Don’t Bug Out: Invasive Jumping Worms 101

Worms are on the mind of many gardeners in our community these days, and not just any worm, the invasive jumping worm (Amynthas agrestis). They’re popping up in gardens, lawns, farms, and forests across our region. New the jumping worm conversation? Here’s the scoop. 

How long have they been here, where are they, and how are they spreading?

  • Invasive jumping worms have been reported in Maine since 2017 and the greater Brunswick area since 2021.
  • They reproduce rapidly and their eggs are extremely small, making them the perfect unintentional hitchhiker, further enabling their spread.
  • They are now considered widespread and are being found all over our region and throughout the state.
  • Want to learn how to identify them? CLICK HERE for a helpful video. 

Why are they an issue?

  • They pose a threat to other soil organisms by eating much of the organic material that other organisms would normally be feeding on.  
  • They disrupt soil structure, especially the upper layers, and the organic matter content of the soil. This soil disruption can have serious impacts on our gardens, lawns, and forest ecosystems, specifically disrupting the growth of native plants and trees. 
  • Currently, there are no easy ways to get rid of them, but there is on-going, extensive research taking place all over the country. Even though they are widespread across the state, it is still important to reduce their spread and focus on keeping them out of forest ecosystems. 

This past season, jumping worms were discovered at the Tom Settlemire Community Garden. While this is disappointing, it is not surprising, given that they were found in the Brunswick area in 2021. After a confirmation from the Maine state Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry that the worms at TSCG were the Amynthas jumping worm, the Land Trust formed the Worm Task Force to focus on mitigating worm spread, monitor other BTLT properties, and educating our community. The Worm Task Force has been busy digging into research, creating new protocols for TSCG, and ensuring we will be following all best practices for our Annual Taking Root Plant Sale.   

What’s BTLT doing now?

At the Tom Settlemire Community Garden, we are moving forward with some new protocols for worm mitigation. If you are visiting TSCG or volunteering in the Garden this season, please make sure you adhere to the following procedures to help reduce the spread of jumping worms in our community:  

  • You must use the boot brushes located at the Garden entrances for your shoes both before entering TSCG and before leaving.  
  • Garden tools must be cleaned at the tool cleaning station. Any garden tools brought into the garden must be cleaned before use in TSCG and before leaving TSCG.  
  • Please dispose of any jumping worms properly, please check with the Garden Coordinator.  

Earlier this month, as part of our Growing Literacy: Winter Garden Workshop series with Curtis Memorial Library and Growing to Give, we hosted a ‘Jumping Worms 101’ workshop. About 95 folks joined us to hear from Gary Fish, the Maine State Horticulturist, about how to best manage these worms in Maine. His biggest words of advice? Don’t panic! If you missed the workshop, you can watch the recording HERE and view the slideshow presentation HERE.

More information about the jumping worms from the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry website 

What YOU Can Do

Don’t panic – while it can be upsetting to find an invasive species, researchers are currently working on learning more about this species and hopefully there will be controls for them down the road. Do not try to manage the worms with chemicals or products not labeled for that purpose. Currently, there are no pesticides or approved methods to manage jumping worms. Using products without this use explicitly included on the label is illegal.  

Remove and destroy any adult jumping worms if you see them – this can be done by dropping them into a bucket of soapy water or sealing them in a plastic bag.   

Help to prevent their spread – Unfortunately, there are currently no curative management options available for property owners and managers dealing with existing jumping worm infestations. There are no pesticides labeled for earthworm management in the United States, so no products can be legally used for this purpose. Therefore, prevention is essential. Some preventative measures that concerned citizens can utilize include but are not limited to:   

  • Learn how to recognize jumping worms and teach your family, friends, colleagues, etc.    
  • Look for jumping worm adults and their grainy, dried coffee ground-like castings. Not seeing the adults on the substrate surface, but have reason to believe they may be there? Try mixing a gallon of water and 1/3 cup of ground yellow mustard seed and pouring that slowly over the soil/area with suspicious castings. If present in that location, the worms will be irritated (not killed) and brought to the surface where they can be collected for identification.
  • Do not purchase worms advertised as jumping worms, snake worms, Alabama jumpers, or crazy worms for any purpose (ex. composting or fishing baits).    

Anglers: never dispose of unused fishing baits into the environment. Always throw away unwanted bait worms in the trash.  

Gardeners: look for evidence of jumping worms in soil, compost, mulch, potted plants, etc. If you see coffee ground-like castings in these materials or notice jumping worm adults, report them. Do not move materials known to contain jumping worms to new locations.    

Composters: heat materials to the appropriate temperatures and duration following protocols that reduce pathogens. Recent research suggests that heating the cocoons of jumping worms to somewhere around 104°F for 3 days will kill the egg-containing cocoons.    

Click here for a helpful info sheet for homeowners.

The BTLT Worm Task Force will continue to develop strategies for gardening alongside the worms as we explore ways to reduce worm populations in TSCG and beyond. We encourage you to share this post with others to help educate our community! 

Winter Garden Workshop 2024 Line Up

Gardening is not for the faint of heart…

“Gardening is not for the faint of heart,” says Judith Long, a Common Good Garden volunteer at the Tom Settlemire Community Garden. But she also says that despite the challenges that arise throughout the growing season, “you can’t keep enthusiastic gardeners down for long!”  

Volunteers Suzanne, Dev, Harriet, Molly, and Claudia washing carrots

In the Common Good Garden (CGG), a section of the Tom Settlemire Community Garden (TSCG) used to grow fresh produce for Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program (MCHPP), volunteers gather twice a week. Throughout the season in four large garden plots, they cultivated carrots, butternut squash, onions, and experimented with a cover crop of buckwheat. Dedicated volunteer Hope Mahoney summed up our work this season: “We fussed over the onions, encouraged the squash, and celebrated the carrots – and each week went home tired and dirty. It was another great season at the Garden.” We are thrilled to share that we donated a total of 1,548 pounds of produce to MCHPP this season!  

Despite the best laid plans, challenges can always abound in a garden, especially when weather and climate change can add an element of unpredictability. After planting over 6,000 onion seedlings in April, a season of seemingly endless rain brought pink root fungus to the crop. Still edible, but no longer able to be stored for a long shelf life, volunteers made quick work of harvesting and cleaning all onions to send over to MCHPP’s kitchen to be processed and made into soup. There is always a creative solution!  

Hope, Molly, Stephen, Judith, Ron, Suzanne and Dev with squash

A leader in the Common Good Garden, Barbara Murphy, noted how impressed she was this year with the dedication of the volunteers. As Barbara noted, there is “the wonder of being able to see the full circle of plant life — from seed to seedlings to harvest” that can lead to volunteer investment. Each workday, up to a dozen volunteers would join, ranging in age from teenagers to retired folks in their sixties, seventies, and eighties. The volunteers included local gardeners, plot holders at TSCG, high school students, New Mainers, and even a recent Bowdoin College graduate who was researching community gardens with the hope of starting one at the school where she teaches in North Carolina. 

Molly McGrath and her 13-year-old son Owen joined as new volunteers this past summer. Molly shares that when they joined, they knew they would have a chance to “dig around in the dirt, but didn’t expect to get to see bluebirds, learn about irrigation, laugh at carrot shapes, and make such good friends.” They are both planning on returning to the Common Good Garden again next season.

Molly with a wagon full of squash

Kurt, Sandra, Tina, Rob. and Chris harvesting carrots

Rebecca Dorr was another volunteer new to the Common Good Garden and shared her experience of the “joy to just sit in the earth side by side and plant carrot seeds for hours.” Moving from a more rural area of Maine to Brunswick this past year, Rebecca describes that she was “desperate” to get her hands in the soil and felt welcomed into the CGG community.  

On a chilly, misty morning in mid-October, the Common Good Garden volunteer team finished cleaning up the garden and sat down around the picnic tables at TSCG. Coffee, donuts, and plenty of laughs were shared as we discussed the successes and challenges of the season. When asked who was planning on returning to volunteer next season, everyone at the table raised their hands. 

When we said our goodbyes, it felt like we were parting ways for our winter hibernation, preparing to remerge in the spring to grow together again. But gardening is a year-round practice, even in a place like Maine where the growing season is so short. Wheelbarrow repairs continue, new maps are being drawn up for the next crop rotation, and plans are being laid for starting our own onion seedlings for next season. At TSCG we feel so lucky to have such an incredible group of volunteers dedicated to growing produce to support food security efforts in our community. We hope that you will be inspired to join us in the Spring!  

Kurt, Suzanne, Chris. Judith. Molly. Harriet. Stephen, Barbara. Ruth, Ron. and Claudia on the final workday of the season

What’s Growing on at TSCG?

Even with wet and rainy weather impacting crops and canceling numerous volunteer workdays, things are still growing and blooming over at the Tom Settlemire Community Garden. Wander over there on a sunny day as we head into September, and you will be greeted with bird songs and a rainbow of vibrant petals. As you make your way through the plots you will see the variety of things growing and the diversity of pollinators buzzing about. Along with flowers, plotholders are growing everything from tomatoes to kale to leeks to squash. Moving from plot to plot can sometimes feel like flipping through a colorful seed catalog. Some plotholders have even taken on challenges this year growing artichokes and even okra!  

A Monarch butterfly rests on some milkweed growing in the Garden

In the Common Good Garden (CGG), hundreds of pounds of produce have already been sent over to the food bank at Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program, with hundreds more pounds still in the ground awaiting harvest. As CGG volunteer Judith Long reminds us though, “Gardening is not for the faint of heart. Something, usually weather-related, intervenes to mess up the best laid plans.“ With all the rain and cool weather this season we experienced the development of a ‘pink root’ fungus throughout the onion crop that CGG volunteers were able to identify with assistance from MOFGA and the UMaine Cooperative Extension. While the onions are still fine for eating, they didn’t develop to the sizes we were hoping for and are not able to be stored long term. Despite this challenge with the onions, volunteers are already plotting a new plan for onions next season, as Judith puts it:

“You can’t keep enthusiastic gardeners down for long!”  

Additionally, we grew buckwheat as a cover crop in one section of CGG to give the soil a rest and help restore nutrients. Not only is buckwheat easy to till back into the soil, but it also produces a beautiful flower that the pollinators love. The Common Good Garden is always a fun experiment, and we are so lucky to have such an incredible group of volunteers this season. Anyone is welcome to join us to lend a hand, Tuesdays and Thursdays, 8:30-10:30am (unless it’s raining). No gardening experience necessary!  

Common Good Garden Volunteers after a busy day in the squash patch

While the CGG crew has been toiling away in the soil, the newly formed TSCG Workgroup (AKA the ‘Garden Committee’) has also been busy working on projects in the Garden and planning events. Our first event earlier this season was a Pest Management Workshop with Anna Markow and Charlotte Thurston from Whatley Farm. Garden volunteer Stephen Hall described this workshop as “information packed,” and was excited for what he learned about the benefits of parasitic wasps and companion plants. Plotholder Barbara Murphy hosted a Pollinator Workshop focused on the many benefits of planting flowers in the vegetable garden to attract pollinator insects. Barbara was thrilled that as the group walked through the Garden during the workshop “bees, butterflies, beneficial insects and birds put on a show demonstrating how colorful annual flowers and the blooming native perennials attract these pollinators.” Barbara is expecting that those who attended the workshop will be planting more flowers next season. We have a few other events in the works for the fall and plenty of fun ideas for next season for how to bring Garden community members together and share knowledge.  

Pest Management Workshop leader Charlotte Thurston (right) shows off a potato beetle larvae

Plotholder Barbara Murphy (right) leads a workshop on pollinators and native plants

While we have plenty of volunteers who show up regularly to help out in the Garden, we also have had several volunteer groups from the community join us this season to help tackle some larger projects. A group of students from Harpswell Coastal Academy helped tend to the peach and apple trees in our orchard early in the season. Groups from Wright Pierce, an engineering firm, and Blue Marble Geographics, a software company, also had some fun team bonding in the Garden helping us to construct our new raised beds.

We love the chance to bring new community members into the Garden, so if your organization would like to join us, reach out!  

A volunteer group from Blue Marble Geographics celebrates a successful workday in the Garden

If you haven’t stopped over at the Garden this season, we invite you to come by! All members of the community are welcome, just please remember to stay on the paths, look but don’t touch, and leave your dog friends at home.

Rising to the Occasion

Earlier this month at the Tom Settlemire Community Garden, with a lot of volunteer support, we completed five new raised garden beds! These raised beds make help gardening more accessible for folks who need an elevated plot to garden comfortably.

We were very lucky to have Mike and Molle, plotholders at TSCG, who worked as a team to cut boards and construct the frames of the raised beds. After the frames were set, an awesome group of volunteers from the local engineering firm Wright-Pierce spent a morning moving wheelbarrows full of soil into these frames. This was exhausting and monotonous work, but the group tackled it with great attitudes and a good amount of sweating. In just a few hours, the group was able to complete three of the five raised beds. Last year, some of this same group helped out in the New Mainers Garden and we hope they are planning to return again next year to tackle another project with us.

The last two raised beds were finished up with some help from a handful of garden volunteers including super-volunteers Stephen and Claudia who carted countless wheelbarrows of soil to help finish the job.

These five new raised beds are in addition to four raised beds that were built several season ago. Bill and Jen Mason have been growing in two of the raised beds for the past few seasons. This season they are already having success with their beds, including a first harvest of radishes!

We are so excited to be able to offer these raised beds to gardeners with accessibility needs next season to ensure that more folks have the opportunity to enjoy gardening at TSCG. Big thanks to all who helped make this possible!

It takes many hands to keep the Community Garden growing. Want to volunteer at the Garden with us? You can email garden@btlt.org.

Community in the Garden: Another Strong Season

by Julia St.Clair, Agricultural Programs Coordinator

CGG volunteers Claudia, Hope, and Janice preparing harvested onions for donation to MCHPP

Another successful growing season has wrapped up in the Common Good Garden (CGG). The Common Good Garden is a section of the Tom Settlemire Community Garden where produce is grown for Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program (MCHPP). CGG is run by a dedicated group of volunteer gardeners who show up with a passion for feeding their community. You can read more about the work of the Common Good Garden here.

Throughout the 2022 growing season, we were able to donate over 2,500 pounds of produce to MCHPP for use in their kitchen and distribution via their pantry, including winter squash, green beans, leeks, carrots, and a variety of onions. Additionally, some of the CCG produce was donated to the local New Mainer community and was used in the BTLT fundraiser porch dinner series at Vessel and Vine this past month.

Through the Trees teen group at TSCG after a successful workday

We are lucky to have such a vibrant community around the garden – it would not nearly be as productive as it is without the commitment, hard work, and passion of the volunteers who showed up each week ready to plant, weed, deal with pests, or harvest a seemingly endless bounty of carrots. This past year we were also thrilled to have Jane Olsen, a Bowdoin Environmental Studies Fellow, join us for the summer and support CGG, working alongside volunteers each week. We also had support from other community groups, including a teen group from Through the Trees, who jumped right in, bringing a bounty of gardening knowledge, and helping us to prepare the squash beds for planting. We are grateful also for the generous donations of seedlings from Whatley Farm, Six River Farm, and other local gardeners. Many, many hands contributed to the success of CGG this season!

Volunteers Ron, Janice, Claudia, and Diana with the final harvest of produce ready for delivery to MCHPP

Tending the CGG this year was not without its challenges, including an unexpected frost, a delay in setting up irrigation correctly, a box of sad onion seedlings, and an aphid infestation in a row of squash, but such is the nature of gardening. Luckily, this volunteer team and other community members jumped in to support and problem-solve together. This growing season was also one of joy and surprise: a garter snake living in the squash patch; monarch caterpillars crawling around the carrots; and a pair of scissors lost in a bed at the start of the season recovered last week while cleaning up a plot. In the end, the CGG had another successful year and we are already ready to start planning for the next growing season!

The Common Good Garden volunteer crew meets twice a week on weekday mornings throughout the growing season to plant, tend, and harvest produce in the Common Good Garden. We are always looking for more hands in the Common Good Garden and so if you are interested in joining us as a volunteer next growing season, please sign up for the Tom Settlemire Community Garden newsletter by clicking here. Volunteers in CGG bring a variety of backgrounds and extensive collective gardening knowledge working collaboratively to problem solve in the garden. We have endless gratitude for this group of volunteers that contribute their time, knowledge, and physical labor to the success of CGG.

Once again we would like to share a huge THANK YOU to the CGG volunteer crew and invite you to join us next season!

Thank You Jane!

by Julia St.Clair, BTLT Agricultural Programs Coordinator

Jane with a group of Common Good Garden Volunteers

As the Tom Settlemire Community Garden (TSCG) is wrapping up the 2022 growing season, we would like to take this opportunity to give a huge shout out to our summer Environmental Studies Fellow from Bowdoin College, Jane Olsen! 

Jane dug in right away, coming to the Garden with little gardening experience, but quickly learning while working alongside other gardeners in the TSCG community. Jane even had the chance to tend her own plot at TSCG, successfully growing leeks, carrots, herbs, and a seemingly endless bounty of tomatoes! Jane brought her passion for building community and love for the outdoors to TSCG.

Jane working on Orchard research with Glenn Wildes

Over the summer, Jane worked alongside volunteers in the Common Good Garden, supporting and leading weekly workdays. She also joined the volunteer team supporting the New Mainers garden at TSCG, adding an extra set of hands to support this ambitious project. Additionally, Jane spent the summer researching and chatting with local experts about orchard care, drafting up an orchard care and maintenance plan for the TSCG orchard and learning more about the history of how these blueberry bushes, peach trees, and apple trees came to grow at TSCG. 

As an avid writer, Jane tackled a personal project while working at TSCG: interviewing and profiling a handful of TSCG plot holders from new to longtime gardeners. Her articles tell the stories of garden community members and offer the advice they shared for interested gardeners. These stories put faces to some of the many plots in the garden, reminding us just how many hands go into growing TSCG. In these articles Jane also highlights many of the different growing styles and gardening knowledge backgrounds that TSCG gardeners bring to the space. You can check out her articles on the BTLT blog

Jane with MCHPP Fellow Liliana and BTLT intern Cora

Collaborating with a Bowdoin Fellow from Midcoast Hunger Prevention Program, Liliana, and BTLT intern Cora, Jane worked to plan and host a successful volunteer appreciation event at the Garden. The event included live music, treats from Wild Oats and Mere Point Oyster Co, and a raffle for volunteers. Jane also returned this fall to volunteer in the Common Good Garden and helped host the Garden’s annual-ish ‘Plot Luck’ event with members from across the garden community.

We are so grateful to have had Jane join us this past summer and we hope that she will continue to expand her gardening knowledge. We wish her the best of luck with her continued studies at Bowdoin and hope that she will come back to visit us at TSCG often!

Community Garden Plot Holder Spotlight: Julia St.Clair

By Jane Olsen, BTLT summer fellow

My name is Jane Olsen, I’m a junior at Bowdoin College and I worked at the Land Trust for the summer supporting the Tom Settlemire Community Garden. This post is the last of my plotholder profiles series, a project where I have been engaged with the many plotholders of the Garden, young and old, with all ranges of gardening experience. I have chosen to highlight Julia St.Clair as the final subject of this project because not only is she a plotholder, but she plays an instrumental role in supporting the success of the Garden as whole.

Julia St.Clair

Julia St.Clair is the Agricultural Programs Coordinator at the Land Trust, overseeing the Saturday Farmers’ Market at Crystal Spring Farm and the Tom Settlemire Community Garden. As my supervisor, I worked closely with Julia throughout the summer and from my first day I understood her devotion to the Garden, embracing volunteers with open arms, and pointing out various insects. My final conversation for the plotholder profiles project, I was excited to be able to sit down and ask her some questions.

Her love for gardening began as a child in her mom’s robust flower garden planting bulbs and admiring the flowers and butterflies. Carrying on this love for the environment, Julia focused on  Environmental Studies and Photography in college. Before joining the Land Trust last year, she had already worked extensively in the agriculture industry, in large scale commercial organic farming and permaculture growing. 

“Being in a community garden or working in the Common Good Garden is such a different scale and way of thinking about space than what I have knowledge and background in. So it’s kind of a give and take of learning and also somehow being tasked with being in charge of things” said Julia

“I’m young, I haven’t been doing this for very long. Sometimes I really don’t know what I’m doing. So there’s a balance between feeling like I’m not equipped to be growing things properly. And also feeling like this is actually a really amazing space and opportunity for me to be able to learn how to do things and to learn more than one right way of doing things.”

Though Julia has been working at the Land Trust since last year, this is her first year having a plot: 

“I didn’t really have enough time or energy to tend to things last year. I was excited to be serious and grow in a plot this year.”

While the Tom Settlemire Community Garden can often have a waitlist, Portland’s community gardens have waitlists that are hundreds of people long, so Julia expressed her gratitude for the availability at a community garden in South Portland, near where she lives. She explained to me that growing at her plot in South Portland is very different from TSCG. This is largely because TSCG has been used for cultivation for many years and is surrounded by fields and agricultural land inviting many pests. The lack of pests is one of the reasons she almost exclusively grows beans in her plot in South Portland, in addition to the plant’s beautiful flowers. 

While the conditions of TSCG do inevitably invite pests, the protection from the fencing as well as resources like compost and tools for all to use are significant benefits of the space. For many, one of the biggest draws to the Garden is not the physical space itself, but the community within the Garden.

Julia shared, “There’s something about community gardens that are really cool because everybody has their own style of gardening. From the things that they grow, to the approach that they have, there’s something so cool about getting to learn from everyone. I really love the community around the Garden itself. We’re growing food, we’re feeding ourselves, we’re feeding each other, we’re feeding our community and that feels really important.”

As someone so closely involved with the Garden, Julia is constantly thinking about how to strengthen all aspects of the Garden, from efficiency of food production in the Common Good Garden, to strengthening community ties.

“We have this amazing resource of knowledge from all of these gardeners who have been growing for so many years, many of whom are Master Gardeners. I would love to see more of a transfer of that knowledge to the next generation of folks who want to garden. That feels important to me personally, but I think it’s also important to cultivate across generations.”

One way that Julia hopes to strengthen ties between generations is through encouraging younger people to get involved, whether they have gardening experience or not.

“I really want to encourage more youth of all ages to be interested in gardening, not only volunteer work, but educational programs to allow individuals to have ownership over and feel a connection to their space.”

Julia herself is excited to bring new gardeners into the community, and her advice, like many others, is to persevere in the face of initial difficulties:

“I’m always open to give advice for new gardeners. I think gardening can be a very frustrating process. But it can also be rewarding. You can try something one year that might not work the next year and it’s always sort of this fun experiment. I think if you treat it like that, it’s a lot more relaxing and enjoyable.”

If you’re ever looking for more gardening advice like Julia’s, come volunteer at the Common Good Garden workdays on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 8:30-10:30am. Not only will you tend to crops and support the efforts of the Midcoast Hunger Prevention Program, you will have the chance to learn from many experienced gardeners with endless knowledge to share. 

I am so grateful for all of the guidance Julia and the garden volunteers shared with me this summer. I hope other members of the community take advantage of this rewarding opportunity to give back to Brunswick.

 

Community Garden Plot Holder Spotlight: Prentiss Tubby, Barbra Murphy, Fran Marquis and Robin Manson

By Jane Olsen

My name is Jane Olsen, I’m a junior at Bowdoin College and I worked at the Land Trust for the summer supporting the Tom Settlemire Community Garden. This post is part of my plotholder profiles series, a project where I have been delighted to get to know the over 82 plotholders at the Garden, young and old, with all ranges of gardening experience. Prentiss Tubby, Barbra Murphy, Fran Marquis and Robin Manson are all longtime plotholders at the Garden and active members of the community.

Prentiss Tubby

Prentiss Tubby tends to a plot neighboring mine and while we’ve shared a hello in passing, I was delighted to have the chance to get to know her more. Prentiss has lived in Maine for 30 years, has had a plot at TSCG since 2013, and has “always been a gardener.”  

When Prentiss first heard of the Garden’s founding in 2012, she was hesitant to secure a plot: “I thought that I didn’t need it because I have all this space at home. But I ultimately decided to because I think it’s a phenomenal community.” 

She was born in Vermont and moved to the Washington area when she was pretty young, recalling the influence of her mother’s values on her way of life. 

“My mother was an organic gardener before the phrase was being used.”

Not only did her mother introduce Prentiss to organic gardening and the concept of composting, she also encouraged her to give back to the community. This sparked her passion for helping others, which she now fulfills through Master Gardening. The Master Gardener Volunteers program through the University of Maine Cooperative Extension provides participants with around 40 hours of in-depth training in the art and science of horticulture and in return, trained Master Gardeners volunteer their time and expertise for community programs.

Prentiss chose to complete her certification in perennials because at the time she knew less about the topic than vegetable gardening, expressing to me that she believes “once we stop learning, we start to wither and I’m not ready to wither.”

The Master Gardener program certainly provides opportunities for gardeners to continue to gain and spread knowledge, as volunteers who wish to remain certified and active in the program must re-enroll annually and continue to volunteer at least 20 hours per year. 

While Prentiss contributes hundreds of hours to the BTLT Taking Root Plant Sale, she has also devoted time to mentoring gardeners at TSCG. She has mentored a number of New Mainers from the Republic of the Congo, one of whom brought five types of seeds to grow five different vegetables from home to be cultivated in Maine. 

Simultaneous to her social involvement with the Garden, Prentis also deeply values the space as a place of solace:

“I don’t mind if others are here but I love it when I come and nobody is here. It’s like a sanctuary. So quiet. I went through a really rough time last year and this became my place to get away. I have a wonderful garden at home but this was different. And I got away from everything that was weighing on me and I could come here.” 

Outside of gardening, Prentiss is an artist focused on landscape oil painting, a member of a flash fiction group in Brunswick, and is currently writing a memoir. She recently discovered a love for writing, and expressed her gratitude for discovering new passions:

“I’ve always written letters to the editor and that sort of thing. But I never realized that I really enjoy writing too, and at 79 I found that I love it, it makes you stretch your imagination.”

It’s never too late to make a new discovery. This summer I personally discovered a love for gardening. One of the things I appreciated most about talking with Prentiss was her value of the Garden at all stages of growth. She acknowledged the positive brought on by winter, recognizing the season as a time for rejuvenation and preparation for spring, as well as her affinity for the peak August season:

 “The thing I most look forward to each summer is my first tomato sandwich. It has to be very fresh,  right off the vine tomato that I sliced, two pieces of white bread, salt and pepper. And that’s it.” A perfect taste of a summer garden.

Barbra Murphy

Similar to Prentiss, Barbra Murphy has been a plot holder since the start of the Garden, “that first weekend that we laid everything out and put up the fences years ago,” and this year happens to be one of the lucky years she has secured two plots. Throughout her years at the Garden she has been a committed volunteer to the BTLT Taking Root Plant Sale and brought joy and experimentation to her plot.

This year, she is growing what she calls a ‘salsa garden’, with eight different kinds of peppers, six different kinds of tomatoes, onions, garlic, cilantro, parsley, and more. She told me she usually makes around ten cases of salsa to give away. 

In the past she has taken on more complex endeavors, including growing gourds for her brother-in-law, who then uses the crop as a medium to make decorative masks. While Barbra expressed she enjoyed growing gourds for this project, she decided to experiment with growing another crop this year, as her brother-in-law still has many gourds from last year yet to be carved. This year she has replaced the gourd project by growing cucamelons, or Mexican sour gherkins that resemble tiny watermelons. 

“These are the type of plants that grow to form every year so if you save the seeds, you can plant them. I think I only saved four cucumbers, harvested the seeds and dried them over the winter. I planted them all in the spring and every single one of them germinated. So what I’m gonna do is tell people that anytime you can just go and pick some because there’s going to be way too many.”

In addition to growing cucamelons, Barbra also enjoys growing edible flowers, to put in salads or mix into salves. She has acquired a lot of knowledge from volunteering at the BTLT Taking Root Plant Sale and early in the season, she is sometimes so busy with propagation and transplanting that she is delayed in starting her plot. 

“I feel really lucky that this Garden is here. It is nice to connect with the community of people. I do even though I like being here alone. I really like getting to know the people who are here and who volunteer. I think the Land Trust has a pretty good job with the orientation to the garden, and providing gardening supplies like tools and compost. It makes it pretty easy for people to grow here”.

Barbra grew up on the east coast and has lived in Maine for most of her life, but it wasn’t until she moved to California and worked for gardeners that she really learned how to garden. Though she expressed that her love for the activity began from a young age:

“I’ve always been interested in gardening ever since I was a little kid and I have no idea why, because nobody else in my family was. When I was like in elementary school I would get these things at the hardware store that were called punch and grow, it was sort of like a mini greenhouse, and I grew marigolds and tomatoes and petunias too. I don’t know why I just always really liked gardening even though my family wasn’t into it.”

Nowadays, she is lucky to have both a plot at TSCG and one in her neighborhood as well. So even though Barbra has space to garden close to home, she is still drawn to TSCG for the community. 

Fran Marquis and Robin Manson

Another pair of plotholders that have been at the Garden since the start, I first met Fran and Robin, while tending to my tomatoes, as they have the plot beside me. Fran graciously assisted me in supporting one of my tilted plants. It was a Sunday morning and the couple had been visiting their plot with a friend, Beatrice. While they always thought gardening was interesting, Fran and Robin lived in apartments for much of their life, restricting their ability to have a garden. They secured a plot at TSCG at its founding and have appreciated the gradual transformations throughout the years. Now retired, they have had more time to tend to the Garden and observe the more subtle changes.

“The improvements that happen bit by bit, don’t happen overnight. It’s been good for us to be retired and be able to really concentrate on all this and put more time into our gardens. I feel like we’re farmers now because that’s what we do all day,” said Fran.

 In their garden at home, one of their dogs would even join the fun of harvesting and pull pea pods right off the vines and eat them. One of Fran and Robin’s favorite parts of gardening is harvesting potatoes. With potato beetles to fight off, this is not easy without an abundance of time. But Fran and Robin have persevered because of the joy that harvesting brings them. 

“I like harvesting, pulling out the carrots, and beets, getting my hands in the soil, it’s just a miracle. You plant those little tiny seeds and cover them up with water and pretty soon you have lovely things to eat,” Fran expressed. This joy seems to be infectious, with Robin adding she enjoys growing potatoes “just to watch Fran have fun.”

“It’s impossible for me to pick one thing that’s my favorite. Planning is fun, planting is fun, harvesting is fun, nurturing is fun, talking to the people is fun. Looking at other people’s gardens is fun, exchanging produce with other people is fun, and learning from them. Meeting people that are your plot neighbors that you didn’t even know were your neighbors, just being part of this community thing that is just here. I just think we’re so lucky, I just want to make sure that it continues” Fran continued.

In addition to tending to their own plot, Fran and Robin enjoy the volunteering commitment that comes with a plot at the Garden. Though they have supported Land Trust’s Taking Root Plant Sale in past years, they primarily fulfill their hours as members of the mowing team, which includes around five people, with a rotation of around three mows per person throughout the season. Perhaps the pair first became interested in mowing because of Robin’s childhood memories of assisting her dad as a child, or maybe the pair was simply drawn to the satisfaction of the activity:

“We love to mow, It’s rewarding because after you mow we look around and it makes this place look really nice. You want it to look nice when visitors come here to see it,” said Fran.

Sharing the joy of the Garden with others is another reason the couple loves visiting TSCG. Fran expressed her enthusiasm in bringing friends and family to her plot: 

“Giving somebody the opportunity to come and actually get their hands in the dirt when they really haven’t done it much before and then to see the excitement. It just makes you so happy to see somebody discover that [love for gardening] because it’s a miracle.” 

A friend they have shared this joy for gardening with has been Beatrice, who after having contributed a significant effort to their plot this year, is considering getting a plot of her own next summer!

One of my favorite things about the Garden has been witnessing how various plot holders like Fran and Robin pass on their joy for the space to those around them, and those outside the walls of the Garden.

Community Garden Plot Holder Spotlight: Nancy and Dennis Lemieux, Emily Settlemire, and Alisha Chaney

By Jane Olsen, BTLT summer fellow

My name is Jane Olsen, I’m a junior at Bowdoin College and I worked at the Land Trust for the summer supporting the Tom Settlemire Community Garden. This post is part of my plot holder profiles series, a project where I have been delighted to get to know the over 82 plot holders at the Garden, young and old, with all ranges of gardening experience. This post features more recent members of this Garden community: Nancy and Dennis Lemieux, Alisha Chaney and Emily Settlemire.

Nancy and Dennis Lemieux

Nancy and Dennis

It was a lovely July afternoon when I met Nancy and Dennis in the Garden, tending to their community garden plot only a few strides away from my own. The Lemieux’s moved to Maine 35 years ago from Pennsylvania, where they first met. While this is only their second season in the TSCG, they have already gathered an abundance of knowledge.

The pair expressed that last year they were overzealous, as many new plotholders are, packing a variety of plants into their plot with high hopes. But at the end of the growing season, they discussed what they wanted to change, deciding to simplify their garden and be extra diligent to add compost and nutrients to the soil. They also constructed a wooden border around their plot to keep weeds out, protecting their peppers, tomatoes, and other crops. Their ability to redesign their plot reflects the freedom plotholders have to tailor their space to personal taste.

Every plotholder has a different approach to layout in the Garden, and Nancy and Dennis recognized that variations in the composition of a plot, from configuration to choices in seeds and fertilizer can greatly vary the financial costs of maintaining one’s garden. 

“You get so much fun out of [gardening], it makes you feel good to see things come to life that you grew. You have a say in your food to be organic and natural. It’s your space, it takes you away from everything else you’re focusing on. It really relaxes you, listening to the birds, and feeling the breeze. You don’t have to talk to anybody, but everybody here is really great. People share ideas and what they grow with others. It’s not too overwhelming,” shared Nancy 

Dennis agreed with this sentiment, emphasizing that the knowledge of other gardeners is one of the most beneficial aspects of the Garden:

“My advice for new gardeners would be to start simple, stay within things that you like and don’t give up. There are real, accomplished gardeners here, so take advantage and don’t be afraid to ask questions. There’s a lot more to it than just growing, we meet new people here and for us that’s been great.”

Emily Settlemire

Similarly to the Lemieux’s, this is Emily Settlemire’s second year with a plot at the Garden. As Nancy and Dennis expressed, the intergenerational knowledge within the Garden can be extraordinarily beneficial to new plot holders. Emily has a unique perspective on the Garden as the granddaughter of Tom Settlemire, former BTLT president, current BTLT board member, and a dedicated supporter of the local agricultural community.

Emily’s parents both grew up on farms, surrounded by livestock and agriculture. While neither of her parents pursued careers in the agricultural field themselves, Emily’s family still had a garden throughout her childhood in Warren, Maine. This exposure to gardening, as well as science experiments in school sparked Emily’s interest in the activity early on. 

This season, Emily is growing chard, sugar snap peas, and garlic. While low germination rates have been an occasional challenge for her, Emily expressed that her appreciation for the crops that do succeed is all the more satisfying. 

Many plotholders I’ve talked to prefer to come to the Garden disconnected from technology and enjoy the natural sights and sounds of the space while gardening. While Emily appreciates this time connected to nature, she also enjoys listening to podcasts while tending to her plot as a “pick me up if [she] needs to push through a [gardening] project.” One podcast Emily is currently into is called Let’s Grow Girls, hosted by a couple from the U.K. interested in flower farming.

Though some plotholders have abundant time to tend to their plants, Emily expressed it can be challenging to find time to make it to the Garden as often as she would like. While attending the cardiovascular program at Southern Maine Community College, Emily was able to water everyday on her way home from school but now that she works long shifts at the Maine Medical Center, she expressed it has been difficult to make it to the Garden after work. Nevertheless, when Emily has been able to make it to the Garden after a hectic work day, the ease of being surrounded by plants is a welcome release. Emily has also learned how to configure her plot to her advantage as she navigates her varying amount of time to commit to the Garden:

 “It’s a privilege to be out there. I think it comes down to finding the right things to plant out there, and that is where you’re gonna get success.” 

While many gardeners treasure the planting and harvesting stages of the season, Emily revealed that weeding is one of her favorite things to do: “It’s very therapeutic, so simple and satisfying. You go through and bruise up your plot, but the next day, everything arrives from that work. It’s a chore that I once dreaded but now it’s something I want to get into and clean out.” Emily expressed her excitement in observing the root structures that are revealed in this process, providing her with a deeper understanding as to what is going on in her garden underground. Perhaps this interest is what sparked her commitment to the compost volunteer team at the Garden.

After community members and gardeners drop off their compost in the pile, the members of the team rotate their responsibilities on a weekly basis, ensuring that the decomposition process is running smoothly. This year, the compost team has a sizable group of volunteers, so the responsibilities have not been too overwhelming on any one individual. The compost team greatly contributes to the success of TSCG, providing an outlet for plot holders to fulfill their required annual volunteer hours but also bringing community members together.

Alisha Chaney

This year at TSCG, Alisha is growing delicata squash, zucchini, bell and shishito peppers, leeks, potatoes in a bucket, carrots, tomatoes, broccoli, brussel sprouts, radishes, strawberries, garlic, and more. Before I officially met Alisha Chaney, I knew who she was from her exclamations about the monarchs in her plot and the embroidered gift she donated to the BTLT office for Pride Month. Like the Lemieux’s and Emily, Alisha Chaney has been a part of the Garden for two years now. She shares plot 66 with her best friend, but also takes care of plot 10. Though originally from New Hampshire, she moved to Maine eight years ago.

Growing up, her grandmother always had a small garden made up of cucumbers, tomatoes and green beans, where she fondly recalled summer meals with the fresh produce: 

“One of my favorite core memories as a child is going out and harvesting cucumbers and tomatoes, immediately slicing them, salting them and just sitting with my grandmother and eating them for lunch.”

Though she grew up around gardens, Alisha confessed that her green thumb did not come to her naturally:

“Growing plants is challenging for me but I’m good with plants that grow food because I’m more invested in them. I enjoy it but at times it’s also mildly overwhelming. I find it relaxing and so satisfying to say to neighbors and friends, ‘I grew this, let me feed you’”

Not only does Alisha love sharing a taste of her garden with friends outside of the space, she enjoys getting to know her neighbors in the Garden as well:

“Every time I go, I run into somebody new. And I always go and say hi because usually I am exclaiming like a cartoon character, ‘the squirrel didn’t come to eat my strawberries’ or whatever happened that day.”

As someone with two plots, Alisha was able to see the difference in the effectiveness of her various gardening techniques. In one plot, where she spent less time preparing for the year, she has been battling weeds that pop up all season, but in her second plot where she put in the time it has been smooth sailing. This experience informs her advice for new gardeners, emphasizing that choosing your battles is important: 

“Give up on a plan. Don’t try. But one thing I learned from last year is if you do a really good job at the end of the season, putting your garden to bed, like making sure to be here and get stuff turned over, it sets you up really well for the following season. And taking the time to adequately weed your plot before planting will also help you, and save you from the weeds completely.”

As someone who works full time in Portland, it can be hard to make it to the Garden for the Common Good Garden work days which are hosted on weekday mornings. However, there are many other ways for plotholders to fulfill the six hour per season volunteer commitment. Alisha is able to do so through smaller projects tidying the Garden, such as weeding pathways on her own time, making plot number markers, and redesigning the Garden map.

While everyone has different approaches to gardening, and varying time to commit to their plot, TSCG has something to offer for all community members. Whether you’re looking for a picnic table with a calming view to eat your lunch, or a plot to spend countless hours tending to, the Garden is welcome to everyone in the community to enjoy.