BTLT In the News: “Connect to past and present at the Cathance River Nature Preserve”

The Bowdoin Orient

Connect to past and present at the Cathance River Nature Preserve
By Jane Olsen (The Bowdoin Orient)

A visit to the Cathance River Nature Preserve in Topsham will allow you to consider the past, the future and how to stay grounded in the present. Only a 10-minute drive from campus, the preserve features miles of riverside trails winding through growing forests. It is unlikely you will cross paths with many others.

When following the directions to the trailhead, you may be confused as to why you’re being guided through the Highlands Retirement Community. At first, I thought I was going to the wrong place because the trailhead is easy to miss and the adjacent parking lot only fits about five cars (if squeezed in at an angle to the road). But the waves of Highlands residents on their daily walks are a reminder that a sense of community extends beyond the spaces of Bowdoin’s physical campus.

The Preserve offers enough trails to explore for hours, but it is equally beautiful if you only have a few minutes to spare. This visit, I decided to walk down the staircase next to the parking lot and continue until I reached the Highland trail, passing through the vernal pools.

From this point, the path to the river is no more than 10 minutes. After a semester of shuffling my feet on the ice across campus, stepping over small patches of mud was a welcome surprise. As I moved closer to the river, an abundance of green moss on the forest floor creeped up on me.

The light flickered brighter in the areas where young saplings have yet to grow, and in areas with white pines thick with age, only a few sunbeams pass through their needles. This forest is not uniform and the path is not straight—mimicking the collision of many generations.

After scanning a QR code posted on one of the saplings, I realize that the code is one of many scattered throughout the trails of the Preserve. The codes are a part of a “Self-Guided Adventure” initiative by the Cathance River Education Alliance, a nonprofit environmental and educational organization. Walking down the trail, this network of codes invites me to pay attention to my surroundings and reminds me of the Alliance’s efforts to further community engagement.

One QR code attributes the diversity of tree ages in the forest to a scattered timeline of logging on the land, explaining that the younger saplings were planted after the most recent logging efforts in the 1990s. The history of logging in Maine seems inextricable from our natural surroundings, reminding visitors to admire and support the conservation efforts from organizations like the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust.

These woods offer physical distance from a busy life and a chance to appreciate connections across generations, whether that be ecologically or socially. When I arrive at the river, the faint sound of the gentle water and a soothing canopy of shade returns me to the present moment. As I watch the swell of the current beside me and after stepping away from a campus buzzing with youth and driving through a community of senior citizens, my sense of place is amplified.

This week, I saw the faces of my professors for the first time since arriving at Bowdoin last year. After two semesters without upperclass students on campus and the presence of Covid-19 constantly on my mind, I have longed for a sense of cross-generational cohesion in the Bowdoin community. With an ease of connection returning to campus, the links that bring us together feel stronger. The Cathance River Nature Preserve offers a chance to explore this sense of interrelation, or to simply enjoy the outdoors.

Winter Garden Workshop Recordings

Every winter, BTLT offers a series of workshops to engage with the community, support the Tom Settlemire Community Garden, and offer skill-building exercises for gardeners of all abilities. These workshops are a wonderful opportunity to learn from master gardeners and experts on a variety of gardening subjects. BTLT is proud to partner with Curtis Memorial Library for this event series. Please enjoy the recorded sessions of these wonderful workshops!

Click here for: Spring has Spawned: Getting Your Garden Ready for Mushroom Cultivation with Northspore

Every gardener in America should be growing mushrooms! If upgrading your garden this year sounds fun, join Louis Giller for an informative presentation on how to integrate mushrooms into your garden.

Click here for: How to Care for Fruit Trees with ReTreeUs

Join Richard Hodges of ReTreeUs for a workshop on how to integrate fruit trees into your garden. You will learn about different fruit trees, their needs and how to prune them.

Click here for: Growing and Fermenting Foods with Scratch Farm

Join Andy McLeod of Scratch Farm to learn about making your own fermented sauerkrauts, pickles and hot sauce. Andy will touch on what crops he grows to ferment, tips for success in growing those crops, the process of fermentation and the kitchen tools he has come to love.

Click here for: Soil Secrets with the Living Soil Network

Join Spiro Latchis of the Living Soil Network for a workshop on the many beneficial aspects of soil health. The workshop will cover the fungi and nematodes in soil, soil care, building quality soil and the important connections between soil and climate.

Loving the Land

Black History Month

Mowita’nej Epijij Garden

Another Great Season!

By Jamie Pacheco, BTLT Programs Manager

2021 wrapped up the 10th year of growing at the Tom Settlemire Community Garden (TSCG)! We had 83 garden plots rented this season, with well over 100 gardeners in our community. We started the season off rough, with the rain-gods holding back. This is challenging because gardeners needed to visit the garden frequently to keep the soil moist enabling seedlings to take root and seeds to germinate. The remainder of the season was met with regular rain, making this season overall significantly easier as plot holders didn’t have to visit daily (or more!) to keep their crops irrigated.  

Pests are a perennial (pun intended) problem at TSCG. We are an organic garden, so we do not allow the use of harmful chemicals common to many pesticides as they can also harm humans and do serious ecological damage. Crop rotation, one of the best organic pest management methods, is impractical to implement at TSCG with so many individual plot holders. Crop rotation involves rotating crop families through growing spaces (beds or fields) to disrupt the lifecycle of plant-specific pests.  However, with each potholder having 10’ x 16’ plots (or smaller) to grow all of their crops, soil rotation can’t be effectively implemented. This means that pests can always find the foods of their choice, and proliferate. Some crops are nearly impossible to grow at the garden, such as potatoes. We also saw an unusually strong chipmunk (aka chippie) force at the garden this season. The chippies are especially frustrating as they like to take a bite out of this plant, another of that plant, oh, and then every tomato, melon, or squash in your bed. Chippie eradication methods were put in place in attempt to combat the damage. Unfortunately, the chippies were victorious in their efforts.

BTLT Agricultural Programs Coordinator Julia St. Clair and TSCG Volunteer Dev Culver

The Common Good Garden (CGG), with stalwart leadership by Dev Culver, volunteer extraordinaire, had an excellent year. The CGG crew is made up of around ~30 volunteers, with a dedicated and delightful group of 10 regulars. These are the folks that make the magic happen! The CGG was expanded significantly in 2020, to around 11,000sq ft. To support this effort, the irrigated water system was expanded to these new beds. We are currently working on a winter hardy water pump to support early and late season growing, as well as winter hoop house growing. Melons, various squashes, broccoli, kale, spinach, tomatoes, radishes, onions, carrots, beans, and peaches made up the bounty of 3,177 lbs donated to Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program and Wabanaki food security efforts.  

The Taking Root Plant Sale this year broke records, with ~$13,000 raised! The leadership team of Claudia Labella Adams, Mary Fox, Prentis Weiss, Ellen Maling, and Kim Bolshaw have made strategic decisions that have allowed the plant sale to be more successful every year. This was the first year we hosted the sale at the Topsham Fairgrounds, and while we learned a few things the hard way, we also saw a much improved sale flow.  The perennial team, has expanded their growing space significantly the last few years resulting in nearly 700 plants grown right at TSCG for the 2021. As we wrapped up the 2021 plant season, we had ~1,000 plants in the holding and propagation beds slated for the 2022 sale.  It’s going to be a good one!

This year we were also able to put in some infrastructure to support playing and connecting in the garden.  The Brunswick Rotary and Coastal Rotary designed, funded, and built a pergola, play structure, and picnic table for TSCG. Now, children have a place to play while their caretakers are gardening, and all visitors, gardeners, and volunteers have a place to sit and rest while escaping the summer sun.