland he has established, with the help of his health aides, a backyard garden filled with beans, zucchini, summer squash and potatoes.

At the Swiss chard, he stopped to do some explaining. “See the red stems?” he said. “And the yellow.” He and an aide had recently delivered squashes to Wayside. “Thirty-five pounds,” he said proudly.

MEET GOLDILOCKS: Rogers led the way to the twin chicken coops, currently occupied by just five chickens (in Portland, the limit for backyard chickens is six, but one of his birds recently met its maker).

“That’s Goldilocks,” he said, pointing to the lone peach-colored chicken. He gets about a dozen eggs a week. “But I don’t use for eating,” he said.

At one point, his mother said, he sold eggs to Fore Street restaurant.

While he was examining the chickens, his mother and aide Henry Powell were checking on the vegetable crop. They discovered a zucchini the size of a small and very fat baseball bat and she held it up. “Gregor,” she called to him. “Mr. Magoo!” When she finally got his attention, asking “What’s wrong with this?” he shrugged it off, proving himself the rare home gardener who does not suffer from overgrown-zucchini guilt.

“I’ve got a rain barrel,” Rogers said, showing how the water runs down a gutter and into the bucket.

SOIL AMENDMENTS: The next stop on the tour was the compost heap in the side yard. Rogers had his soil tested when he first started gardening in Portland. “I had lead in the garden,” he said. So his gardens are heavily amended.

Fortunately, he’s got an in with Garbage to Garden, a curbside composting service in Portland. He volunteers with them and in exchange he gets a monthly batch of compost. Among his tasks are sorting pails to make sure they’ve been washed or putting stickers on the pails. “See this,” he said, holding up one of the pails.

In an email, Phoebe Lyttle, community outreach director for Garbage to Garden, credits Rogers with being “one of our most dedicated participants and loyal supporters” for years. “He has befriended the entire GtG staff, bagged hundreds of bags of compost, stickered hundreds of buckets and helped us at dozens of community events. He has introduced us to his friends and family, shared stories with us about his garden and the good uses he has for the compost he receives, and has had us all laughing!”

ART AND FOOD: The walls of his home are lined with Rogers’ paintings, several of which reference his gardens, and his mother believes that farming feeds his artistic impulses. She and her late husband, Dick, bought the house and Greg rents it from her. The goal was for him to have a more active social life and be closer to health aides. The family has a food-related background: Dick ran a Portland-based food business and imported fine foods, including cocoa.

FRUITS OF HIS LABORS: The food that Rogers donates to Wayside might get used in the kitchen, either cooked or in a salad, according to Executive Director Mary Zwolinski. Or it could be distributed through one of the five mobile food pantries that go out each month. It might also end up being redistributed to one of the 40 food pantries and agencies throughout Cumberland County that work with the needy. “Many of the people we serve at the mobile food pantries are refugees and immigrants and they really, really appreciate it when we can offer them fresh, local produce,” she wrote in an email. “So big thanks to Greg for that!” The staff at Wayside, she wrote, “is lucky to be part of his world.”

]]> 0, 14 Aug 2016 14:55:27 +0000
No-sweat way to extend pleasure of summer tomatoes Sun, 14 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Tomato plants are loving the exceptionally hot summer weather we’re having. And I am loving the extra tomato-y sweetness brought to my table courtesy of the drought conditions we’re having in Cumberland County.

But prolonged periods of days well into the 80s, coupled with growing concerns over water usage, make me less than keen to spend hours first blanching tomatoes to remove their skins and then canning them in a water bath on my stove in my steamy kitchen.

To that end, I am spending this week’s column on the benefits and beauty of freezing almost-whole, meaty plum tomatoes instead of stuffing them into jars.

The term “plum” encompasses several varieties of tomatoes, all of which grow in an elongated, oval shape, and are harvested in August and September, October if we’re lucky here in Maine. The Roma is the overarching title for the solid orangey-red variety, but among the many cultivars included in that category are Pozzano, Pomodoro and Pony Express.

Also making an appearance in the markets where I shop are orange-and-yellow striped (the Speckled or Striped Roman), orange with greenish-purple tops (Ukrainian Purple) and full-on yellow (Yellow Gold Roma or BHN 901) tomatoes.

Plum tomatoes have fine skins, thick flesh and reduced amounts of pulp, traits that allow them to hold their shape when preserved and cook down for sauces faster than other varieties. And they freeze really, really well.

I have two pet peeves about store-bought canned plum tomatoes: chunky cores that don’t break down in my sauce and rolled-up shards of unremoved skins that get stuck in my teeth.

I avoid my first peeve by pulling out my multi-purpose melon baller and scooping out the core from the stem end of as many rinsed plum tomatoes as I have on hand. I spread the cored fruit on cookie sheets and freeze them. Once they are frozen solid, I put the tomatoes in freezer bags or more environmentally-friendly airtight containers, admiring as I do so the sound of the fruit banging together, which reminds me of the solid clack of the cue ball sending an eight ball into a corner pocket for the win.

When I preserve plum tomatoes in the freezer, the annoying skin issue is seemingly magically taken care of on the thawing end of the process. To use the frozen tomatoes, I remove them from the freezer in the quantity I need (for every 2 cups of tomatoes called for in a recipe, you’ll need about 8 medium-sized plum ones) and run them very quickly under warm water so the skins – which crack because the tomatoes’ flesh expands when frozen – simply slip off.

Freezing tomatoes is one of those happy green-eating happenstances. I conserve water and fossil fuel-driven energy without ever having to break a sweat.

Christine Burns Rudalevige is a food writer, a recipe developer and tester, and a cooking teacher in Brunswick. Contact her at:

]]> 1, 14 Aug 2016 14:54:55 +0000
Making buttons from the sea Sun, 14 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Summer is a popular time to head to the beach and look for sea glass while the cold North Atlantic waves wash over your feet. Laura Pierce hits the sand in the spring and fall, when the rest of us have fled to the comfort of our wood stoves and a cup of hot cocoa. That’s the best time to gather the beautiful materials she needs to make her Sea Buttons.

Pierce gets especially excited about hunting for sea glass and pottery shards served up by the sea when the local weather forecast calls for coastal erosion. She knows that means the beach level could shift as much as 3 feet and all the sand and rocks will move around. It doesn’t hurt that she lives in Whiting, 3 miles from the ocean, where the tides are as high as 17 feet because it’s on the edge of the Bay of Fundy.

“It’s also good if it’s misty because you can see the colors better,” Pierce said.

Pierce starts her serious search for button materials in October. If the tides are right, she might go to the beach four times a week, for five to six hours at a time. At her favorite hunting spots, which she keeps secret, she rarely sees anyone else on the beach.

Pierce lives in an old farmhouse, in between two lakes, where she moved with her now ex-husband from Massachusetts. She started selling jewelry and buttons after the divorce so she could afford to stay there.

She says the buttons aren’t much work – she just drills two holes in them for thread – but they do require a good eye. The sea glass buttons must have the same thickness and color, and they can’t be chipped.

Pierce says her colorful buttons are popular in fall because that’s when knitters are usually working on sweaters. The buttons average $5 each. Two cost $10-$12, and four $20-$24. The color also affects the price; rare colors cost more, and red and orange are the rarest. The buttons can be purchased at Pierce’s Iris Designs Etsy store or at KnitWit in Portland; The Cashmere Goat in Camden; The Maine Center for Craft in West Gardiner; Archipelago in Rockland; The Commons in Eastport; and Northern Tides in Lubec.

]]> 0, 14 Aug 2016 14:55:10 +0000
Invasive green crabs are scuttling from dilemma to delicacy Sun, 14 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 A marine biologist, an art conservator and a group of fishermen from Georgetown are trying to use traditional Venetian fishing methods to turn the invasive green crab into a gourmet dish known in Italy as moleche.

Moleche is the name of the young, soft-shelled Venetian crabs that are caught, sorted and held in floating cages and harvested daily, right after they shed their hard outer shell. They are dipped in milk or egg, floured and fried, served up six or eight at a time for about two dozen euro in upscale eateries across the Veneto region of Italy.

Their nearly identical American cousins are reviled in Maine for decimating clam flats and threatening the state’s $23 million industry, as well as preying on other mollusks such as mussels and scallops. They can be caught with nets or traps, including the shrimp traps that now lie fallow here in Maine.

The real art of the moleche (moe-le-che) fishery, however, is about spotting the subtle signs of a molt about to happen in time to catch them before they hide or are eaten by a predator, including their fellow crabs.

Scientists at the University of Maine at Machias had studied the moleche possibility of the green crabs once before, and concluded the crabs did not give any external clues to their molts and thus could not be harvested commercially. But as the invasion marched on, and efforts to eradicate the crab failed, scientists on Prince Edward Island decided to give it a second look. So did marine biologist Marissa McMahan, a Northeastern University Ph.D. candidate from a Georgetown lobstering family who lives in Phippsburg.

McMahan applied for and got a $3,000 Maine Sea Grant to study the moleche potential. She and Jonathan Taggart, the art conservator who brought the moleche tradition to McMahan’s attention, and a small group of Georgetown lobstermen began to trap the green crabs in Robinhood Cove and Five Islands Harbor to collect data on population, size, gender and molting. They were hoping to learn if these two closely related crabs – same genus, different species – had enough in common that the Venetian fishery could be duplicated here in Maine.

“There is no one thing that will solve the green crab problem,” said McMahan. “But a soft-shell market could, when taken together with other methods, help slow down the population growth of the invasive species, and maybe, over time, give us a new market for Maine fishermen to do to diversify the industry. As a state, we can’t just rely on lobster, because a one-fishery market, or economy, is dangerous, especially with the warming ocean temperatures. We may not have a huge impact, not right away at least, but if this works, it would be a step in the right direction.”

Moleche, or deep-fried soft-shell green crabs, is served up in Venice, Italy. Some hope their nearly identical Maine cousins, reviled for decimating clam flats and preying on mussels and scallops, can be exploited in similar ways.

Moleche, or deep-fried soft-shell green crabs, is served up in Venice, Italy. Some hope their nearly identical Maine cousins, reviled for decimating clam flats and preying on mussels and scallops, can be exploited in similar ways. Jonathan Taggart photo


Originally from Europe, the green crab, or Carcinus maenas, reached America in the mid-1800s after riding across the Atlantic in the ballast water on ships. They have been in Maine for more than a century. They live in the shallows and the soft-bottom and rocky sections of the intertidal zone.

As the water temperature rises, the crabs are proliferating, and have been eating their way through East Coast mussels, clams and eelgrass beds, and undermining salt marshes with their labyrinthian tunnels. Over the last decade, efforts to eradicate the invader, from creating bait markets to volunteer and town-funded harvests, have failed.

Despite the crabs’ abundance, the Georgetown group quickly learned, like others before them, how difficult it is to identify a pre-molt green crab. Unlike the Chesapeake blue crab, whose swimming fins will turn pink, then red, as a molt approaches, the green crab’s molting signals aren’t easy to detect.

That is when Taggart, the Georgetown conservator who had learned about the moleche tradition on a recent trip to document the wooden boat tradition in Venice, agreed to go back to Venice to ask the molecante – the Italian word for soft-shell green crab fishermen – for help learning how to sort and cultivate these crabs.

Taggart invited Paolo Tagliapietra, the 36-year-old molecante whom he had met on his trip, to come to Maine to share this centuries-old fishing tradition. One of the youngest crab fishermen in Venice, Tagliapietra is worried the moleche tradition may be fading. The dish remains highly prized, but fewer and fewer young people are joining the ranks of the molecante. And he knows better than most just how much skill, and experience, is needed to identify a pre-molt green crab.

Fisherman Ivan Bagnolo, right, and an assistant fish for crabs at a lagoon in Venice, Italy, this spring. Marine biologist Marissa McMahan, who comes from a lobstering family in Georgetown, applied for and got a $3,000 Maine Sea Grant to study the potential for a similar moleche fishery in Maine. She and others in the state are collecting data now.

Fisherman Ivan Bagnolo, right, and an assistant fish for crabs at a lagoon in Venice, Italy, this spring. Marine biologist Marissa McMahan, who comes from a lobstering family in Georgetown, applied for and got a $3,000 Maine Sea Grant to study the potential for a similar moleche fishery in Maine. She and others in the state are collecting data now. Reuters/Alessandro Bianchi

So Tagliapietra bought his own plane ticket to come to Maine to teach what was essentially a two-week crash course on moleche fishing to the Georgetown group as a way to preserve and maybe even expand the molecante tradition and help diversify the Maine fishery.

Tagliapietra said he came here to help his new friend, Taggart, better the lives of local fishermen. Others have asked him to teach them how to fish for the green crab, and he has refused. But as a fisherman, he wouldn’t turn away a request to help other fishermen overcome a problem.

And he believes that the moleche tradition, which he learned from his grandfather and father, both of whom spent their whole lives perfecting their skills, could work in Maine.

“I really think that there is the possibility to have soft-shell crabs like in Italy,” Tagliapietra said. “Probably a simple cut and paste of our technique isn’t enough. There are for sure some things to adapt and learn, but the base is the same. (It) is not a start from zero, at all.”


The Venetian green crab molting season occurs twice a year, in the spring and fall. Small numbers molt at other times of the year, and those crabs fetch higher prices for the fishermen because of their limited quantity, but it’s in March, April, October and November that moleche fetch about $20 a pound in the Venetian fish markets.

It is too early to tell if the Maine crabs will follow the same molting season, or if the different length of day and water temperature will alter the shedding calendar slightly for the green crabs that live in Maine.

Tagliapietra taught the group how to spot a pre-molt crab. It isn’t molting season now, but every one of the handful of green crabs that Tagliapietra found that he labeled as an out-of-season pre-molt ended up, in a matter of days, emerging from its exoskeleton, clad in a fragile, gelatinous new shell.

It suggests that Maine fishermen, already trained to note small changes in a fishery, could learn to identify pre-molting green crabs, or what Venetians call grancia buono, and catch them before they go into hiding, where their shells will thin, turn gray and be replaced in a day or two.

“We have much to learn, and much work to do, but as Paolo says, there is potential!” Taggart said.

Young crabs molt more frequently, and are usually greener in color than older crabs, which take on more gray, brown or red hues. According to Tagliapietra, the first signs of molting can occur up to three weeks ahead of time, with a fine white line developing on the edge of the plates found on the underbelly of the crab, followed by a darker shadow. The carapace, or the back of the shell, will begin to gray. The shell will soften, especially where the tail meets the carapace. Then the underside of the body will become opaque. When the crab grows lethargic, molting is imminent.

“The signs can be extremely hard to see in bright sunlight, so they are looked for in the shade,” Taggart said. “It helps to wear some good magnifying glasses!”

Tagliapietra urged the group to consider building another green crab market called masanete. These are the pregnant females carrying eggs that can be harvested in the fall, and are far easier to identify, and are usually boiled and seasoned with olive oil, parsley and sometimes garlic and often served over pasta. Harvesting these pregnant females, which can carry up to 185,000 eggs at a time, would cull future generations of this invasive species while providing a diversified source of income for Maine fishermen.

The Georgetown research group is easing up on its sorting work now, and just collects the basic population information from its traps, but will restart the molting work in late September, before the fall shed is likely to begin.


]]> 8, 17 Aug 2016 14:21:59 +0000
How do cruise ships stack up in environmental impact? Sun, 14 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Portland will soon be visited by the largest cruise ship it’s ever hosted. Do you know what kind of impacts these behemoths with their thousands of passengers have on our environment? We didn’t either, so we asked:

On Aug. 28, the biggest cruise ship ever to visit Portland is due to dock at the Ocean Gateway at 8 a.m. The Anthem of the Seas, which sets sail on its first American voyage on Aug. 25, is 1,140 feet long and is slated to carry 4,974 passengers and a crew of 1,480.

That’s roughly the population of Belfast contained in a boat nearly four football fields long and equipped with a viewing pod that rises so high off the deck that passengers will be able to look down on the Portland Observatory on Munjoy Hill. (The city had to check with the Federal Aviation Authority to make sure this didn’t interfere with flight plans at the nearby Portland International Jetport.) The ship will be in town only about nine hours, but that ought to be enough time for a lot of double takes.

And questions.

In a town so focused on sustainability that it has competing composting companies and a public housing project with a rooftop garden, some residents are likely to wonder just what kind of environmental impacts wash ashore with a giant ship like the Anthem of the Seas.

Worldwide, cruising is on the rise, with 24.2 million people expected to go on cruises in the course of 2016, up 4.3 percent from 2015. In Maine, Portland has become an increasingly popular destination for cruise lines – Bob Leeman, the marketing manager of Cruise Portland, said the city is scheduled to receive 104,000 visitors from cruise ships this year, up about 10 percent from the previous year.

It’s only natural then to ask what impact these ships have on our marine life, the waters of Casco Bay, the local food economy and environment and whether the economic benefits of selling T-shirts and lobster rolls to some very short-term tourists balances out the carbon footprint of ships so big they make the Time and Temperature building look dainty.

Greeter Julie Amergian offers directions to cruise ship passengers at Ocean Gateway. A cruise industry watchdog says Maine has done well in passing regulations to try to protect its waters from ship pollution.

Greeter Julie Amergian offers directions to cruise ship passengers at Ocean Gateway. A cruise industry watchdog says Maine has done well in passing regulations to try to protect its waters from ship pollution. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Some of the answers are surprising.

For instance, the average ship size is increasing all the time, a factor driven by the simple capitalism involved with the cruise ship industry.

“You can operate a ship as effectively for a larger number of people with a relatively smaller capital expenditure and a less than proportional increase in cruise size,” said Bud Darr, senior vice president, Technical and Regulatory Affairs, with Cruise Lines International Association.

But a huge ship like Anthem of the Seas isn’t, relatively speaking, more of a sea-bound gas guzzler, because the newer the cruise ship, the more energy efficient it is likely to be, according to both the industry and some of its critics.

“We are going to continue to see a more and more efficient generation of ships,” Darr said. “It is not only good for the environment, but let’s face it, we pay for our fuel.”

Anthem of the Seas was completed in 2015 and is one of Royal Caribbean’s “quantum” class of ships. Royal Caribbean has already built a bigger ship, the Harmony of the Seas; the size just keeps growing.

But Darr said so do the energy efficiencies. The industry expects to reduce emissions by 30 percent by 2025, aided by improvements on new and as yet unfinished ships. LED lighting has been a huge help, Darr said, as well as improved heating and cooling systems. About 20 of the 300 oceangoing cruise ships in the world are managing waste on board to the point where “nothing actually goes to a landfill,” he said. Most ships have on-board incinerators that cut back on the amount of waste returning to shore with passengers (although incinerator emissions come with hazards of their own).

What does return to shore in terms of waste, typically? A lot of squished packaging. Ships’ provisioners don’t shop the way we do: they take nothing extra on board, and any leftover materials are compressed to be returned to shore and recycled at the end of the voyage.

Darr said it is “typical to see a 60 percent recycling rate per person, which is better than recycling rates onshore.”

One of the ways the industry avoids burning more fuel is by minimizing the distance between ports of call; an itinerary that calls for a stay in Boston one night and Portland the next, for example, means the vast ship spends less time getting up to maximum speed on a journey. Portland expects 28 cruise ship dockings, large and small, just in September.

So is Portland, a relatively new port of call for the industry, compared to, say, the Bahamas, a cheap pit stop? Darr had plenty of flattering things to say about Portland and its appeal to cruise passengers.

“What I will say is those ports that are closer do have some appeal with regard to energy efficiency,” he said. “The main driver is going to be, what is the guest experience there?” What Portland offers to cruise ship passengers is “great,” he said. That list includes sightseeing, trips to Freeport to shop L.L. Bean and the outlets, bus trips to Mt. Washington to enjoy the foliage, and pursuit of local foods, including lobster in all its shapes and sizes.


Some people look at a cruise ship and see nothing but temptation, a birthday cake of a boat ready to deliver a dream vacation. Then there are those like Cathy Ramsdell, executive director of Friends of Casco Bay, who would recoil on drives through Acadia National Park when she’d look down and see cruise ships in Frenchmen’s Bay. “It just seemed wrong to me,” she said. “It was one of the most offensive sights I have ever seen, dwarfing those islands.”

A shuttle driver prepares to transport passengers from the cruise ship Grandeur of the Seas to tour buses that await at Ocean Gateway.

A shuttle driver prepares to transport passengers from the cruise ship Grandeur of the Seas to tour buses that await at Ocean Gateway. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

When the cruise ship industry increased its focus on Portland as a destination after the turn of the century, Friends of Casco Bay worked in tandem with state Rep. Herb Adams, who sponsored legislation to make Casco Bay a No Discharge Area, or NDA. That means ships are not allowed to dump even treated wastewater within three miles of the shoreline from Small Point to Two Lights. Not gray water (from showers and sinks) or black water (untreated sewage) or oily bilge water.

At times, Ramsdell said she was terrified it wouldn’t pass. “There were some very big guns there,” she said, referring to the attorneys for the cruise ship industry. The threat that the industry would simply go elsewhere (taking with them those tourists buying T-shirts) was implicit.

“It was a real David and Goliath effort and it involved legislators who leaned in from both sides of the aisles,” Ramsdell remembered.

That protective zone victory, which took effect in 2006, led to other regions in Maine being added to the no-discharge list. Boothbay, Kennebunk to Wells, southern Mount Desert Island and West Penobscot Bay were added in 2009. (It’s worth noting that all of Connecticut’s and Rhode Island’s coastal waters and all waters in New Hampshire are no discharge zones.)

If it hadn’t happened, Ramsdell said, “we would be wringing our hands every time we saw those ships coming and going.”

This relatively early action made Maine something of a hero among the sector of the environmental community that focuses on cruise ships. Ross Klein, a professor from Newfoundland whose website Cruise Junkie tracks the industry with watchdog ferocity, said the story of Portland and cruise ships is cause for celebration.

“Because of these good environmental activists, the nature of the problem that you are going to experience is considerably less than other ports,” Klein said.

Further protections were put in place by the Environmental Protection Agency, first in 2009 and then in 2013, which go beyond the No Discharge Areas established in Maine and elsewhere. But black water, ie toilet waste, can still be dumped outside of those three miles, a cause of concern for some. So too are those possible mistakes made within the three-mile protected zone.

“Every once in a while we’ll get a call from a citizen who says, ‘There is a ship in town and it doesn’t smell right,’ ” Ramsdell said. “And we’ll check it out.”

But about all Friends of Casco Bay could do in that case is buzz by in the Baykeeper and then give a call to the U.S. Coast Guard, which is in charge of enforcing such regulations on cruise ships.


The cruise ship industry is heavily regulated by multiple entities, but it falls to the Coast Guard to respond to problems and conduct at least two scheduled inspections annually and up to four depending on the situation.

In Maine, which is part of Sector Northern New England, three inspectors are qualified to inspect cruise ships. One of them is Lt. Mike Metz, now stationed in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, but a veteran of the cruise ship inspection process, having spent six years in Miami and Fort Lauderdale, including three years in the Coast Guard Cruise Ship National Center of Expertise.

Metz explained these annual inspections happen at ports all over the country, but said in Maine, nine were performed in 2014, five in 2015, and two so far in 2016, with not yet half the cruising season completed.

That’s a small number compared to what happens in cruise ship hubs like Florida. But inspectors must be on hand in every sector.

“As complex as all these cruise ships are getting, it is crucial,” Metz said. “We may not have the volume but we certainly have the diversity.”

The inspections performed can range from testing the smoke extraction systems (fire protection measures) to seeing how the crew performs their jobs. The ship’s waste stream systems also undergo annual examinations, with the officer in charge choosing among the five types of systems – black water, gray water, oil, hazardous solid waste or non hazardous, aka, garbage – he or she wants to check. It takes a team of about four people an entire day to complete the examination, which includes checking all previous inspection records and consulting with officers elsewhere.

In the event a ship fails an inspection, the Coast Guard can hold it at port. That hasn’t happened in the two years Metz has been stationed in Portsmouth.

The Coast Guard is also there during the planning and building process. “These ships are examined cradle to grave,” Metz said.

But the ships aren’t, say, followed to the three miles out point to make sure they’re obeying the No Discharge Area rules, according to Lt. David Bourbeau, public affairs officer for the Northern Northeast sector. In the past, cruise ships have been known to break those rules, either by mistake or by willful neglect.

Smoke billows from the smoke stack as the cruise ship Grandeur of the Seas docks at Ocean Gateway. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Smoke billows from the smoke stack as the cruise ship Grandeur of the Seas docks at Ocean Gateway. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

The Government Accounting Office tracked 87 cases of illegal discharges in U.S. waters from cruise ships between 1992 and 1998, the majority involving oil. Between 1999 and 2003, many of the major cruise lines were fined for environmental violations, including Norwegian, Carnival and Royal Caribbean (which was assessed millions in fines). This led to a requirement by the Cruise Lines International Association – the group Darr represents – that its members adopt more stringent waste management practices and procedures.

“Obviously there have been a few violators,” Bourbeau said, “but I think they have way too much to lose to not follow the rules.”

Not everyone is willing to trust that the cruise lines have been scared straight. In Alaska, which has decades of experience with the cruise industry, a state-run group, the Ocean Rangers, provides another layer of protection from environmental problems. The program is funded by a tax on cruise ship passengers. Klein of Cruise Junkie is a proponent of Ocean Rangers, and he’d recommend it for any community that worries regular inspections aren’t enough. Or that trust hasn’t been earned yet.

“It’s kind of like the police saying, ‘We don’t have to patrol the highways because people aren’t stupid enough to go 120 miles per hour,’ ” Klein said. “We have lots regulation but not lots of enforcement.”

Metz wouldn’t argue against the presence of Ocean Rangers in Maine ports, were they to be added. “The more scrutiny any vessel can get is helpful,” Metz said.

Public scrutiny played a crucial role in pushing the cruise ship industry to improvements in wastewater treatment, to the point where these newer (and yes, bigger) vessels can handle human waste as efficiently as it is handled on land.

“They are building that into their design, which is a great thing,” said Pam Parker of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. “That’s fabulous. These systems are equivalent to, or better, than some municipal systems that we have. They’re producing a very high-quality effluent.”


Still, effluent is effluent, and human waste contains nitrogen that isn’t good for any marine life, so concerns remain. Earlier this year the International Maritime Organization agreed to new regulations that will ban ships in the Baltic Sea from offshore dumping of any wastewater at all. If that becomes a trend in other world waters, either more port cities will have to be equipped to pump ships out or the technology on cruise ships will have to develop even further to treat and/or contain it.

Naval architecture technologies are moving at a fast pace, said the Coast Guard’s Metz, so much so that it can be a challenge for Coast Guard inspectors to keep up. Inspectors are regularly sent back to school to refresh their knowledge, Metz said, and even with his base of knowledge, he’s expecting more ship studying ahead.He’s not complaining. “I’m a nerd,” he said. “I dig it.”

He and others say they’d consider any ship built in the 1990s old. Klein said even a ship built before 2005 may not be up to good environmental standards. “There is a chance it doesn’t even have advanced wastewater treatment on board.”

By virtue of its newness, a giant ship like Anthem of the Seas starts to seem like a visitor that takes up a lot of room, but has a smaller environmental impact. Newer, nontoxic hull coatings that decrease the drag on ships and thus increase the fuel efficiency by up to 5 percent are also considered better for marine life. So too is the recent development of air lubrication systems that create a blanket of air bubbles around the ship in order to increase fuel efficiency. “It’s encouraging where it has been used,” Darr said.

Vibrations and engine noise interfere with marine life, particularly whales. That’s an area where the cruise ship industry is working on solutions, Darr said, not just to comply with international standards to protect sea creatures, but to keep its customers happy. “We do our very best on our ships to engineer out those sources of noises,” Darr said. “It is an extremely high priority for us. Our guests want to be comfortable.”


No one is proposing that Portland shut the door on the cruise ship industry. But what about the economic impact to the city? Does it pay off in tourist dollars or in say, purchases of local foods? The jury is out.

Studies by a pair of University of Maine professors and more recently, a 2015 survey conducted by a private research firm on behalf of Cruise Portland, a collaboration between the city of Portland and five other groups, put spending at anywhere between $85 and $105 per passenger who lands in the city. A small percentage take excursions on buses arranged for and upsold by the cruise ships. But most stay local, very local.

Earlier this month, when the Grandeur of the Seas came into port with 1,950 passengers, only eight buses were needed to take prospective shoppers to Freeport. Typically, the bulk of passengers (71 percent, according to the survey) explore the city by foot, buying lunch (lobster rolls are a popular item) and souvenirs. Cruise Portland estimates that in 2016, cruise ship passengers will contribute about $11 million to the local economy. Could it be more?

Maybe. Out of concern for air quality in this era of increased cruise ship traffic, Sierra Club Maine has been discussing a suggestion to require the cruise ships to plug into the local grid while they’re in port. That process, called cold ironing, would cut back on the air emissions involved with the ship running generators while on the dock to keep the lights and air conditioning on (being on the city grid still means using energy, of course, albeit from a different source). Currently, cruise ships don’t hook into the city grid, and technologically speaking, most couldn’t unless the city made major – and expensive – infrastructure changes at the piers, said Bob Leeman, marketing director for Cruise Portland. But most cruise ships do fill up with city water (which comes from Sebago) while in port.

“We run the hoses all day long,” Leeman said. “We’re making money on that. They can make their own water on board, because they have their own desalination plant, but (using city water) is cheaper than them doing it themselves.”

Maine is water-rich, even in a drought like this year’s, so that doesn’t raise sustainability alarm bells. It’s also rich in local foods. What about loading up on them to serve passengers on the day or days after the ship leaves Portland?

“That is a company-by-company decision,” said Darr of the Cruise Line International Association. It’s more common on smaller ships: “Where food can be sourced locally, they often like to do that. But the bulk of provisioning happens at the turn-around point.”

Colton Sanders, a driver for Maine Pedicab, awaits a fare as passengers from the cruise ship Grandeur of the Seas exit Ocean Gateway. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Colton Sanders, a driver for Maine Pedicab, awaits a fare as passengers from the cruise ship Grandeur of the Seas exit Ocean Gateway. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

In 2012, U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree wrote to owners of 15 cruise ship lines asking them to consider purchasing Maine lobster while in port here. Her request met with some success that season, with Norwegian agreeing to purchase 5,000 lobsters and Celebrity Cruise Lines 3,800. In 2014 Pingree’s office reported a total of 3,840 Maine lobsters going on board here.

American Cruise Lines, the smaller Connecticut-based cruise line that runs cruises along the Maine coast (its ships American Glory and Independence are due to dock in Portland six times in August) said in 2014 it purchased up to 40,000 pounds of Maine lobster annually from local lobster dealers. No one from the company was available to update those numbers.

But Annie Tselikis, the executive director of the Maine Lobster Dealers’ Association, which represents the majority of the state’s lobster dealers, said those numbers are “negligible.”

Tselikis said the combined Canadian and United States lobster industry moves 300 million pounds of lobster a year. “It’s a nice story. Good for the company and good for Rep. Pingree. Anything we can do to shed light on what a great product it is. But let’s call a spade a spade.”

Picking up lobsters in Portland doesn’t represent the reality of the industry, Tselikis said. For both the vendor and the buyer, the business operates most efficiently when lobsters are moved in bulk, through warehouses and via tractor trailers, she said. It might seem absurd for Maine lobster to be trucked to Boston, or New Jersey or some other location, to be loaded onto a cruise ship and then chug up the coast to be consumed after a day ashore in Portland, but because the cruise industry usually deals in such high volume, it makes sense, she said.

For one thing, much of the lobster served on board is likely to have been processed: frozen tails, picked meat ready for pasta dishes and so forth.

“If it is more efficient for them to receive it through a different distribution channel, then they will,” Tselikis said. “The cruise ship is going to do whatever makes sense for the cruise ship.”

]]> 26, 15 Aug 2016 06:36:58 +0000
Baby lettuce is easy to grow Sun, 14 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 My wife, Nancy, and I have been eating our own lettuce every day since late March. We planted some in our new cold frame last November and harvested it once regular freezing ended this spring.

Our effort to grow lettuce came about partly because we like it but mostly because our grandson, James, 7, told us that one of the few vegetables he will eat is “baby lettuce.” (Actually, he also eats cucumbers, red peppers, corn and baby spinach, but baby lettuce is easy to grow.)

We grow cut-and-come-again varieties, so we can continue cutting the same patch of lettuce over four to six weeks. It is easy to do.

If you don’t have a cold frame, sometime over the next couple of weeks is the last time that you can plant leaf lettuce and get a crop ready to cut until the ground freezes and/or the snow comes. It is worth the effort to have fresh, green vegetables coming all through the fall.

Take a spading fork and dig up a section of your garden, about 2 feet by 4 feet. Then smooth the soil with your hand. Sprinkle the lettuce seed over the soil so you have about 10 seeds in each square inch. Rub your hand over the seeds again.

Sprinkle on a little fertilizer – we use an organic 4-3-3 fertilizer (4 percent nitrogen, 3 percent phosphorous and 3 percent potassium). Now water heavily. After this, water the equivalent of an inch a week.

Once you have leaves that are about 2 inches long, start cutting and keep cutting until the lettuce stems get big or the snow comes.

]]> 0, 11 Aug 2016 18:46:45 +0000
As drought takes toll on trout and salmon, state urges anglers: Go easy on the fish Fri, 12 Aug 2016 15:36:47 +0000 State biologists are urging trout and salmon fishermen to go easy on the fish as this summer’s hot, dry conditions put additional stress on the cold-water species.

Streams throughout the southern two-thirds of Maine are running extremely low – and warm – because of the drought. As a result, species such as brook trout and landlocked salmon that require cooler, better-oxygenated water to survive are seeking out deeper pools, shady tributaries or spring holes in ponds, making themselves more vulnerable to predators. Temperature-stressed fish also are more susceptible to harm or death when they are caught and handled by fishermen.

On Friday, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife recommended that anglers fish earlier or later in the day, when temperatures are cooler, quickly catch and release fish, and use barbless hooks for faster release.

“Many of our cold-water species, such as brook trout, they don’t tolerate elevated water temperatures very well, so the combination of elevated temperatures and reduced stream flow over a long period of time created concern,” said Francis Brautigam, director of fisheries for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. “So we wanted people to be aware that fish are stressed.”

The advisory on fish comes two months after the department urged Mainers to take precautions to avoid attracting bears to their homes or businesses because dry weather conditions had reduced the berry crop.

Rains on Friday and projected for this weekend will likely dump some much-needed water into Maine’s rivers and streams, but those storms are unlikely to end the drought conditions. On Thursday, stream flow levels for a swath of Maine stretching from the Jackman area to the midcoast and back up toward the Katahdin region were classified as being in “extreme hydrologic drought” by the U.S. Geological Survey. Streams throughout much of the rest of the state, meanwhile, were classified as being in a “severe hydrologic drought,” comparing the flow to the historic average for that day.

Jeff Reardon, Maine brook trout project director with Trout Unlimited, pointed out that stream flow monitors in some parts of Maine were showing levels near or below the levels witnessed during the 2001-02 drought, which was the most severe in a half-century in Maine. During that drought, 17,000 Maine homeowners’ wells ran dry and farmers suffered tens of millions of dollars in crop losses.

Reardon said many fly fishermen typically take August off because rivers and streams often run low and warm. That’s particularly important this year, he said.

“My view is, this is a good time of year to go striper fishing or go bass fishing,” said Reardon, who planned to go striper fishing in the cooler, ocean waters because even the larger rivers were warm.

Maine is famed for its brook trout and landlocked salmon, with the state accounting for 97 percent of the wild Eastern brook trout waters remaining in the United States, according to Trout Unlimited. A recent study by the Maine Office of Tourism estimated that freshwater fishing generated $319 million in revenue in 2013, and that more than 60 percent of Maine residents who hold fishing licenses prefer brook trout.

As a warm-water species, smallmouth and largemouth bass – two other popular recreation fishing species in Maine – are less susceptible to the higher water temperatures being seen in Maine but can still be subject to increased predation when pond or lake levels drop.

The good news for brook trout, both Reardon and Brautigam said, is that it’s a fairly short-lived species that quickly rebounds.

“This will be a year when (brook) trout survival is very, very low,” Reardon said. “If it’s only a year and production next year is pretty good, we probably won’t see much of an impact.”

And it’s not just stream-dwelling trout and landlocked salmon that are at risk from the drought and heat.

Brautigam noted that a fish hooked at a depth of 40 feet or lower in one of Maine’s many cold, deep lakes could experience as much as a 35-degree temperature difference by the time it is hauled up to the warmer waters near the surface. That can put added stress on the fish, he said.

Reardon said that he would like to see Maine consider following the example of Montana or other states that close waters to fishing, or restrict angling activity to specific hours, during periods of drought or intense heat.

Brautigam said while the department would discuss such steps if the drought became even more severe, he personally questioned whether such restrictions would be useful.

“Mother Nature is going to have a larger role to play (than fishermen) in determining the fate of these fish,” Brautigam said. “A lot of people don’t go out (fishing) this time of year because of the concern that the fish are stressed, so I think there are a lot of passive or voluntary actions being taken by anglers.”

Of course, fish aren’t the only critters feeling the heat from the drought.

Maine wildlife officials had received 625 bear nuisance complaints so far this year, nearly double the 349 received by the same date in 2015. The drought is believed to the biggest single factor in that spike because of a poorer crop of the wild berries that normally account for a substantial portion of a bear’s diet during summer. And not only are bears getting into more garbage or backyard bird feeders, they also are ranging farther in search of food and therefore causing problems in new areas, said Kendall Marden, a wildlife biologist with Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

Marden urged homeowners to reduce the likelihood of nuisance encounters with bears by removing outside “attractants” such as garbage cans, food scraps, grills with food waste and bird seed.

Bear hunters could benefit from the situation, however. A poor natural diet often means higher hunter “success rate” during the fall bear hunt because the animals are more drawn to bait used to lure bears, Marden said.


]]> 8, 12 Aug 2016 22:31:54 +0000
South Portland’s proposed pesticide ban could be more of a suggestion Tue, 09 Aug 2016 02:36:44 +0000 SOUTH PORTLAND — A revised, penalty-free version of a so-called cosmetic pesticide ban won strong City Council support Monday night.

Councilors acknowledged a lack of conclusive data linking certain lawn-and-garden pesticides to health problems in humans or the environment, but a majority said they’re willing to “err on the side of caution” absent adequate testing and enforcement by the federal government.

“This is about as good a compromise as you’re gonna get,” Councilor Claude Morgan said. “I don’t see how we do it better at this point.”

Linda Cohen was the only councilor among seven who spoke against the revised ordinance, which she called unenforceable. Rather than “inflicting” the ordinance on citizens and asking them to report on each other, Cohen said the council should pass a resolution and fund an education campaign to encourage voluntary compliance.

The council took no action at Monday’s workshop; a first of two votes on the ordinance will be held Aug. 15.

The proposed ordinance would prohibit the use of certain lawn-and-garden pesticides and herbicides on private as well as city-owned property. Retailers in South Portland could still sell the targeted products, including glyphosate-based Roundup, neonicotinoids and weed-and-feed applications. And residents could still buy them.

But only pesticides allowed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and classified as “minimum risk” by the Environmental Protection Agency could be used within city limits. The local ban also would exempt commercial agriculture and playing surfaces at golf courses, and it would allow waivers for public health, safety and environmental threats, such as mosquitoes, poison ivy and invasive tree insects.

The revised ordinance acknowledges that enforcement would be challenging, especially on private property, in part because soil testing wouldn’t be practical or conclusive, according to Julie Rosenbach, the city’s sustainability coordinator.

“Our intention is not to approach implementation of this ordinance in a punitive way, but rather to use education and outreach to promote non-toxic land care practices and help the community to comply with this ordinance,” Rosenbach wrote in a memo to the council.

As a result, the revised ordinance calls for the sustainability coordinator, not police officers, to receive complaints, educate alleged violators to bring them into compliance and keep a public record of how complaints are resolved.

The revised ordinance also eliminates penalties. As first proposed, the ordinance called for escalating fines of $200, $500 and $1,000 per offense following an initial warning.

Among other changes, the revised ordinance clarifies the waiver process and prohibits pesticide use within 75 feet of water bodies and wetlands, including ponds, streams and drainage ditches.

And because some synthetic pesticides are allowed in organic methods, the revised ordinance also reframes its focus from organic vs. synthetic pesticides to allowed vs. prohibited pesticides.

Activists on both sides of the issue say South Portland’s effort could be copied by other communities across Maine and beyond. Portland officials have announced plans to follow South Portland’s lead if it succeeds.

Expert speakers and city activists noted Monday night that the EPA doesn’t require conclusive independent safety testing of pesticides and has acknowledged that it doesn’t know the full impact of many chemicals on humans or the environment.

“I’m sure you’re going to pass (the ordinance), so I’ll thank you in advance,” said Paul Cunningham, a city resident. “We’ve got far too many chemicals in our ecosystem.”

But opponents said South Portland’s proposal remains largely unenforceable and liable to divide neighbors into warring camps of scofflaws and watchdogs. Some spoke in favor of integrated pest management, which promotes a controlled use of pesticides, whether organic or synthetic, that is most effective and least toxic to humans and the environment.

“There are better ways to approach it than what’s in front of you today,” said Jim Cohen, a Portland lawyer who represents Mainers for Greener Communities, a group of arborists, landscapers and nurseries.

If approved, the ordinance would apply to city property starting May 1, 2017, and broaden to private property May 1, 2018. It would be reviewed during the third year for possible revision.

The ordinance would apply to the South Portland Municipal Golf Course and the privately owned Sable Oaks Golf Club starting May 1, 2019.


]]> 44, 09 Aug 2016 11:45:21 +0000
Full-time young Maine farmers get the lay of the land Mon, 08 Aug 2016 02:02:24 +0000 PALMYRA — While one of the two people in most young farming couples in Maine have to work at a paying job off the land to make ends meet, Jarret Haiss and Johanna Burdet are bucking the trend. And it’s paying off.

Beginning with this year’s growing season, the couple, with their 18-month-old daughter, Tiger, are working Moodytown Gardens on Warren Hill Road full time.

“To me it was really scary,” Burdet, 31, said. “I knew that we weren’t making a lot of money from our outside employment, but it was always a nest for me so if things got really tight we had some sort of other income. It’s definitely scary for anyone to stop working off the farm.”

Now, she said, she can focus all of her energy working on the farm and doing what she used to think about doing when she was the agriculture education teacher at the Cornville Regional Charter School near where she grew up in Cornville.

The couple bought the 75-acre farm on Warren Hill Road, which is Route 151, four years ago, and they cultivate about 10 acres of organic vegetables and make hay on about 20 acres.

They run their own farm stand in the front yard and raise pigs for market. They have nine piglets and Fat Man – a giant 700-pound castrated pig who’s “just a lucky pig” because he refuses to get on the livestock trailer for the slaughterhouse.

Vegetables, seven varieties of potatoes and flowers are grown using organic methods, but the produce is not yet certified organic.

Haiss, 32, grew up on a farm in neighboring St. Albans. He worked roofing and did odd carpentry jobs, farm work and some ski instructing before landing on the land full time.

The couple have been farming together for seven years. For the first three years, they farmed an acre of land at Burdet’s parents’ farm on Moodytown Road in Cornville, and the name stuck. They later moved onto a parcel a little less than an acre near her parents’ home and started their own little operation and finally outgrew that and purchased what was the old Elm Lawn Farm in Palmyra.

“This is the first full year that neither of us has had any outside employment,” Burdet said. “What we realized was that my teaching job was really just pulling from the farm (and) it wasn’t really helping us make ends meet.”

Haiss added that when both of them are working full time on the farm, they can sell more produce, do tractor work and run the three-person farm crew they hire for the season.

“We are making more money with me being able to focus on the farm,” Burdet said.


The number of farmers age 34 and younger grew by nearly 40 percent from 2007 to 2012, the last time the U.S. Department of Agriculture released agriculture census data.

John Harker, the former director of production development at the Maine Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Resources, said in 2013 that young farmers make up more of the farm owners and managers in Maine than in previous decades. Harker, who since has retired, said the number of young farmers buying property and attending farmers markets and agricultural meetings continues to grow.

“There is a movement for more people who want to grow their own food or start a small food business,” he said in 2013.

Harker said more colleges also are offering sustainable agriculture programs. He said a large percentage of those attending those classes are young families who want to start farming in a serious way.

Matthew Randall, agricultural compliance supervisor at the Maine Department of Agriculture, said that while new census data have not been released, the recent Maine Open Farm Days showed other families like Haiss and Burdet are working farms full time. The data are released every five years.

Gary Keough, a statistician at the USDA field office for New England in Concord, New Hampshire, said all of the New England states have seen an increase in the number of farms since 2007 and 2012.

“Everybody has an increase in the number of young farmers, especially beginning farmers,” Keough said.

Heather Johnson, executive director at Somerset County Economic Development Corp. in Skowhegan, said her office is keeping track of young farmers and will be releasing data, probably next year.

“There’s so much value in these young farmers coming into our communities, not only for what they produce on their farms, but for the value they add to the community in total,” Johnson said. “I think they bring an energy and an excitement and a broader thought to our natural resources and the value that our natural resources can play to the individuals in the community.”


Haiss and Burdet are on pace to make enough money to earn a living, they said.

They have several wholesale accounts for their produce – five restaurants, a couple of stores and a lot of shares for The Pickup, Skowhegan’s community-supported agriculture program. They also sell at farmers markets in Hampden, Skowhegan and Belgrade Lakes. Hello Good Pie and Day’s General Store, also in Belgrade, buy from them, they said.

Burdet said she has joined the Maine Federation of Farmers Market board of directors and is secretary and newsletter writer for the Skowhegan Farmers Market.

Burdet said this year their sales have increased about 30 percent over previous years. She said having time to work enriching the soil with organic nutrients has finally begun to pay off.


]]> 3, 12 Aug 2016 09:05:30 +0000
Your clothing and the Earth will thank you for cool laundry habits Sun, 07 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Laundry lore passes down through generations. My grandmother shared a tip for removing fruit stains that I still use and have taught my children. (If you don’t have this priceless tip in your family’s legacy, here’s the failproof secret: pour boiling water – carefully! – on the stain from a foot above it.)

Clinging to laundry tips of yesteryear can be risky, though. Clothes washers and detergents have come a long way in recent decades, so far in fact that most of us have not kept up. Even as we toss clothes into sophisticated machines, we hold a mindset akin to our ancestors, convinced that clean clothes depend on scalding water.

Many people – perhaps most – still routinely wash clothes in warm water. Catching up to the times and setting washers on cold could simplify laundering routines, reduce power demands and save money.

Roughly 90 percent of the energy consumed by clothes washers goes to heat water. Compared to a cold-water cycle, a warm-water one takes roughly twice the energy and a hot-water cycle five times as much, the Union of Concerned Scientists reports in “Cooler Smarter.”

A generation or two ago, heat was essential to the cleaning process because the mechanical and chemical aspects of clothes washing were less sophisticated. But now detergents are formulated for a wide range of temperatures and washers are more adept at removing dirt and stains without the need for heat or violent agitation.

The average temperature of warm and hot settings on clothes washers has declined steadily as appliance manufacturers have worked to meet requirements for Energy Star certification. One washer now even defaults to a cold-water setting.

There are occasions when warm or hot settings are advisable, as with greasy items, heavily soiled clothing or bedding for those with dust mite allergies. But frequent use of cold-water washes can extend the life of fabrics, reducing shrinkage and fading. Cost savings from switching to cold can amount to more than $100 per year.

Cold-water washing also minimizes greenhouse gas emissions (roughly 1,600 pounds fewer each year per household) and saves water (as cold-water cycles typically rely less on water and more on clothes agitating each other).

Consider buying concentrated detergents to save on packaging, and then adhere to the recommended amounts. There are a wide range of plant-based detergents (without petroleum byproducts) that are free of fragrances and dyes, making them better for the environment and human health. Exposure to the residual chemicals that detergent leaves in clothing can aggravate asthma, allergies and multiple chemical sensitivities.

Reduce the need for detergent, water and energy by reusing lightly worn items, such as wearing pants and pajamas repeatedly. (Even Levi’s CEO Chip Bergh has gone on record asking consumers to save on water by not washing their jeans frequently.)

Try instilling this habit of clothing reuse in children – admittedly a struggle when their bureau drawers magically refill with clean clothes. Our sons began acquiring this habit only after learning to hang out laundry. The realization that all those clothes they had painstakingly pinned up were a single day’s accumulation got them thinking more about which items were truly hamper-ready.

When replacing a clothes washer, consider buying a front-loading machine (which typically uses up to half as much water as top-loaders and less soap). Front-loaders spin more efficiently, treat clothes more gently and reduce the amount of drying time needed.

Choosing an Energy Star model can save water, energy and money over the washer’s lifetime. Efficiency Maine offers a $50 rebate on purchase of certified models. (Disclosure: this columnist does contractual writing for Efficiency Maine.)

Whether you use a front-loader or a top-loader, run full loads without overfilling the machine (filling roughly three-fourths of the space with loose-packed clothes). Overstuffing the machine can reduce spinning action, adding to drying time.

Since the clothes dryer is a major energy guzzler, try minimizing its use. Whenever possible, hang laundry to dry. Line or rack drying takes a little time, but saves money, reduces wear on clothing and offers a free solar disinfectant.

Spinning and pinning our way to a cleaner environment may seem mundane. But our collective choices in the laundry room add up, given the 35 billion loads of laundry Americans wash and dry each year. Playing it cool with the wash water and giving dryers a rest can lighten laundry’s load on our overburdened planet.

MARINA SCHAUFFLER, a freelance writer and editor, is online at

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Overly tempted at farmers market? Here’s how to use it all. Sun, 07 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Farmers market wooden tokens and portable point of sale systems have wreaked havoc on my already challenged sense of staying inside the lines of my food budget. As the market stalls overflow with gorgeous summer produce, I want it all. Each type of slicing tomato; every bouquet of herbs; all the lovely heads of lettuce; yellow, green and purple beans; peak of summer corn; experimental melons; bright berries by the quart; radishes and baby turnips in all sizes; and chili peppers running up and down the Scoville scale.

You see my problem? As recently as five years ago, I was kept in check by the cash in my wallet, as credit cards were useless at farmers markets. But electronic payment systems have enabled my eyes to become bigger than my family’s collective stomach on any given market day.

Rather than heeding my husband’s fiscal warnings to buy only what we can eat until the next market day, I have developed four kitchen behaviors to make sure that none of the extraneous produce that lands here goes to waste.

Firstly, take the time on market day to prep produce for longer-term storage. Herbs look artfully trendy sitting in a mason jar on the counter. But they will last much longer if you wrap them loosely in a clean flour-sack towel and store them, labeled (I keep masking tape and a Sharpie on the kitchen counter) in the very front of the vegetable crisper. Don’t wash the herbs until just before you want to use them, as water will hurry decomposition.

Lovely lettuces should get washed, torn into pieces and twirled in the salad spinner before they, too, are wrapped and stored, for easy salad pickings.

For heartier greens like kale and chard and edible leaves that come attached to any root vegetables, it’s best to remove the leaves from their stems in bite-sized pieces (save the stems for green smoothies or to be chopped and sautéed). Wash and spin them dry and place them front and center in the refrigerator so that every time you open the door, your mind registers the sub-conscious message of “USE ME”!

That subliminal message brings me to breakfast, my second secret weapon for using up produce. Berries, breads and eggs are obvious morning mealtime items. But you can also train yourself to use any kind of market bounty for breakfast. I started by grating surplus tomatoes on toast for my daughter and graduated to greens sautéed in reserved bacon grease sitting under my fried egg and/or next to my toast, another easy way to routinely green up breakfast. If I’m cooking to impress overnight guests with little effort, a savory Dutch baby (see recipe) gets herbs and greens into eaters early in the day.

Thirdly, I make sure eggplant, bell peppers, summer squash and zucchini get eaten throughout the week by grilling them en masse on market day. Firing up the grill just once conserves energy, and having the vegetables already cooked means they can easily be included in lunchtime sandwiches and quick dinners.

And finally, I put up a few jars of something. For many people, preserving the summer bounty conjures up long, hot days in a steamy kitchen preserving gobs of stuff. But it simply doesn’t have to be that big of a production. Three jars of pickled beets or dilly beans takes fewer than 45 minutes to pull off and are just as welcome on a gray February day as any big batch jar would be.

CHRISTINE BURNS RUDALEVIGE is a food writer, a recipe developer and tester, and a cooking teacher in Brunswick. Contact her at:

]]> 0, 06 Aug 2016 23:18:40 +0000
Southern Maine’s drought is hurting some vegetable and fruit crops, helping others Sun, 07 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Broccoli may be blah, but tomatoes will be tremendous.

Salad lovers may have a harder time finding their favorite lettuce and mesclun mix, but watermelons and cantaloupe will be juicy and sweet. And don’t worry about the sweet corn you’ve been dreaming of since February. It may be smaller, but there should be plenty to go around. More good news – prices are not expected to go up, at least not much, because of the drought.

That drought, which is lingering over the southern half of the state, has been both a blessing and a curse for farmers, and it means a mixed bag of produce for consumers trolling farmers markets this summer, too.

“A lot of our crops are coming in sooner because of the warm temperatures,” said Mark Hutton, vegetable specialist and assistant professor of vegetable crops at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Service. “Yields in general are pretty good, particularly from the farms that have the capability to irrigate, which most of our farmers do to some extent.”

Walter Whitcomb, commissioner of the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, agrees.

“I think by and large the produce will be there,” he said. “The drought isn’t universal, and it’s not severe yet.”

But even farmers whose crops are doing well say this growing season has been stressful, as they struggle to keep up with irrigation and worry about whether the next random afternoon thunderstorm will grace their fields with a precious shower.

“We thought we were going to get rain this morning, and it was a total tease,” Laura Neale, owner of Black Kettle Farm, a certified organic vegetable farm in Lyman, said one afternoon the last week of July.

Neale says she and her crew are “cranking” every day, tending to “really productive” fields. But they are also exhausted from the heat, the mugginess and the worry. And even when they water crops from the farm’s well, “it just seems like it dries up again.”

How well Maine farmers are faring depends on the farm’s location, soil type and whether or not the farmers irrigate.

According to the National Drought Monitor nearly half the state – the southern half – is experiencing abnormally dry conditions or worse. The swath runs from Bethel to Newport, and then, like a crooked finger, reaches up into Down East territory, somewhere around Grand Lake. “Some of the traditional river valleys, like down through Farmington or Fryeburg, they’ve had some shower activity, but not as much as they need,” Whitcomb said. “Eastern Oxford County is quite dry.”

But Maine is far better off than other New England states, according to Rich Tinker, a drought specialist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association. The weekly Drought Monitor map he helps create shows that the southern half of York County is in severe drought while northern York county, the southern coast, and the midcoast up to the Camden-Rockport area are in moderate drought.

According to the National Weather Service in Gray, precipitation in much of Maine has been well below normal since April, as are groundwater levels and soil moisture.


What’s causing all of this? The short-term answer, Tinker says, is the boundary between moist and dry air that fuels thunderstorm activity has not been meandering up into New England as often as usual. Longer term, over the past two years eastern new New England, which includes parts of southern Maine, has experienced “a big precipitation shortage…

“The last two years are quite dry in aggregate,” Tinker said, “and the reason for that is not as clear.”

Is the drought a sign of climate change, which brings with it more extreme weather conditions? “I don’t think you can ever say ‘This drought is caused by climate change,’ ” he replied. “But it’s like loading the dice: You’re not going to throw a six every time, but you’re going to throw a six more often than you would have otherwise.”

Whatever the cause, the drought will affect what consumers find at the farmers market this month. While they may not see the range of products they’re used to, Hutton said, “the products that will be there, particularly all our warm-season crops – melons and tomatoes and peppers and all the vine crops – the quality should be fabulous.”

Crops that are especially vulnerable to damage from the drought include broccoli and cauliflower, particularly when temperatures are warm at night, Hutton said. Broccoli heads may show some brown beads and irregular shapes.

Leafy green lettuces will have a very short harvest window. Lettuces that usually mature in 30-40 days will be ready in 25-30 days, Hutton said. “If they don’t get it harvested soon enough,” he said, “the lettuce starts to get bitter and unpalatable, with strong flavors, in response to the temperature stress.”

Grace Pease, whose family owns Merrifield Farm in Cornish, said problems with germination during the dry spring means their carrots will be scarce, but the sweet corn and tomatoes – irrigated with water from a farm pond and the Ossippee River – are doing well. She doesn’t expect anything to be stunted.

Not all farms are as lucky, even those that irrigate.

“Big onions are not going to be big this year,” said Carolyn Snell of Snell Family Farm in Buxton, who joked that some of their fields are so dry the weeds are dying. “They just didn’t get enough water. They’ll still be good, and in many ways a medium onion is more desirable than a giant onion. But we’re used to having really big onions. We are very fortunate in that we’re able to irrigate, so that’s good. It takes a lot of effort to move pipe, and that’s time you can never get back. So we can save crops, but it’s not as good as rain. It just isn’t.”

Fava bean season may come and go as quickly as peas and strawberries, Snell said.

But she echoed others in saying that the plentiful sunshine is good. “That means tomatoes will be really sweet,” she said. “Melons will be sweet and good. At night, when it’s so hot you can’t sleep, you’ve just got to tell yourself that’s good for the melons.”

Bruce Hincks, a farmer for 36 years, grows about 10 acres of vegetables on Meadowood Farm in Yarmouth, a part of the state that is considered in a moderate drought. Hincks doesn’t irrigate, so although other farmers had been selling beans at the Portland Farmers Market for two weeks, his weren’t ready in late July. “It’s drying out all my cucumbers and my squash, my bean crop,” he said. “It’s just not good.”

Other vegetables are lagging, too. “Any rain at all is helping,” Hincks said, “but it’s going to take a while to get rid of the drought.”

Farms like the Spiller Farm in Wells irrigate some crops but not others. Bill Spiller said the season is going “reasonably well.” Potatoes are not sizing up well, corn cobs not on irrigation are shorter than usual; and some varieties of raspberries were smaller and fewer than usual. But his blueberries, which are on drip irrigation, are “doing gangbusters.”

Most farms use ponds, rivers and other on-farm water sources for irrigation. Six River Farm in Bowdoinham is located on the banks of Merrymeeting Bay, a tidal fresh water body that provides irrigation for the farm with the tides – meaning that farmer Nate Drummond and his crew must rise unusually early – even for a farmer – to catch the 1 a.m. high tide to water the crops. Some vegetables are smaller this year – maybe by 25 to 30 percent – but the quality is good because there’s no fungal disease, Drummond said. Neighboring farms that don’t have his silty soils, or haven’t benefited from spotty thunderstorms, are struggling more, he said.

Fall plantings of cabbage and broccoli are just going in the ground now, Drummond said, “so things could turn around in a hurry.” He recalled the growing season of 2009, an unusually wet year when everyone got late blight on their tomatoes and lost squash and beans planted in June. “But what no one remembers is we had a dry, cool fall, and for some of those late-planted crops, it was one of the best growing seasons ever.”

If the dry spell continues through the fall, farmers say, some potatoes may be smaller, and sweet potatoes may be later. Pumpkins, which are usually ready at the very end of August or early September, are expected to be early.

Apples should fare well. Apple trees generally produce on a two-year cycle: Some years, the limbs of the trees are heavy with fruit, followed by a light crop load the next year. This is a light crop year, so the drought is not likely to have an impact on fruit size, according to University of Maine pomologist Renae Moran. Add to that the fact that apples are drought tolerant, and Moran isn’t expecting anything to come between you and your apple pie.

If the dry, hot weather persists beyond Labor Day, however, Moran is less sanguine. In that case, the apples won’t “color up” the way they should, she said, and fewer will be graded fancy, “and that’s where farmers make their money.”


Perhaps surprisingly, the drought isn’t expected to affect prices. Farmers and agricultural experts say that Maine’s small growers won’t want to jeopardize their relationships with customers through sudden price increases.

“They will raise them a little,” Whitcomb predicted, “but I think they’re going to be nervous about raising them enough to make up for losses in the field.”

While irrigation has added to labor and equipment costs this year, Drummond said, pricing calculations on a mixed vegetable farm are complicated, taking into account supply and demand, competitors’ pricing and more. Most farmers will, or already have, absorbed any increased costs, he said. Drummond estimated that the increased cost of irrigation, spread across all of his own crops, might increase the price of his cabbage by a nickel a pound, an amount probably not worth alienating customers for, he said.

And don’t forget, some experts say, this is the kind of year community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs, in which customers share in the risks of farming, were made for.

Laura Neale said digging her irrigation well at Black Kettle Farm a few years ago cost about $8,000, and pumping water adds $50-60 a month to her electric bill. But for farmers like herself to raise prices significantly, the water table would have to be much more depleted. People might also just “make different decisions about what they plant,” she said

As tough as this season has been so far, Whitcomb said, “we certainly have not heard of wells going dry and all the surface water disappearing from our stock ponds.”

“It’s still at a point now that a nice 2-inch rain would make all the difference,” he said.


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As the drought continues, farmers face meager second cutting of hay Sun, 07 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Hay is for horses, the saying goes, but there may not be much of it this year, at least in some areas of the state. Grasses for grazing dairy cows are also being hurt by the ongoing drought.

“Pastures in some areas are drying,” said Walter Whitcomb, commissioner of the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry. “And it’s impacting the harvest of hay in some places.”

In a normal year, farmers look forward to the second cut of hay because it’s usually of higher nutritional value, said Lucy Hunt, whose family owns Rest and Be Thankful Farm in Lyman. Hunt’s farm is located in York County, one of the areas of the state considered to be in a severe drought. The first cut, she said, came in early and the quality was average. The second cut, which will take place in late August or early September, “going to be slow,” Hunt said, an assessment echoed by several other farmers in the area. “There’s not a lot of new growth.”

In nearby Wells, Bill Spiller of Spiller Farm said most of his second crop of hay won’t even be worth cutting.

For Nick Armentrout, who owns 150-acre Spring Creek Farm, also in Lyman – where he cuts hay; grows spelt, oats and barley; and raises horses for equine therapy – the shift in weather patterns in recent years has left him wondering if this is “the new normal.”

“I’m not a climate denier,” he said.


]]> 0 Fri, 05 Aug 2016 09:02:16 +0000
Grow: A native plant container Sun, 07 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Suppose you live on the peninsula in Portland or in another town with no space for a native plants garden. In that case, Heather McCargo of the Maine-based Wild Seed Project, a nonprofit that encourages landscaping with native plants, suggests you make a year-round native-plant container garden.

First you need a pot. It can be anything: Plastic, concrete, pottery or a cedar box. It can be as small as 12 inches, or as large as you can move, probably 24 inches. Larger pots allow for larger plants and require less frequent watering.

Use a good organic potting soil or add compost to a potting soil.

Woody shrubs and small trees provide year-round interest and overwintering habitat for some small animals and birds, McCargo says. If your spot is shaded, try witch hazel and high-bush blueberries. If you have a sunnier spot, she suggests amelanchier, native viburnums, clethra and mountain laurel. When the shrubs get too large, just remove them and give them to a friend with a garden.

Likewise, select native perennials for your container based on the amount of sun you have. Tall perennials may look leggy, but Joe Pye weed and native sunflowers often work.

McCargo provides a lot more information in her Jan. 28, 2016 blog at As she writes in part, “I imagine corridors of natives in planters and pots, with butterflies, bees and hummingbirds flitting up and down the streets, foraging at ground level and rising up multiple stories, mimicking the vertical habitat of a cliff.”

— Tom  Atwell

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New nonprofit urges Mainers to plant wild native seeds Sun, 07 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 I am sitting in Portland’s Congress Square Park with native plant horticulturalist Heather McCargo.

Though the park looks attractive – with thriving Pee Gee hydrangeas, rhododendrons and shasta daisies, McCargo sees something else: None of these plants is native, and none supports the native ecosystem.

McCargo, 56, is on a mission to bring more native plants to Maine landscapes. After a long and distinguished career in horticulture, including a stint as head plant propagator for the Massachusetts-based New England Wild Flower Society, she founded the nonprofit Wild Seed Project two years ago. The new organization, which is based in Blue Hill, is intended to raise awareness of the importance of native plants, to teach Mainers how to grow them and to sell native seeds.

Her former employer, the New England Wild Flower Society, mostly works in Massachusetts, and The Josselyn Botanical Society of Maine is aimed at professional botanists, making the Wild Seed Project unique.

Native plants are needed to support all of the animals, birds and insects that evolved alongside them, McCargo and other experts say. The project’s website explains its objectives in more detail:

“Wild landscapes in Maine are rapidly being developed and as a result native plant populations are diminishing. This loss of wild plant species has a ripple effect on biodiversity and ecosystem health. Native plants have an evolutionary history with insects and other fauna and are the foundation for a healthy, ecologically diverse environment. When native plants are absent from a landscape, so are many other creatures.”

But sitting in the park surrounded by non-native plants, McCargo doesn’t despair. “The thing that makes me hopeful is that more people now know that there is something wrong,” McCargo says. “They are getting the message that we need more native plants.”

But it’s more complicated than that. Even within that select getting-the-message group, many people aren’t growing the natives that are best for the environment, she says. Native plants sold in nurseries are often cultivars, sometimes called nativars, selected for their unusual look and then cloned so that all the descendant plants look exactly the same, she explained.

For example, almost all of the hydrangeas being sold, including natives, are grown as clones at massive nurseries in the Midwest, McCargo said.

While those cloned cultivars are an improvement over non-natives, they are not ideal.

“Only seed-grown natives provide the genetic diversity that is necessary to improve our ecosystem,” McCargo said.

The project’s website,, features articles by McCargo and others, lists of talks and tours promoting native plants in Maine and about 60 varieties of seed on sale. The nonprofit also plans to print one magazine a year, as McCargo believes organizations need a physical presence. The 2016/2017 edition, “The Change Issue,” includes articles by such well-known garden writers as Doug Tallamy and Ted Elliman.

The Wild Seed Project sells seeds to earn needed income. But the primary purpose is to get these genetically diverse plants growing and blossoming in cities and towns throughout Maine, McCargo said.

The nonprofit, which so far has one part-time employee, a few contract employees and 150 members, takes exacting care of the seeds it sells. The seeds are sustainably and locally harvested from gardens of native plants, not from cultivars. They are then stored correctly so they will be viable when the purchaser gets them.

The life of seeds is short; many seeds sold in garden-supply stores are no longer viable because they have been kept too long in improper conditions – for instance waiting on a seed rack in a hot salesroom.

McCargo stores the seeds according to the conditions they need, sending them to customers when it’s time to plant them. Usually, that’s fall, a timeline that mimics the natural world. Seeds typically mature on plants in the fall and then reach the soil, whether dropped straight down, blown by the wind or eaten by birds and scattered in bird poop.

Seeds from the Wild Seed Project should be planted outdoors, in pots or in prepared garden beds, so they get the same fall moisture and freezing temperatures that they would in nature. The website includes detailed information on propagation.

McCargo is doing such propagation herself these days. She recently moved from Brooksville to Portland, where she is in the process of “rewilding” her own property.

If you are wondering, as I did, why McCargo is tackling a new nonprofit startup after a distinguished career, she has a quick answer.

“My role model is Jimmy Carter,” she said. “He’s done his best work since he was 55.”

TOM ATWELL is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at 767-2297 or at:

]]> 0, 05 Aug 2016 08:54:27 +0000
Winthrop native helps low-income families shop at farmers markets Sun, 07 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Winthrop native Emilie Knight landed a newly created position at the Maine Federation of Farmers Markets last fall to run SNAP, which is designed to help Maine families on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as food stamps) take advantage of savings opportunities for fresh fruits and vegetables at local farmers markets. We called her up to find out how it’s going as the market – and harvest – hits full swing.

Speaking of, Sunday marks the beginning of National Farmers’ Market Week, and Maine markets are participating with a social media campaign called Snapshot Week.

SEEDS OF INTEREST: Growing up in Winthrop, her family ate well, but Knight said she wasn’t particularly drawn to her father’s garden. “I was more or less uninterested until I was about 20,” she said, laughing. But she has strong memories of working the Peace Action Network’s pea soup stand at the Common Ground Fair. “My folks volunteered our whole family to run that for a long time,” she said. “It’s funny to think of which experiences in your childhood affect you. I think that was a formative eight years.” Back then vendors often camped out at their stalls. “We were right backed up against the apple cider and apple cider doughnuts stand,” she said. “In the morning, my brother and I would get our $2 and go get the first doughnuts of the day.”

LINE COOK: When she was working at the Friends Camp in South China during her college years, she noticed something that needed changing. “I saw a lot of room for improvement in terms of quality of the food we were serving. So I convinced the director to hire me as the head cook the next year.” That meant cooking three meals a day for 100 children and finding local purveyors to provide better ingredients. She found some farmers through Barrels, the now-defunct cooperative in Waterville, and ended up cooking at Barrels as well for a year.

VERMONT CALLING: Then she went off to be a farm-to-school coordinator in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, working with the Green Mountain Farm-to-School Program. “I have always had a crush on Vermont,” she said. Like Maine, that region has many residents who are food insecure, that is, who don’t know where their next meal is coming from. Knight was assigned to three public schools, where she worked with the cafeteria staff and helped run the school gardens. But she had a fiancé waiting back in Maine, and when she returned, she saw the posting for the Maine Federation of Farmers Markets position. “It just lit up right away for me. It seems like a right next step for me.

HARVEST BUCKS: Knight oversees the SNAP program and also has been working on the Maine Harvest Bucks program, which gives consumers using EBT cards special promotions and deals, specifically on fresh fruits and vegetables, or those that have been processed but without sugar or salt. That could include frozen berries and even apple cider, which Knight says surprises some people, “but it’s just apples that have been smushed.” The price breaks range from 50 to 100 percent matches. For instance, at some markets, using $20 EBT dollars for meats, cheese and such yields $20 worth of tokens or vouchers for fruits and vegetables. “It helps eliminate that feeling that it is a risk to buy fruits and vegetables.”

About 35 Maine farmers markets take part in the Maine Harvest Bucks system now. Knight said it’s best to check for updates as to who is online and Facebook for information on individual markets. And shoppers using EBT cards should always stop in and talk to the market coordinator at the information booth. “They tend to choose a very friendly person to be stationed there.”

GETTING THE MESSAGE OUT: Although farmers markets in Maine have been making an effort to reach low-income families with the message that their government assistance goes further on healthy foods at farmers markets, it hasn’t always been easy to get that across. The federation is running radio spots (thanks to donated air time by stations such as WBLM) to spread the word. Shoppers seem to be getting the message, especially at markets with well-established EBT programs. “There are definitely some markets that have some work to do, that have some obstacles to overcome.” For instance, a shift in the Sanford market location meant that customers used to having one market weekly in a residential neighborhood lost that access. Thanks to private donations, the markets are providing bus vouchers to get those customers to market. “Transportation is a huge part of food insecurity.” But all in all, “We’re looking for this to be a banner year,” Knight said, referring to use of EBT dollars at farmers markets.

GROWING EMPATHY: Knight is married to a part-time farmer, David Gulak, whose Wild Folk Farm is making a name for itself by growing rice in Benton. “The paddies are gorgeous and the farm is producing really well.” She’s worked on the farm herself in past years. “It’s been really valuable to me to have a sense of farming and the values that are involved so that when I am working with farmers I can empathize,” she said.

THE LAST WORD: What motivates Knight’s work? “We are clearly in a time when we could do better. When Maine is first in New England for food insecurity, you have to ask, what are the solutions? This is crazy. I think programs like Maine Harvest Bucks and SNAP are part of that solution. ”


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This streetwear takes on throw-away culture Sun, 07 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Jared DeSimio of Brunswick first developed a following for the bags he made out of vintage materials that he scooped up from yard sales, flea markets and auctions. His most popular creations were military duffel bags.

“Those are the fabrics that have the handwriting and designs and stenciling because soldiers would decorate them, or they’d just write on them,” DeSimio said. “That kind of lived history that was inherent in the materials is what was really interesting to me.”

He carefully considered every aspect of the bags, down to the responsibly sourced thread and antique rivets. The bags sold for $150 and up.

Now he’s turned his talents to streetwear culture, mending and remaking old garments with “a certain point of view”: He wants people to re-imagine how they feel about imperfections in clothes.

“We’re in this throwaway culture right now,” he said. “We go to a store and spend $15 on a new shirt rather than buy something that’s quality and take care of it and mend it and embrace the imperfections as a way of expressing your own style.”

DeSimio, an ed tech at Mt. Ararat High School, got into sewing when he wanted to buy a bag he couldn’t afford. He decided to make it himself. One catch – he didn’t know how to sew. So he borrowed his wife’s sewing machine and taught himself by taking bags and baseball caps apart and putting them back together again.

Now he’s working with higher-quality thrift store or vintage clothes such as T-shirts, sweatshirts and jeans. The technique he uses resembles a reverse applique; he cuts out a piece of fabric from, say, a sweatshirt and sews another piece – usually with some kind of image on it – behind the hole. It’s like looking through a window pane.

DeSimio’s new company is called Seven At One, a reference to the Grimm’s Fairy Tale “The Brave Little Tailor.” His garments are being sold at Portland Trading Co. T-shirts are $58 and sweatshirts are $98.

— Meredith Goad

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Maine dairy farmers produce more milk as price drops Sat, 06 Aug 2016 01:15:35 +0000 CLINTON — Dairy farmer John Stoughton has increased milk production by 300,000 gallons a month this year.

“We’ve had to tighten our belts,” he said this week. “The only option for us is to produce more milk.”

Stoughton, who co-owns Misty Meadows Farm on Hill Road with his family, is reacting to a decrease in milk prices that began in 2015. And he’s not alone. From January to June, national milk production increased by 1.6 percent from the same time period last year.

More milk doesn’t mean dairy farmers are doing well, however. Farmers often increase production after government-set milk prices decrease just so they can break even.

Stoughton said Misty Meadows is one of five family-owned farms in Clinton, which calls itself the dairy capital of Maine. The town of less than 3,500 produces roughly 15 percent of Maine’s milk.

Clinton’s farmers are feeling the effects of the dropping milk prices despite state and federal aid programs.

The Maine Milk Commission uses Federal Milk Marketing Order 1 to set its monthly prices, according to Executive Director Tim Drake. The current price downswing started in early 2015, he said.

Late in 2014, the amount of milk products being exported from the United States reached a high of 17 percent. About a month ago, that number had dropped to 14 percent. Part of that is because of decreased exports to China and Russia, as well as a milk quota system in the European Union that expired in April 2015, allowing the countries to up production.

“That’s a huge swing,” Drake said. “That’s 3 percent more product nationally that has to go around.”


National demand is doing well, though, Drake said. The demand for whole milk has increased, and butter and cheese remain popular.

“It could be far worse,” he said.

Still, many farmers see the milk price change over the last year and a half as a huge swing. In January 2015, the price was $21.83 per hundredweight – or hundred pounds of milk. In June, it was $16.39.

Brian Wright, who owns The Wright Place Farm on Wright Road, said he’s been struggling since 2009. When the milk price increased, he “barely got caught up” before it went down again. His farm has 750 cows. “We’re going into the unknown,” he said. “All my decisions up until a few years ago were based on history.” Now, he can’t do that anymore, he said.

Dairy farmers are compensating in the small ways they can. Many do so by producing more milk, which drives the price down even further.

Stoughton, whose farm has 1,400 acres and 1,200 animals, hasn’t made needed equipment replacements. While he’s sure prices will go up again, he thinks the cycle of ups and downs is getting sharper.

“It’s been very drastic drops compared to what we used to see,” he said.

Even the largest farm in Maine, which has 3,400 cows and is milking 1,700, is feeling the pressure from the price drop. Flood Brothers Farm on River Road hasn’t even gotten the cost of production out of its milk over the past year, said Jenni Tilton-Flood, a farm family member.

“When things get tough for dairy farms, they actually get tough all over,” she said.


Tilton-Flood said they’ve seen the volatility of the milk price increase recently, and it’s been frustrating.

“It is a roller coaster ride,” she said. “It’s very hard to get your feet on solid ground.”

The state has legislation aimed at helping dairy farms stay afloat when the milk price drops. The dairy stabilization act gives farmers a certain amount of money based on what dollar weight they’re getting for their milk and their farm’s size, said Maine Farm Bureau Executive Director Alicyn Smart.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture also announced the largest payment rate for dairy farmers enrolled in the margin protection program for dairy on Thursday.

“Any help is going to be tremendous for these dairy farms,” Smart said. But it’s hard to say if this will alleviate the problem, she said, because farmers could use the money to buy more cows, produce more milk and drive prices down further.

Madeline St. Amour can be contacted at 861-9239 or at:

Twitter: madelinestamour

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Minimum size for keeping caught lobster may change south of Cape Cod Sun, 31 Jul 2016 15:14:36 +0000 Southern New England lobster fishermen might have to start throwing back more small lobsters in an attempt to stem population losses.

New restrictions are on tap for the region’s historic lobster fishery, which is grappling with an unprecedented decline in some areas. Scientists have said lobsters off southern Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut have declined as ocean waters warm.

The regulatory Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission is considering ways to help preserve the species, and a report from the commission says one way to preserve lobsters could be to increase the minimum harvesting size. The commission’s lobster board might take action on the issue Thursday.

“The biggest challenge I see is trying to establish an appropriate goal to manage the fishery in the face of what the scientists are telling us is the decline caused by ocean warming,” said Dan McKiernan, a member of the lobster board.

New England lobster fishing is one of America’s oldest industries, and it was worth more than a half-billion dollars last year. Lobsters have remained plentiful for consumers, and prices have been relatively stable because of abundant supply from northern New England and Canada.

But the catch south of Cape Cod has plummeted, to about 3.3 million pounds in 2013, 16 years after it peaked in 1997 at about 22 million. The fishery commission’s report states that management strategies can do only so much if environmental conditions persist.

The possibility of new restrictions has some lobster fishermen on edge. Bill Lister, a Cape Cod lobsterman, said he is concerned for the livelihood of lobstermen who make their living south of the Cape.

“The scientists have been telling them the stocks are in trouble,” Lister said.

The commission’s lobster board will meet to discuss the issue in Alexandria, Virginia, near its headquarters. The board could vote on potential new rules, which could be followed in October or February by a vote to put the proposal out for public comment.

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When making a batch of pesto, think ratios, not recipes Sun, 31 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 There are few days when I don’t have time to talk about food with anyone who happens to ask. At the dentist’s office last week, I put down the mind candy People magazine was offering to chat with the receptionist about pesto.

“It says on the label not to heat it up. Can I bake with it? It’s kind of expensive and I don’t want to waste it,” she said.

The short answer: certainly. The warning was likely meant to stop cooks from simmering the commercial paste in a saucepan, a process that would turn the basil black and the cheese clumpy and erase the pesto’s bright, summery taste. Those conditions don’t apply if pesto is one of the layers in your summer vegetable lasagna.

You can control for basil oxidation and cheese congealment if you make your own, I continued. You can blanch the basil or mix it with parsley to keep the color vibrant and you can hold back on the cheese until you’re sure the pesto is bound for the pasta bowl.

Can you give me a recipe? I could, but it’s more sustainable to think of making pesto as a ratio-based operation so you can create as many dishes as you’d like with the ingredients you have on hand (or need to use up) at any given time.

Most people think of pesto as the classic Genovese combination of basil, pine nuts, garlic, olive oil and grated cheese traditionally pounded to a paste with a mortar and pestle. But in truth, it’s just a means by which you can preserve the fresh herbs abundant at this time of year with a variety of other ingredients into a mixture that can be tossed with everything from agnolotti to ziti and slathered on anything from crusty bread to grilled crustaceans.

Ratios are generally expressed with the largest quantity first and move on down the line. Recipe ingredient lists are generally written in the order in which they are used in the recipe first, and according to descending quantities second. So this ratio recipes pulls a bit from both structures and goes something like this: 3 cups to up to 1 cup; to 1/3 cup; to 1 garlic clove; to 1/2 cup; to 1/2 cup; to taste. Easy as paste, I say.

The first component is always going to be the herbs (basil, cilantro, mint, oregano, parsley, thyme) and greens (arugula, beet greens, chard, kale, mustard greens, spinach) in some combination. You’ll need 3 loosely packed cups altogether of these.

Many pestos contain a secondary flavor component – mainly a sweeter one like corn, peas, roasted red peppers or sun-dried tomatoes. I hold these elements to 1 cup to keep fresh herbs as the stars.

Next, the nuts. Pignoli (the Italian word for pine nuts) are traditional, but expensive because it’s a pretty arduous process to take the seeds from the pine cone and then shell them. While no nut is wholly sustainable given their water requirements and travel times to Maine, walnuts, pistachios, almonds and pecans as well as some seeds like pepitas and sunflowers work well in pesto, too. You’ll need 1/3cup. Toasting releases their oils, thereby boosting the flavor for a relatively small volume.

The pungency of pesto comes from the garlic, but how strong your clove is will vary. I start with 1 large one and move up as I need to, but I rarely do.

All of these ingredients get mashed together (using a mortar and pestle if you’ve got a big one or a food processor if you don’t), before 1/2 cup oil – traditionally olive oil if your herbs are strong but you can use more neutral ones if your herbs are more timid – gets processed in next.

You taste the pesto at this juncture, adding lemon zest and juice to lighten its taste if necessary and a pinch of cayenne if it needs heat.

Only add the cheese – 1/2 cup of a grated hard one – if you are going to put the pesto in the refrigerator and use it up within a few days. If you plan to freeze it – and you can do so for up to six months – it’s best to do so without the cheese; ice cube trays are great for this job. Add 1 tablespoon of cheese to every cube of thawed pesto when you use it, whenever that may be.

Christine Burns Rudalevige is a food writer, a recipe developer and tester, and a cooking teacher in Brunswick. Contact her at:

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Bob Lawrence’s wealth of knowledge gives us food for thought Sun, 31 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Bob Lawrence recently moved to Maine after retiring as the director of the Center for a Livable Future at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore. He founded the center in 1996, based on the idea that understanding the relationships among public health, diet, environment and food systems are key to a livable future. When we called Lawrence up to talk, we quickly learned that “retired” is a flexible term in his mind.

GOLF? NAPS? Yes, he did retire from his faculty position at Johns Hopkins this May, but a life of golf and naps is apparently not his idea of retirement. He merely moved into emeritus status and was back in Baltimore the next month, teaching in the school’s summer institute. He’ll return to the university again in November and December to teach a course on food systems that he and a colleague developed 10 years ago and have continued to teach since. “The nice thing about university life is that as long as you behave yourself, they let you stick around.”

DEEP BACKGROUND: Especially if you founded the place. How did that come about? Lawrence’s career has taken many interesting turns. As a young doctor, he planned a career in international health and worked as an Epidemic Intelligence Service officer with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, doing malaria research in El Salvador. His plans to move on to West Africa were upended in the late 1960s. “First Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated and then Bobby Kennedy, and both my wife and I felt that we needed to get back home and get engaged in the problems of our own society.” He helped develop community health care centers in the rural South while serving on the faculty at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Then it was back to his alma mater, Harvard Medical School, for nearly two decades. In the 1990s he served as director of health sciences at the Rockefeller Foundation in New York, giving him a chance to return to international health. “I was living in airplanes, and I didn’t have my own projects. I didn’t have my hands on stuff.”

SOLID FOUNDATION: That dissatisfaction led him to Hopkins, and to an unexpected meeting in 1996 with Henry Spira, the animal rights advocate who fought against chemical testing and factory farms. Spira had thrown out a challenge to the dean who brought Lawrence to the university. “He said that it was time for Johns Hopkins to do the next big thing.” Lawrence sat down and wrote an impassioned 21/2-page letter tying together population growth, environmental degradation, food production and sustainability. He faxed it to Spira in New York and improbably, the next day, a philanthropist named Helaine Lerner, who was friends with Spira, reached out to Johns Hopkins; she wanted to fund a center to study these issues. “We took off from there.” He’s not kidding: 20 years later the center has 30 faculty members, 15 doctoral students and about a dozen part-time research assistants. “If your reach doesn’t exceed your grasp,” Lawrence said, referencing a line from a Robert Browning poem. “You’ll never get anything done.”

CURRICULUM SHIFT: How has his class on world food systems evolved over the decade? The course, looks at every aspect of the food system through the prism of public health. But climate change is playing a much bigger role on the syllabus as growing seasons in northern states like Maine lengthen, while areas near the equator suffer losses in food production. So too is dwindling biodiversity, from the impact of glyphosate-ready seeds and the emergence of superweeds to the shocking amount of food human beings waste. “We try to take a broader ecological perspective” in the course, he said. “How the food system is such a critical part of the future, yet we are mistreating it.” Worth noting: the environmental cost of producing beef and other crops. “A third of greenhouse gas production is within the agricultural sector,” he said. “We talk about all of that.”

ISLAND DOCTOR: Lawrence has a long history in Maine. In the 1970s, when he was building a medical practice in Cambridge after training at Massachusetts General, he’d come to North Haven to be the summer doctor, filling in for what was then a regular year-round island doctor. “I took care of Chellie’s (Pingree) little kids for scraped knees and such,” he said. “I remember her growing organic produce on North Haven. We used to buy some of her stuff.” He’s followed her career since. “It’s interesting how she, from the state of Maine, is really the voice for the small farmer in Congress.” And those small farmers are crucial to the future food systems, Lawrence said, as are regional food hubs and greater diversity “rather than relying on the Central Valley of California for everything.” Another Pingree issue he and the Center for a Livable Future are in sync with and working on? Improved food labeling to encourage less waste from consumers. “Most food is perfectly edible well beyond the use date.”

THE ANCHOR: His five children loved North Haven and the family stayed on the mailing list for the North Haven News long after Lawrence stopped filling in for the vacationing island doctor. When one of his daughters, Hannah, was home from college and casting around for a summer job, she saw a listing for a housekeeper/cook for a summer resident on the island and applied. “That is how she met her husband, who was a North Haven native and a summer lobsterman,” Lawrence said. “That sort of anchored our relationship with midcoast Maine.” The young couple went on to own and operate Penobscot Island Air, which eventually brought them to Rockport, and that’s where Lawrence and his wife bought a house as well.

GRANT-FREE: “I intend to stay involved with the things I really care about,” he said. “Really as long as I can make sense when I talk to students, there is no deadline that I have to quit. I probably won’t be writing any grants anymore. That is part of academic life I am perfectly happy to leave behind. At age 78, it feels like a nice mixture to be here most of the year and get involved with local organizations doing conservation work.” He is working with Maine Farmland Trust, which he particularly admires for its work getting young farmers onto land. And he’s part of a group working on trails in the Camden Hills for the Coastal Mountains Land Trust on Wednesday mornings. “This was my first experience learning how hard work it is to be clambering up a steep mountainside trying to figure out where the switchbacks go.” Somehow, we have a hunch those will be excellent switchbacks.

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Leg Work: Use your head and wear a helmet when bicycling Sun, 31 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 EDITOR’S NOTE: After this week, Leg Work will take a short break. When it returns it will become a monthly column.

Whenever people try to ride in my car without buckling their seat belts, an annoying beep reminds them to do so. I wish bicycles had a similar warning system to remind people to wear helmets.

While helmets won’t protect cyclists from all injuries, wearing one is the most important way that you can reduce your risk of head injuries from a crash, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that helmet use can lower the risk of head injuries in bicycle crashes by an estimated 50 percent. I cringe whenever I see someone riding without one – especially a parent who has buckled up the children but doesn’t see the need to set a good example.

I’ve heard a lot of buzz recently about helmets with multidirectional impact protection system technology. That got me wondering whether this new type of helmet really is safer, thus justifying the higher cost.

This column will delve into that topic and others related to helmets. You’ll get an overview of how to fit them, when to replace them and how to make helmets pay for themselves.

What is MIPS technology and why are some people embracing it?

When cyclists crash, they often hit their heads at an angle. The rotational force from such a crash can cause brain injuries such as concussions. MIPS helmets have an extra layer between the shell and liner that is designed to slide relative to the head, thus providing more protection.

Work on MIPS technology began more than 20 years ago. A Swedish company, MIPS AB, has developed this new type of helmet for horseback riding and snow sports as well as bicycling. The least expensive MIPS helmet that I found on sold for $51, or twice the price of their cheapest regular helmet.

While a study on the MIPS website touts the effectiveness of the helmets in protecting against rotational force, not all research bears that out.

The Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute is a small Virginia-based nonprofit that serves as a clearinghouse for information about helmets. The institute says on its website that MIPS technology is still unproven.

Erik da Silva is program coordinator for the Maine Safe Routes to School program and the Maine Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Education program. He said, “The studies vary from very conclusive evidence to none as to whether the (MIPS) technology really improves safety – but no one would say it worsens safety.”

“If one can afford the extra premium,” da Silva continued, “then absolutely go for MIPS.” He added that wearing a non-MIPS helmet is much safer than no helmet at all.

Are there other safety differences between bicycle helmets?

The Consumer Product Safety Commission sets basic standards for all bicycle helmets that are designed to protect against traumatic brain injury and death.

Consumer Reports tested 35 bicycle helmets to see how they held up after being dropped at 7 and 14 miles per hour on the front, crown, back and side. The magazine also tested the strength of the chin straps and buckles as well as other features, such as how easily they can be fit. The magazine’s online buying guide recommends 18 models ranging in price from $20 to $220, including four with MIPS technology.

The Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute did its own tests of bicycle helmets for safety features. The group’s report on 2016 helmets concludes, “We have tested a sample of cheap and expensive helmets and found no real performance differences by price. We recommend looking for a helmet that fits you well and has a rounded, smooth exterior with no major snag points.”

When should helmets be replaced?

Since helmets break down over time, the Bicycle Coalition of Maine recommends that they be replaced about every five years. Helmets also should be replaced if you’ve been in a crash, if the shell is cracked or if the helmet no longer fits properly.

How do you fit a helmet?

Choose a helmet that fits you snugly. Without buckling it, shake your head; it shouldn’t move much.

The helmet should be level on your head and low on your forehead. You should be able to see the front edge when you look up. Move the strap sliders to make V shapes around each ear, with the sliders slightly in front of your ears. When you fasten the chin buckle, you should be able to fit only one or two fingers under the strap, and the helmet should feel tight when you yawn.

A video on the website of The League of American Bicyclists shows you how to fit it.

How can you make your helmet pay for itself?

Buy a Bicycle Benefits sticker for $5 and put it on your helmet. That entitles you to free donuts, lettuce, game tokens, wine, cookies and other delicious treats at businesses in Greater Portland, plus discounts at many stores and restaurants. I guarantee that the sticker will quickly pay for itself.

Shoshana Hoose is a freelance writer who walks and bicycles in Greater Portland and beyond. Contact her at

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Here’s a helpful primer on how to water your garden during the drought Sun, 31 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 This summer’s drier-than-average weather is not going to ruin your landscape – even if you refuse to haul out the hoses and run sprinklers every day or two.

I’m a bit nuts on this subject, but I firmly believe that if you have a garden that can’t withstand a few weeks without rain, you didn’t plant a good garden.

I refer to the parts of your garden that are permanent and well-established, including trees, shrubs, perennials and the lawn. If you are growing vegetables, annuals, or containers such as window boxes and patio pots, you will have to water – but not as much as you think.

Let’s start with the lawn, which is many people’s main concern.

“Lawns can go dormant (turn brown) in the summer and do just fine, as long as we don’t have a really long drought that causes the crowns to die,” said Gary Fish, the state horticulturalist. Fish helped start the Maine Yardscaping Partnership (a public-private partnership that promotes gardens requiring little or no fertilizer, pesticides or watering) when he was with the Board of Pesticide Control and retained some of the Yardscaping duties when he took his new position earlier this year.

If a lawn has a lot of traffic, as a sports field would, during a dry spell you might have more problems with the crowns dying; crowns are the area between the blades of grass and roots from which new blades grow.

Part of it goes back to the kind of lawn you planted in the first place. If you amended the soil with compost and planted tall fescues, you will be fine. Perennial ryegrass and Kentucky bluegrass don’t do as well. Here’s another classic turn on the read-the-label instructions: Bags of grass seed must list what they have for seed content. In the long haul, you’ll save time and money by spending more for seed that contains mostly fescues.

All lawns do better if you mow them at a height of 3 inches or higher – the taller blades of grass give more energy to the roots as well as shade the soil from the heat of the sun, which conserves moisture and thwarts weeds.

So if the lawn is turning just a little bit brown during July and early August, consider it a badge of honor that shows your water-conserving merit.

If you are going to set up a sprinkler, use it only once a week in each area and measure so you put down a full inch (recycle a straight-sided, short can such as a tuna or cat food can to measure the water fall). Infrequent but deep watering is best because the water gets down to the roots.

I disapprove of automatic watering systems. If you already have one, run it manually as you would a sprinkler, except that you don’t have to drag the hose, to make the measurement get up to 1 inch a week. I get a bit testy when I see sprinkler systems running daily or, even worse, during a downpour. Newer sprinkler systems have sensors so they don’t turn on your water while it’s raining.

If you have chosen your trees, shrubs and perennials well, they won’t need watering. The native plants evolved in this area and have survived for generations. This year is drier than average but is nowhere near the driest on record. (The July 21 U.S. Drought Monitor indicates “severe” drought in parts of York County and “moderate” drought along the coast of Maine up to Belfast, with Portland reporting 6.85 inches below normal rainfall since April. The last time the National Weather Service issued a drought report for Maine was in 2008.) And most of the non-natives that are traditional garden plants in the area, like lilacs and most hydrangeas, will also survive.

Walk around your garden, and if you see a plant that is wilting, water it, Fish said. That is just common sense. Hand watering is often all that is needed.

Plants that you put in recently require more watering. Fish advised once a week and maybe every other day if it is hot and windy. I do our new plants daily for the first month and every other day after that – but I need the extra steps to meet the demands of my Fitbit, and I am using either water from our three rain barrels or tap water that we collect while waiting for the water to get to the temperature we want at the kitchen sink. (I haven’t started collecting used bath and shower water yet, but I swear I would if we lived in Arizona.) Fish said the extra watering for new plants can extend out to three years, especially if the garden soil is sandy and if the plant’s roots were potbound before they went into your garden.

The vegetable garden needs a lot more care. If the lettuce, carrots, peas, beans and corn do not get enough water, the plants probably will die and definitely won’t produce well. Even the fruits that come from perennial plants need regular watering. Our strawberry production was way down this year, mostly because I didn’t water the garden as often as I should have. The strawberry plants are healthy and should do well next year, but we got only a dozen quarts of smaller-than-average fruit.

While I set up sprinklers for the vegetable garden twice – once in May and once in June – I did hand water a number of plants I was especially worried about. I used pelletized carrot seed as an experiment, and – following the packet instructions – the carrots got regular watering until they got to a decent size. I also hand watered new asparagus and blueberry plants and all the transplants.

Watering containers is just like watering house plants – it depends on which pot. The sedums we have outside need to dry out between waterings, so I check the soil each time. The begonias, potted tomatoes, fancy annuals like digiplexis and begonias and the potted Japanese maple get watered anytime it goes two days without raining – which has been often this summer.

Again, these are all from our rain barrels. We have two on our patio and one on our vegetable-garden shed. Only once so far this summer has it been so dry that all of our rain barrels were empty – and we had a thunderstorm a couple of days after they went dry, which replenished them. I don’t know if we actually are saving much money by having rain barrels – but the righteous feeling I get is worth a lot.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at 767-2297 or at:

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