Make way for Seedlings!

We are on lockdown in Maine as we try to ‘flatten the curve’ of the Covid-19 global pandemic. Early on, we recognized the broader impacts of food insecurity that is being faced now and will unfold over the short season in Maine. Over the winter, we grew lots of vegetables in the greenhouse and now it is time to harvest some for our kitchen and more to pass on to our local food pantry. We have made it our goal to share something fresh from the garden every week during food box distributions through the seasons. Last fall, the Blue Hill Garden Club under the leadership of Peter Leonard (Grandpa) started a new public garden on Tenney Hill in the town of Blue Hill. Little did we know just how important this new space will be in providing fresh nourishment for our neighbors. Working with the Downeast Gleaning Initiative, Healthy Peninsula and the Blue Hill Heritage Trust, we are not only growing food for free distribution to the members of our community in greatest need, we are developing a platform for education on seed saving. The run on seeds this season has sparked great interest in saving seeds. We are trying out several ways to share how to save seed, why it is important and provide a platform for exchange and preservation of seeds for future growing season. For now, we are clearing out the greenhouse to fill it with seedlings that will be planted in the public garden later in the spring.

Our lettuce is going to seed, which we will sow through the season in the public garden, and the kale flourishes with plenty of greens to share. Rosemary maintains her happy home and offers nutrient dense leaves to share as full branches in the food pantry. Herbs are like super food! Even with the simplest meal, they add flavor and (more importantly) a dose of nutrients that are found in these culinary plants that are closest to the wild. They store easily when dried too.
Watercress flourishes in the aquaponic bed and the chard has grown into a giant!
Pickled beets to be – taken out of the dirt to make way for seedlings
Various pumpkins and squash emerge
Seedlings stay cozy under a late April snow.
Brassicas and onions – perfect planting companions
A new set of greens are planted in the terraced beds.

Hugel CULTURE demonstration

The first season at the SEED barn involved a lot of work taking down invasive plants and folding them back into the earth in a Hugelkultur fashion. Mid way through the season, the Blue Hill and Brooklin Garden Clubs visited the grounds in a demonstration on how we are using available materials to build Hugelkultures. Conversation on why it is important to address invasive plants ensued since many invasives are initially introduced as decorative garden plants. Bringing attention to the fact that many nurseries, especially in the big box stores, continue to sell invasive plants is important to know for avid gardeners.  Below, we see an example of a Hugelkultur bed in the second season as new plants become established. An introduction to the SEED Library offered members new ideas on what native plants could potentially be worked into the landscape. The tour ended with a description of how to tie in an aquaponic system into the small scale terracing approach developed by grandpa in the new greenhouse.

 

Aquaponics in the Greenhouse

Grandpa's greenhouse
Stacked beds support the aquaponics system installed in the greenhouse

The method of stacking growing beds to save space and add height within the green house was developed at the Distillery in Taos. Using a wire mesh to form the curved walls, Quick-crete is smoothed on to fill in the wall structures. The little walls are only buried a few inches, so the beds are connected underneath, allowing the roots of the plants to grow unconstrained. The walls serve not only as growing containers, but as a stepped buttress to support the weight of garden dirt across the top portions of the beds. The top level, seen here as under construction, is connected to the pond as a closed, aquaponics system. Filled with a growing medium, there is a pump that flushes water from the pond through the bed a couple of times a day. Bringing nutrients in the form of fish waste to the plants, their roots in turn filter the water clean for the fish before the water cascades back into the little pond. We have found that watercress abounds in this bed, offering nutrient dense greens through winter months. Raised beds on the right offer a comfortable work space, warmed by the sun in winter and offering a lovely view, overlooking the Mill Pond.

Thatcher Gray paints pollinators
Dreaming of spring: Thatcher Gray paints pollinators on the old painted floors of the 1835 farm house connected to the SEED Barn.

A Blank Canvas

The foundation of the greenhouse was excavated as one of
the first alterations of the land around the SEED Barn in 2016.

Vast expanses of lawn cropped short surrounds most homes in rural Maine. While it is a sought after aesthetic for many old timers, it is not a landscape that offers support for local wildlife. For pollinators, lawn is a vast desert with little in the way of food or shelter. In this windy place by the sea, it meant that we had few pollinators dwelling here. Known as the ‘Manor House’, the family who sold us the property practiced this common but ecologically disruptive way of landscaping. Not only does it lack protection for wildlife, it consumes quite a lot of gas to keep it maintained. We have focused on changing this method of working with the land to cultivate pollinator friendly spheres around our new home.

Grandpa has always prioritized his greenhouse, building them in urban settings as well as rural ones, and he even designed his dream-house as a casita wherein the greenhouse took up a third of the floorplan. Here we can see his first mark to disrupt the overwhelming expanse of lawn. Ultimately, a new foundation needed to be dug for the barn in order to save the structure. We trailed that dirt across the front of the property as a large berm which doubles as native plant garden and protection from road noise. After building the greenhouse, the lawn has been steadily shrinking as we build berms, sink hugelcultures and roto-till swaths of grass to explore various methods of meadow restoration and cultivation of nourishment by the sea.