Gardening has long been a hobby for green thumbs, but as social distancing continues, many are turning to growing fruits and vegetables to cut back on grocery runs. Boothbay Region Greenhouses’ Bob Boyd has been in the green industry over 50 years and said the demand for seeds, soil and other growing materials has been staggering.
Many people are either return customers or have experience in home gardening, but there are also many in need of all the basics of starting gardens for the first time, said Boyd. Customers ask about gardening indoors to raised beds to greenhouse gardening.
“We get to share some of our knowledge which is nice. There's been a lot of new people that have never planted a seed, I swear. We fix them up with right soils and containers, seeds and plants after we've reviewed what their growing conditions are at home.”
Boyd said when a customer comes to him for advice, he does his best to build optimism because the goal is to get home gardening to work for everybody. “It's important we guide them as best we can. Some people don't know that it's too soon to plant outdoors. We're getting a lot of 30 degree mornings, so we go through our normal spring spiel about making sure people don't put thigs out too soon – keep them out on their deck for a mild evening, but also be prepared to take something in or cover it up.”
The most popular seed requests have been peppers, tomatoes and easy indoor plants like lettuce, arugula and mixes. As people gear up to plant some of those leafy greens while outdoor temperatures become more hospitable, Boyd said it is important to remember how quickly they can grow. “We advise not to plant too much all at once because if you plant an entire package of, say, arugula, it'll be coming out of your ears. We recommend fewer at a time and to stagger plantings two and three weeks in between.”
While tomato and cucumber seeds are OK to begin sowing indoors, some plants will just not fare well if started too soon, like pepper plants, eggplants and anything more of a longer term crop. However, any of the heartier plants like cauliflower, broccoli, or Brussels sprouts are fine to begin growing outside.
“We still go somewhat by the Farmer's Moon in May though it's fairly early this year. Generally after the May full moon, the temperatures moderate enough for planting. But we're on the coast, so somebody even in Edgecomb could get a frost there and we don't down here.”
Besides knowing when to plant, there is knowing where. For example, extremely wet soil needs time to drain and settle so the roots can maintain access to oxygen.
“You want to be careful not to work soil that's too wet. If you start walking on it or turning it over even, you lose a lot of oxygen space in the soil. Roots still need oxygen in order to survive. So don't rush it, it's better to wait until it dries out and clumps up a little bit rather than push it too early.”
Natural additives like wood ash and coffee grounds are excellent sources to balance the pH of the soil. Manure and compost are mostly only useful as conditioners for the soil and serve more as nutrients for foliage growth rather than to the fruit, said Boyd.
Boyd said soil testing is good for those willing to put the effort into conditioning their garden soil. He said the best place to go for sampling is the University of Maine in Orono's Maine Agricultural and Forest Experiment Station. Sample kits and testing are available from the laboratory.
Boyd said gardening is one of the best outside activities everyone should do. “It makes you feel better. We can't go to the Y yet, so gardening is a good way to get out there and exercise, whether it's vegetable gardening or just cleaning up the yard. We also encourage people, when working in their garden or yard, to check themselves at the end of the day and make sure they haven't picked up any ticks. It was a mild winter, so the ticks barely went dormant.”