Our Maine Street's Aroostook Issue 12 : Spring 2012 - Page 66

Healthy You: Get Your Garden Growing by Kim Jones, Cary Medical Center When I was in elementary school, I remember one of my teachers had an orange tree in the classroom. My classmates and I checked it faithfully to see if any of the little green buds had magically turned into fruit. On occasion, we were pleasantly surprised to see that, in fact, there were real oranges growing on the stubby little tree. Now those who dared to pluck and eat one (I don’t think the teacher encouraged this, but that never seemed to deter us) soon found that Room 211 oranges were not like the sweet, juicy kind we got in the cafeteria. One bite of ours usually resulted in a puckered face and a dash to the trash can. But the lesson was not lost. Our eight-year-old minds were awakened to the realization that we had the power, as if it were some superhuman feat, to actually grow food. Prior to that, most of us hadn’t considered that the contents in our lunchboxes could have come from anywhere other than the grocery store. In northern Maine, spring has sprung, which means gardeners around the County are lugging hoes, shovels, and spades to their backyard in search of the perfect spot to grow something. It’s an activity that has increased in popularity with more than 70 percent of all U.S. households participating in one or more types of gardening, according to the National Gardening Association. Millions of people are discovering that they too have “the power” to grow food - fresh, inexpensive, nutritious food. Here are some helpful tips to get your garden growing: 1. Get in the zone. USDA hardiness zones help determine what plants grow best in certain types of climate. In Aroostook County, we’re generally considered zone 3 – 4, so you’ll have the best luck with plants that will survive in those zones. 2. Pick the best spot. Before you dig, assess the area’s exposure to sun, soil type, moisture levels, and proximity to possible pollutants, such as pesticides from agriculture runoff. Determine what conditions are needed for the types of plants you will grow. For example, lettuce needs lots of moisture, while most varieties of cucumbers can tolerate drier ground. (For more information about when and where to plant vegetables, log on to http://www.thegardenhelper. com/vegtips.html. 3. Prep the soil. Plants need healthy soil to flourish. This includes proper drainage, the correct balance of nutrients, and even the presence of certain bugs and worms. For most plants grown in northern Maine, you want soil that is loose and crumbly to the touch, not thick and hard like clay. This type of soil warms up faster and provides better drainage. Also, Maine’s cooler temperatures makes phosphorous less available in our soil. The University of Maine recommends using a starter fertilizer specially formulated with a higher proportion of phosphorous. For a small fee, you can have a soil test performed to measure the pH levels. (Contact the University of Maine Cooperative Extension for more 66 SPRING 2012 details.) You can give your soil a boost by using homemade compost, which is organic matter that has been decomposed and recycled as a fertilizer. Many organic growers say coffee grounds work the best. 4. Consider higher ground. Raised bed gardens are ideal for Maine’s climate because the soil stays warmer and the plants can be placed more closely together to create a microclimate, which helps control moisture. To create a raised bed, section off three to four-foot-wide beds of any length and build the soil up at least six inches above the ground. The bed may be framed with wood, rock, or concrete blocks to prevent washouts. Since raised beds can be waist-high if you want, these are a great option for people who have a difficult ti