March 5th, 2015
March in the Garden by Sue Lavallee
March Madness has an altogether different meaning for me. It has nothing to do with sports and everything to do with the start of a busy and sometimes overwhelming opening season in the garden! There’s so much to do! I’ll break the chores down into 2 categories because of the late Spring we’re having.
- If you took your bluebird nest boxes inside for the winter, put them back out first thing in March. Returning and over-wintering bluebirds are very active now, scoping out potential nesting sites. If the boxes weren’t cleaned out in the fall, remove the old nest, brush it out and sterilize them in a bucket containing a 10% bleach solution. Rinse the box with hot water and place them in the sun to dry (with the door open) for 2-3 days; any remaining chlorine will oxidize rapidly and becomes harmless. I opted to leave mine out this winter after cleaning them and boy, am I glad I did! A bluebird pair made a cozy cushion of white pine needles inside and are roosting in it at night to escape the brutal sub-zero temperatures and wind chills we’ve had this winter. I occasionally drop a small piece of suet through the opening for them…like chocolates on a pillow
- I purchase most of my annuals, herbs and vegetable plants at independent Garden Centers and seed only the varieties that are usually hard to find. It’s a fun and rewarding project that allows me to experiment with a new array produce and flowers. I’ve already plotted the “sow indoors” dates noted from the seed packets onto my calendar and, for me this year, the fun starts mid-month. I’ll start out sowing vegetables that grow better in cool weather and can tolerate light frosts. This spring I’m starting Bright Lights Swiss Chard, Bloomsdale Long-Standing Spinach, Tyee Spinach, Revolution Bell Pepper, several varieties of tomatoes and an array of leaf and head lettuces. At the end of the month will be the tomatoes. I went overboard this year with 4 new varieties – Amish Gold Slicer, Plum Regal Hybrid, Jelly Bean Hybrid & Aunt Molly’s Ground Cherry (a husk tomato….can’t wait to try it!).
- With the winter we’ve had and the remaining mountains of snow, I’ll be wrapping up some indoor chores while the snow melts. Since I’ll be growing more tomatoes this year I’ll need to make more soil-heating covers. Basically I cut 2 foot wide circles out of black weed fabric and then cut an “x” out of the middle for planting access. I’ll place these discs over the spots where my tomato and pepper plants will go after I’ve worked the soil and amended it with Quoddy Lobster Compost and Lobster & Kelp fertilizer. Usually I place them on top of the soil 2-3 weeks before the plants are ready to head outside. Weed fabric pins are great at holding the fabric covers in place. I like using the weed fabric better than plastic because it allows the nitrogen-enhanced rainwater to fortify the soil. It also lasts a lot longer where plastic will get brittle after a few uses. A cover of shredded leaves will make it look nice and help to keep the soil moist.
- Here are some other indoor projects on my list:
- Repair & stain 2 cedar planting boxes.
- Re-paint lawn furniture.
- Order a new bio-filter for the Koi pond.
- Make a new wooden Oriole feeder.
- Sharpen pruners and loppers
- I’m hoping that the deep snow cover will melt by the end of this month and that I’ll be able to plant peas. It may not happen though, because the snowmelt might make the soil too soggy and pea seeds will rot quickly in muddy soil. I have 6 teepees which support the shorter 2 1/2 – 3′ tall varieties I grow and luckily 4 of them sit atop raised beds. I’ll have a better chance of planting these earlier because raised beds not only drain better, the soil in them also warms up faster. The remaining 2 that sit atop the other garden plot will be planted 2-3 weeks later giving me a staggered harvest. Before planting the seeds, I soak them the night before which really hastens germination. In recent years I haven’t been using any inoculant and the plants have still been healthy and productive. Inoculant powder is an organic powder comprised of living bacteria that the helps pea plants to grow.
- March is pruning month! You should wait to prune all early spring-flowering shrubs like forsythia, lilac, quince, rhododendron, azalea etc. until after they flower. In early March, you can prune late flowering shrubs such as butterfly bush, Hydrangea paniculata and most other deciduous shrubs. Prune hybrid tea roses, floribundas and grandifloras but wait until after flowering on climbers and ramblers. Prune all fruit trees before growth begins, too. Last, if you’ve left your ornamental grasses up for winter interest, now’s the time to cut them back to the new emerging shoots.
- Watch for signs of growth in early spring bulbs like tulips, daffodils and hyacinths. When the foliage is about an inch high, gradually start removing the mulch around them. Sometimes if the mulch is left over the emerging leaves too long, the leaves will be yellow from the lack of sunlight. If that happens, it’s best to remove the mulch on a cloudy day to avoid burning the tender foliage. When they’re several inches tall, adding about two inches of Fundy Blend enriching mulch around the flowering bulbs will both enrich your soil, feed the plants and help to retain moisture in the soil. Fundy Blend is the ideal top-dressing for roses and perennial beds too.
- Mid-March is an ideal time to divide and transplant summer and fall-blooming perennials. I’m happy that I took the time to jot down some garden notes last Fall. Not only does the list include what needs dividing but also where the divisions are to be planted. I’m dividing some of them because they’re overcrowding adjacent plants and the others because they are older and need rejuvenating. Plus it’s like getting freebies! I try to divide perennials after a rainfall and when the following day or two will be overcast. These conditions will help in reducing moisture loss due to transplant shock. If it’s a large perennial clump like bee balm, I simply dig out shovelfuls around the perimeter of the patch to reduce the size. If it’s a smaller clump like a daylilies (that bloom less when overcrowded), I dig up the entire plant and then cut the root ball in half (or smaller) using a hand pruning saw. Next it’s time to dig the planting holes for the transplants. It’s always good to dig the whole twice the width of the root ball but not any deeper than the height of the root ball (so you don’t bury the crown of the plant). Now is a great time for me to improve the soil in the planting hole with compost. I’ll add Penobscot Complete Planting Mix to the existing soil at a 50-50 ratio because the soil on my property is lean. The Penobscot Blend is formulated to condition the soil, offer nutrients to the plant and also provides aeration for new roots to grow. The garden soil that is leftover will fill be used to fill the spot where the perennial was taken out. Voila! Free plants!
Now that the sub-zero wind chills are gone, I can remove the protective burlap covers I put around my flowering evergreen shrubs. Cold dry winds can rob the leaves of their moisture (desiccation) and cause windburn and dieback on the buds and leaves.
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February 8th, 2015
Now is a good time to order fruit plants from mail order companies. Be sure to select recommended, disease-resistant varieties whenever possible. When purchasing bare root plant stock, make sure that your requested shipping date falls after the ground has thawed. If you have room for several varieties, stagger the fruiting times. For instance, if it’s raspberries, blueberries, or strawberries that you’re planting, choose early, mid-season and late varieties for a longer harvest period.
You rarely see them but cutworm damage is unmistakable. They destroy perfectly healthy seedlings within a matter of hours by chewing through the stem at the soil line. I’ve lost broccoli, corn, lettuce and spinach seedlings until I learned this trick. Start saving toilet paper or paper towel tubes and cut them into three inch lengths. Then make a vertical cut top to bottom so that they can be opened on one side and you can slip them around the stem and root ball of the plants. When you plant your seedlings, put a section of the toilet paper roll around each plant, pushing it into the soil an inch down. The tubes will protect your seedlings for weeks until your seedlings will be too large to sustain any damage. Recycling at its best!
Check your potatoes and onions that you put in storage last Fall and remove any that are sprouting or drying out. Potatoes will last around 6 months when stored in an unheated basement (around 35 – 40°F) and onions will last 3 – 4 months. There are specific varieties for both that will have a longer shelf life.
Years ago, when I had several cats and dogs, I used to grow cat grass indoors during the winter months. They all LOVED this treat and it was so easy to grow! Cat grass is a type of cereal grass such as oat grass or wheat grass which can be grown indoors from seeds. Simply fill a pot with organic Bar Harbor Potting soil and scatter a handful of cat grass seed over the top of this in one thin, even layer. Then press the seeds down into the moist soil. Water in the seeds lightly and put the pot in a warm and sunny place. Keep the soil moist and the seeds will sprout in under a week. When the grass has grown several inches tall, the leaves of the cat grass plant can be fed to your cat or dog as a treat to help satisfy their craving for greens.
Usually by February, I’ve absolutely had it with winter and can’t wait to see some Spring color. That’s when I reach for my pruners and head outside to visit my forsythia shrubs. I cut off branches at a sharp angle and then arrange them in vases inside where they’ll bloom in a few weeks. You can force many types of flowering trees and shrubs….dogwood, lilac, cherry, crabapple….to name a few
Light pruning of apple and pear trees can be done this month, weather permitting. The trees are still dormant so you’ll avoid shocking them and the healing time will be faster. Be sure that your pruning tools are sharp and have been sterilized using a soft cloth that is dipped in a 10% bleach solution.
Once I purchase vegetable and flower seeds from my local garden center , I pull out last year’s garden notes and photos to decide which areas will be suitable for planting the new flowers. This task saves a lot of time when it’s May and there are so many plants to find homes for. It’s a good idea to look at the ultimate plant height & width, sun exposure, compatibility with surrounding plants, and bloom time.
As for the vegetables, I try to make the effort to rotate my crops every year. The same vegetables (and their families) should not be planted in the same place year after year due to their unique nutritional needs. The Brassicaceae family (cauliflower, kale, broccoli, cabbage etc…) require lots of nitrogen for good leaf growth and are generally considered heavy feeders . A crop to follow nitrogen hungry Brassicas may be legumes such as peas, beans and lentils. Legumes feed lightly and have the ability to ‘fix’ nitrogen into soils, improving the nitrogen content for future crops. Plotting your vegetable garden beds on paper can make this an easy yearly task. Saving each years garden plan will show you what was planted in that particular spot several years ago.
Save your eggshells! They contain valuable calcium carbonate that tomato, eggplant and pepper plants need in order to prevent blossom end rot. Rinse any remaining egg white out of the shells, then place them on a plate and microwave them for 2 minutes to sterilize them. After they have cooled, crumble them up and store them in an airtight container until Spring. I keep mine under the kitchen sink next to the compost bucket.
The finer the shell particle is, the more readily available the calcium is for your plants. Pulverize the shell bits in a blender or food processor and then you’re ready to plant! I place a handful of shells at the bottom of each planting hole and work it into the soil. Halfway through the growing season when the tomatoes are sizing up, you’ll need to replenish the calcium. Applying a 1″ topdress of Quoddy Lobster Compost, which is rich in calcium, around the plants will keep the blossom end rot at bay!
One more quick note…I used to put eggshells in my compost pile but more often than not, Blue Jays would make off with them. They eat them for the calcium which they need (more than any other bird) especially during the breeding season. If you do put eggshells out for the birds or in your compost pile, please be sure to sterilize them first. Unsterilized egg shells may contain harmful Salmonella bacteria.
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January 7th, 2015
Mold spores are present in all soil and when the soil stays too wet, the spores will germinate and mold starts to grow. I’ve had this issue in the past, especially in the wintertime. Winter conditions in my home were the perfect storm for this situation until I took some action. I used to have my plants in the living room that faces northeast (too dark in winter) and where the humidifier is going 24-7 (too much moist air). Now, I move them to my back office in the winter (south facing = direct sun) and it is drier because I have the space heater going. The space heater helps with warm air movement and the soil dries out faster. I also started to bottom-water my plants in winter so that the top portion of the soil (where there are fewer roots to draw water away) doesn’t get wet. Lastly, I only water my plants when the soil surface is dry and there is no moisture whatsoever. You can also scrape the mold off of the soil surface and replace it with a ½ “ of clean sand which will not hold moisture. Do the scraping outside or in a garage because the spores will become airborne and can settle on unaffected plants. I’ve read that you can also lightly spray the soil surface with a 10% vinegar solution. Spray once in between waterings and wait a few days after spraying so that the vinegar has a chance to kill the mold.
I hope this helps if you have any issues with mold!
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January 2nd, 2015
There’s nothing like a snowy New England season to get me in the mood to go shopping for seeds at my local Garden Center. Most of the vegetable seeds I purchase are the time-tested and reliable varieties that I have grown for many years; however I am often tempted to try the newer offerings that promise higher yields, better flavor or disease resistance. It’s a difficult choice comparing each type of vegetable I grow against a newer variety but it’s a process that I thoroughly enjoy. Before heading out to make my purchases, I do a germination test on last year’s leftover seeds to check their viability. There’s no reason to throw out perfectly good seeds even if the date on the package is a year old.
I place a dozen or so seeds between two sheets of moistened paper towels and place it in a into a baggie. The baggie then goes on top of my pie safe near the woodstove where the warmth will speed up the germination process. I check up on them every other day and when no more seeds germinate, I tally up the sprouted seeds. If the germination is less than 75 percent, it’s time for me to buy more of that seed.
Holiday potted plants are not usually that long-lived. Insufficient sunlight, cold drafts, low humidity and overwatering / under watering are all conditions that lead to an early demise. There are certain steps, however, that you can take in order to enjoy their beauty a bit longer. Either remove the decorative foil or pot cover from the pots or punch holes through the covering to allow water to drain properly. Keep the soil evenly moist and protect your plants from cold drafts. Situate the plants in a room that gets as much sunlight as possible…usually a south or west facing room. Also, most plants appreciate a humidity tray.
Fill a large saucer with pebbles and place the potted plant on top. Any water that drains into the saucer after watering will create a moist environment for the plant as it evaporates. This also prevents root rot because the plants roots are not sitting in water. Remove faded flowers and their stems as soon as possible to encourage the plant to keep blooming and look tidy.
Check your stored bulbs (cannas, dahlias, gladioli, tuberous begonias) to see if they’ve begun to shrivel and are too dry. In late Fall, I either store my bulbs in barely moist peat moss or crumpled newspaper. Now, slightly rewetting either will help to stop the loss of water from the tuber.
Try to avoid salt-based de-icing products in or around garden as it is toxic to most plants. Using stone dust, sawdust, sand or cat litter instead will not only prevent damage to your plants but also your pets paws.
Don’t waste your beautiful tree by taking it to the transfer station! Evergreen boughs from garland, swags and wreaths or your Christmas tree can be used as winter protection on garden beds. After the holidays, I put my tree outside and secure it to a wooden stake near the birdfeeders. This offers the feeding birds protection from wind, weather and predators. You can also decorate it with popcorn garland or bird seed & suet ornaments for winter birds. Remember to continue to supply fresh water for the birds.
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December 1st, 2014
After the ground freezes hard, I mulch perennial and bulb planting beds. The mulch will prevent heaving during the alternate freeze and thaw cycle. Apply 2 to 4 inches of shredded bark mulch, Dark Harbor enriching mulch, Schoodic composted manure or Cobscook garden compost, if not done already. Consider covering your strawberry patch with evergreen boughs or straw.
Early winter’s wet and heavy snowstorms can wreak havoc with ornamental shrubs. Secure the limbs of upright evergreens by encircling the plant in a spiral fashion with twine from bottom to top. This will stop heavy snow from pulling the branches down and prevent breakage by snow or ice. Other evergreens (pieris, rhododendron, azalea, holly, boxwood etc.) will also be affected by heavy snows. Remove snow loads from their branches by gently sweeping snow off with a broom. Avoid hitting tree branches with any heavy tools as this will injure the bark and cause breakage of branches and leaves. If there is any ice accumulation on the branches, allow it to melt.
This is my favorite winter task! Having the luxury of enjoying organically grown greens from the garden during the gardening season is always a treat. When freezing temperatures put my gardens to bed, I simply move my growing efforts inside. Cool-weather crops like loose-leaf lettuce, chives, arugula, mesclun mixes and parsley are easily started from seeds. I fill several 3 foot long window boxes that contain a 50-50 mix of Bar Harbor Potting Soil and Quoddy Lobster Compost and some Lobster and Kelp fertilizer.
I avoid using soil from the garden which can harbor insects and / or disease. Next, I scatter the seeds over the soil, distributing evenly a few inches apart, and then sprinkle a thin layer of the Potting Soil on top to cover the seeds lightly. Finally, I mist the potting mix with a spray bottle until the soil is evenly moist, cover the window boxes with plastic wrap and place them in a warm (65° – 70° is good), brightly lit spot. Within 1 – 2 weeks, the seeds germinate and the plastic cover is discarded. After 2 more weeks, the plants are thinned and I move the operation into my basement. The cooler temperatures there (55° – 65°) prevent the greens from getting leggy and weak. The boxes are put onto a 3 foot wide metal shelving unit that has shop lights suspended above each level. I use S-hooks and chains to keep the 40 watt fluorescent light bulbs always a few inches above the growing plants. A timer ensures that the plants will receive 14 hours of light per day. For seedlings, it’s best to water, with tepid water, from the bottom using a watering tray. This helps to prevent fungal diseases such as damping off. I start harvesting the greens when the plants are about 4-5 inches tall cutting them with a scissors about one inch above the soil. This cut-and-come-again method allows the greens to grow back again for additional harvests (with the herbs, I just snip of what I need). After a few harvests, the greens will lose their vigor so I repeat the sowing process in order to have a continual salad supply throughout the winter.
After purchasing holiday plants such as poinsettias, cyclamen and Christmas cactus, be sure they are completely covered with paper wrap and then quickly take them to your car. Avoid leaving your plants in the car while you finish shopping; they will probably freeze. Once home, place your holiday plants in bright light, away from drafts, and keep the soil evenly moist. I take of the foil and / or pot covers so the bottom roots can get air and not become water-logged. Since most holiday plants are short lived, I try to purchase mine within a week before the Holiday so that they still look fresh.
Speaking of holidays, all of those hot, humid summer days spent in the kitchen boiling canning jars for hours on end are now paying off! Homegrown canned goods make wonderful holiday gifts…and who doesn’t appreciate gifts from the garden? This year, family and friends will receive jars of spiced beets, bread & butter pickles, salsa, blueberry jam, strawberry sauce and lemon verbena liquor. It’s so heartwarming to be able to share decades-old recipes with family and keep the tradition alive!
Plant Amaryllis bulbs for cheery winter color. They will grow quickly and produce large, beautiful blooms, usually in 6 to 8 weeks. Pot up new amaryllis bulbs in wide, squat containers using Bar Harbor Potting Soil. Allow the top inch of the bulb to remain above soil level; water well once and then allow soil to dry out before watering again. Keep the pot in a bright room away from drafts and heating vents. As the stalk grows, rotate the pot for even growth.
Trees get sunburned too! Sunscald most often occurs on the southwest side of young trees with thin bark. On a warm winter day, the direct sun can heat exposed bark considerably. If this heating is followed by freezing temperatures, injury to the inner bark may occur. The injury is usually not visible until spring growth resumes, and then it will appear as sunken area of discolored bark. The bark may then split or fall off in patches. Wrapping the trunks trees with a commercial tree wrap made of insulating paper now can prevent sunscald. Wrap the lower trunks of young, thinly barked trees (such as maples, flowering cherry, aspen, ash) with paper tree wrap now and remember to remove the wrap in early April. Wrap newly planted trees every winter for 2-3 years until the outer bark has had a chance to thicken.
Deer in winter will eat just about anything so please realize what “deer-resistant” plants vs. “deer-proof” plants really means. There are no guarantees in a harsh winter with abundant snowfall and little to no acorn crop. You’ll need to protect your shrubs now from deer by spraying them with deer repellant or by covering them with either burlap or 1″ mesh netting.
Keep bird feeders filled throughout winter. Ground-feeding birds (juncos, white-throated sparrows, finches, cardinals, mourning doves, etc.) suffer in winters with long-lasting snow cover. In the world of bird seed, you really do get what you pay for. Stay away from low cost seed mixes that contain filler seed (i.e. red millet) that often are not eaten and go to waste. Higher quality blends contain a high percent of sunflower seed (black oil is better than striped because of its’ high fat content), white proso millet, cracked corn, peanuts and safflower seed.
Suet cakes are inexpensive and are a very high-energy food that is often fed to insect-eating birds in winter when their favorite bugs are hard to find. It will attract many new species of birds that don’t eat the seed in your regular feeders (like overwintering bluebirds, mockingbirds, Carolina wrens and robins). Last winter, we had an immature oriole that delayed migrating until mid-winter. Without the suet we provided, his food source options at that time were almost non-existent.
Lastly, birds need water to stay hydrated. During times of sub-freezing weather it’s beneficial to maintain a supply of water for birds. Small immersible heating coils can be used in stone birdbaths to prevent water from freezing. These heaters will prevent most ice from forming. You can also purchase heated bird baths that work even better than the heating coils. Just fill the bath with clean, fresh water, and enjoy the birds that appreciate the drink!
Cut branches of evergreens, berried shrubs and ornamental grasses to spruce up your window boxes and add to your holiday decorating inside and out. I also trim some dormant flower heads off of my Pieris for a nice accent.
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November 7th, 2014
- It’s still not too late to plant Spring bulbs! As long as the ground is not frozen, you can get a head start on early Spring color. A handful of our Penobscot Complete Planting Mix worked into each planting hole will give the bulbs a great head start next Spring! Each year, bulb growers focus on breeding new varieties of daffodils, tulips crocus, hyacinths and more. Be sure to try something new!
- Every year at this time, I walk through my property with pen and pad in hand and jot down some wrap-up notes from this years’ growing season. What perennials need dividing, which annuals did well that I want to purchase more of, yields and disease resistance of the new varieties of vegetables I grew this year, crop rotation notes, on and on. This activity not only gives me a to-do list in March, but it offers guidance when shopping at Garden Centers.
- Cut back the last of your perennials after several killing frosts cause the foliage to die back. I like to leave the ornamental grasses throughout the winter. They add beauty to the landscape and offer nutritious seed heads for wild birds.
- I save the chipped leaves and grass that the mower picks up and bags. After the ground is frozen, I pile them around any perennials , shrubs or trees I’ve planted in the Fall. If I feel that any of the transplants need a nutrient boost in the Spring, I first put down Fundy Blend enriching mulch. Both of these mulches insulate the ground and keeps it frozen during possible mid-winter thaws, thus preventing the root ball from being heaved out of the ground. I stockpile the additional grass / leaf mulch that is leftover until Spring and use this to topdress my gardens after I’m done with Spring planting. You can also start a compost pile with this mulch!
- Cut asparagus foliage to the ground after the tops turn brown. I leave mine up a little later in the month to give the birds a chance to eat the bright red berries. You can also collect and dry the berries to start new plants in the Spring. A topdress of Schoodic Cow Manure compost will ensure that these heavy feeders will get off to a great start next Spring!
- Dig up tuberous dahlias and begonias, cannas and gladioli. Trim away the dried leaves and stalks, brush off the soil, place them in a paper bag filled with dry peat moss and store the tubers in a cool dry place until spring and warmer weather.
- Harvest the rest of your root vegetables. After washing off the soil, store them in a cool, dry and dark place. I put carrots, potatoes and beets in the coolest part of my basement where the temperature stays at 45 – 50°.
- Trim your perennial herbs and make small bunches for drying indoors. Sage, tarragon, oregano and thyme can be used for cooking savory winter meals!
- Now is a great time for improving the soil in your vegetable and flower beds. Topdress with Quoddy Lobster Compost, manure, and / or chopped leaves to increase the organic matter content. Conditioning the soil in this manner will offer nutrients to the beneficial microbes in the soil that will ingest this material and, in turn, fertilize the soil. Before adding lime to your soil, have your soil tested to determine if your soil is acidic and needs lime.
- When all of your gardening chores are done for the winter, it’s time to give some much needed attention to your garden tools. Bring all your gardening tools inside and use a wire brush to clean the soil off and then remove any rust using sandpaper. Finally, sharpen any that need it and wipe mineral oil on the metal to prevent rust.
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- Dig up any tender plants that you want to bring in for winter color (geraniums) or culinary use (rosemary) before a killing freeze. Bar Harbor Potting mix provides the right amount of nutrients and drainage for indoor growing.
March 28th, 2014
Click the link “Five Signage Tricks to Save You Money” to find out how Coast of Maine can help you market and merchandise your garden center.
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March 5th, 2014
The spring of 2014 may seem to some that it will never arrive but the garden centers that sell our products are constantly working to train and inspire their employees.
Recently I was invited to an employee-training day at Skillin’s Greenhouses. Skillin’s is a fifth generation family business with locations in Falmouth, Cumberland and Brunswick, Maine.
When I grew up in Falmouth, brothers John and David Skillin ran the business. Today John’s sons, Terry and Jeff, along with David’s children Mike and Melissa, run the business.
As family businesses transfer from generation to generation the complexity grows and I have always been amazed by the way the Skillin family has remained so close, worked so well together and continued to strive and look to the future of running a local business in todays economy.
Three years ago they started doing an employee training day. All the employees from all three locations attend and they make it a fun, informative and inspirational event with door prizes and plenty of food.
This year I videotaped the opening remarks of Sally Bolstridge, a longtime former employee of Skillin’s, who now runs the event for them. Her them was “The Power of One” and focused on how each person and their individual actions can truly have a big impact on the long-term growth. To connect with the employees she told some stories about John and David Skillin and how the used “The Power of One” in their lives every day. I think you’ll find the video interesting
The end product is a group of employees who are informed, appreciated and inspired to push Skillin’s to the next level in 2014.
Every local business would benefit by doing the same thing.
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April 2nd, 2013
The story behind how we make Quoddy Lobster Compost at Coast of Maine is truly fascinating! We don’t know of any other compost produced with such high quality residuals and careful attention to the composting process.
In this article, I share our special recipe and teach you a little about the steps for making great compost. Keep in mind that we work on a commercial scale and many of the techniques we use are not suitable or practical for home gardeners.
First, let’s talk about why we use lobster bodies to make compost: During the evolution of our company, we’ve composted many different residuals from the Maine agriculture, forestry and seafood industries. Early on, we started hearing back from our gardening customers about the amazing results they were getting when they amended their gardens with lobster compost. As we learned more, we discovered that the composted lobster shells imbue the end product with lots of calcium, which is a key plant nutrient, especially for vegetables. Basic soil testing revealed a pH averaging 6.8, which helps sweeten soils which tend to be acid. Then, microscopic analysis conducted by the Soil Food Web, showed that lobster compost is extremely high in biological diversity and activity……. It is basically energized with life!
So, we know we have the most unique and effective gardening compost on the market. Now I’m going to share with you how we make it.
First, the ingredients:
The lobsters: We receive our lobster shells by the truckload from local Maine processors who cook the shellfish and remove the meat for freezing and canning. These shells contain considerable nitrogen in the residual protein. The chitin-rich shells also provide food for microbes in the composting process.
Blueberry brush: We receive the leaves, twigs and culled blueberries from local Maine blueberry harvesters.
Wood fiber: We buy in very specific wood shavings and sawdust. It’s important that we use wood from the right trees and in the right blend of textures.
Second, setting up the row:
When the lobster shells arrive, they are promptly blended with the blueberry brush and wood fiber. The ratio of carbon (blueberry brush and wood fiber) to nitrogen (lobster shells and protein) is about 40:1. It takes a lot of carbon! We pay for our wood shavings and sawdust. We could use leaf and yard waste for free, but the end product could not be approved for organic growers because there is no way to effectively monitor contaminants. Buying clean shavings and sawdust assures a clean compost end product.
Then, once the start pile is large enough, it is moved and formed into a windrow, which is a straight pile about 12’ wide, 6’ tall and several hundred feet long.
Third, let the composting begin!
We own what is essentially a giant roto-tiller, called a Scarab, which is used to “turn” the windrow. The Scarab, chops, fluffs and aerates the pile as it passes through. After the first turn with the Scarab, the pile will start to heat up from all the biological activity of the microbes having a feast. Our composting guru monitors the pile on a daily basis with three foot long temperature probes that indicate how conditions are progressing in the pile. The temperature should be in the 131 – 150 F range when the pile is “cooking”. The high temperature is important for promoting the good microbes and killing any pathogens or weed seeds. The composting process is a relay race of microbes each working on their specific decomposition task. Once their food source is used up they go dormant or are eaten by the next microbe. Through time, the diversity of the pile increases and larger, more complex creatures start to appear and eat their food and do their decompostion work.
Dropping temperatures usually indicate the biology is short on oxygen. The temperature is how our chief composter determines when the pile should be turned with the Scarab. After 4 to 6 months, and when the temperature stays low and stable, the pile is considered finished. The windrow is then moved to a curing pile to rest for an additional 3 months or more before it is finally time to go into the beautiful green Quoddy Lobster Compost bag.
As you can see, we make our Lobster Compost using art, science and great Maine ingredients and ingenuity. The end product is dark, rich, has an earthy fragrance and is rich in plant available minerals and nutrients.
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