The Coming CropDo seed sales predict the future?
Perhaps because we suffer through such long winters, Mainers always welcome spring with a certain enthusiasm for getting dirt under our fingernails. So what if the weeds begin winning in mid-summer, after the bloom is off the rose, as it were. Come spring, we're thinking about tasty homegrown lettuce and show-quality zinnias. This year, if the news from Maine's major seed houses is any indication, more residents than ever will be planting larger gardens than ever, propelled by the growing eat-local movement and a lot of free-floating anxiety about the economy.
"We had planned for an 8 to 10 percent increase in sales this year," says Rob Johnston at Johnny's Selected Seeds in Winslow. "Year to date, we're up by more than twice that." Johnston's counterparts at Fedco Seeds in Waterville and Pinetree Garden Seeds in New Gloucester are reporting almost exactly the same numbers, and the same astonishment.
"This is the most growth we've seen since Y2K," says CR Lawn at Fedco, referring to the widespread fears about computer breakdowns at the rollover to 2000. Fedco has seen gradual growth for the past seven years and expected the same this year, Lawn explains. "What we're seeing now is much more than gradual."
"Our sales are up 20 percent even though we cut the number of catalogs we sent out this year from 730,000 to 555,000 because of the postal rate increase," says Richard Meiners at Pinetree Garden Seeds. He notes that vegetable seed orders are particularly strong this year, as are sales of the more practical tools and equipment. "We've sold a ton of garden greenhouses this year," he says.
"We're seeing more orders and bigger orders across the board, from small home gardeners to commercial growers," Lawn reports. He suspects that some of the increase is due to rising food prices and a greater interest in eating locally and growing one's own food. "I think people who hadn't thought about gardening in a long time are getting back into it."
"People are edgy about the economy," offers Johnston. "Also, with gasoline so expensive and getting worse, people are thinking they'll stay home and have a garden rather than travel a lot."
Whatever the reason, it looks like there will be a lot more homegrown carrots and cucumbers in Maine salads this summer, and more gardeners desperately trying to find homes for overgrown zucchini.Kitty Knows Best?Feral felines make their feelings known about Bangor's casino.
A colony of feral cats has taken over the new Hollywood Slots gambling and hotel development being constructed at 500 Main Street in Bangor. Company spokesperson Amy Kenney reported to the Bangor Daily News that kitty litter had been used at the site of the $131 million project to minimize the dust and absorb spills on site. Unfortunately - or fortunately, depending on whom you talk to - it is now absorbing what it is intended to absorb: cat urine, and lots of it.
Let's be clear: feral cats are not the cute and cuddly kind you want your daughter to bring home. According to the Maine organization Friends of Feral Felines, it is "one that has been abandoned or born in the wild and lived apart from humans for so long that it is not socialized." Perhaps these premature visitors are a foreboding omen of the old adage, if you build it, they will come.
And this summer, on schedule, human guests will inevitably replace the feline ones. "We open the gaming floor on July first," explains Kenney. "August first for the hotel. As far as I know construction will be completed in the month of June. The cats are not delaying anything at the moment."
The Bangor Police Department has responded by setting live traps to catch the cats and remove them from the premises. But we can't help wondering if the casino has already been christened, so to speak.Big Screen in the BackwoodsA new drive-in theater in Brownville is a welcome flashback.
Not so long ago, the coming of warm weather meant the chance to roll down the window of your Buick on a Friday night so you could take in a double-feature at the local drive-in theater. But as videocassettes matured into DVDs and DVDs into DVRs, more Americans started staying home on the weekends, and weeds and strip malls began consuming roadside theaters in Maine and across the country.
Which is why you might think you've just stepped into a time warp if you happen upon the tiny Piscataquis County town of Brownville this year and find yourself taking in Gone With the Wind or an old John Wayne movie at the new drive-in theater behind the Junction General Store on Route 11. Any summer weekend will find up to thirty cars parked on the field behind the store, their stereos tuned to a self-selected radio station (the magic of WiFi forgoes the need for the clunky wired box of yore) and their occupants snuggled together on the front - and dare we say back - seat. Some others might opt for a picnic blanket on the grass.
This throwback is the work of brothers John and Don Belvin, two formerly corporate fortysomethings who moved back to town five years ago and decided to give folks in Brownville a new place to gather. The amphitheater they erected behind the store, which they also own, features tribute bands performing everything from Creedence Clearwater Revival to Elton John.
But on movie night - the schedule changes regularly, but updates are always posted at www.thejunc
tiongeneral.com - a fourteen-by-twenty-foot moviescreen drops down. Many moviegoers make a weekend of it and actually end up camping out, according to John Belvin. "A lot of people who are in their twenties have never even seen a drive-in, and now they're packing in their kids and laying out a blanket," Belvin remarks.
Belvin says that while he and his brother's attempt to "bring some culture to the middle of nowhere" isn't enough to pay all the bills - the men build cabins in the off-season, and their wives both work as nurses - up to a thousand people attend the concerts and a sizeable number turn up on movie night. "The drive-in took off fairly well last year, as it's something kind of unique to this area," he says. "It's probably the only thing going on in Piscataquis County."
Sounds like just the ticket to rekindle some old flames.Maine Is HumaneOne of the safest states has the fewest prisoners.
Maine came in last again in a recent ranking of states, but this time it was a good thing. Amid the disheartening news that 1 percent of the United States' entire adult population now lives behind bars - the highest percentage in the world - was the revelation that Maine has the lowest per capita prison population in the country.
Only one out of every 366 adults in the state is in prison, a situation Denise Lord, associate commissioner for the Maine Department of Corrections, attributes to both lifestyle and demographics. By comparison, the state with the highest rate, Louisiana, has one of every eighty-seven adults behind bars.
"We have a very low crime rate," Lord offers by way of explanation. "Maine is consistently among the five states with the lowest crime rate in the country, so it's a relatively safe state with less crime to begin with." In addition, the much-discussed increase in Maine's elderly residents counts in its favor crime-wise. "The incarceration rate is higher among people of color and certain young-adult age ranges," Lord notes. "Maine is predominantly white and older."
Lord notes that not all the news is good. "While we have the lowest incarceration rate, our numbers have been growing dramatically in recent years," she says, "just not as fast as other states." In late March the prison system held 2,158 adults in six prisons, an 8 percent increase since 2004. A report released last year by the Pew Charitable Trusts predicted that Maine's prison population would increase by 21 percent by 2011 even as the state prison system already struggles with chronic overcrowding.
The national preference for incarceration comes from society's demands and a reluctance to try other sentencing options.
"We keep using incarceration as a punishment despite research that shows it's not effective in many cases," Lord says with a certain tone of exasperation. She notes that there is in general a lower tolerance for drug offenses, which in other countries are often resolved through community-based alternatives, such as probation, house arrest, and community service.
"I think people will tell you they don't know what else to do," she muses. "You talk to prosecutors, judges, and police officers, and they'll say they don't have a lot of other options. We don't have enough drug treatment centers or halfway houses or probation officers." Yet at the same time the number of juveniles in the state's two youth facilities is dropping, due at least in part to successful intervention programs for first-time offenders.
The other factor in the increased number of prisoners is simple. "We can afford to do this," Lord states. Maybe it's time to rethink the cost.Pretty SwiftWill Brunswick care for its fine-feathered friends?
For more years than most folks can remember, the residents of Brunswick have enjoyed the presence of an unusual avian condominium in their midst. Each summer the sixty-foot-tall brick chimney at the former Brunswick High School has hosted hundreds, if not thousands, of chimney swifts, one of the few remaining colonies of the graceful, smoke-colored birds in Maine. Now town and state officials are working to make sure that this year isn't the last the swifts have a home there.
The high school was closed in 1994 after a new school was built, but nostalgia, frugality, and an ongoing debate over its fate kept demolition at bay while townspeople discussed what to do with the old building. Now the structure, fronted by a classic red-brick faA§ade straight out of a mid-1950s episode of Our Miss Brooks, is scheduled to be torn down to make way for a new elementary school. The chimney will fall next March, when the swifts are wintering in South America.
"One of the members of the town council first expressed some concern because we've had this nest of chimney swifts for forever," offers Joanne King, chair of the nine-member council. "Apparently they're one of our better friends when it comes to mosquito control." A single swift can eat thousands of mosquitoes a day. Supporters also note that the chimney is one of the few nesting sites still surviving in Maine. Swifts - which are related to swallows - originally nested in hollow trees, but adapted to chimneys when Maine's forests were cleared for farms and towns. Nowadays most chimneys are lined with metal or ceramic, denying the birds the rough brick perches where they build nests.
The council is hoping for swift action on its application for a ten-thousand-dollar grant from the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund to finance construction of a substitute structure on the school grounds. King hopes to see a faux chimney become an environmental learning tool for the grade three-to-five students who will use the school. Supporters of the idea also point out that a similar structure in Nova Scotia has become a popular tourist site.
"The swifts have been there a long time," King says. With a little help from their friends, they'll be gracing Brunswick's skies for many years to come.Trains and TrellisesDeciphering the railroad-rhododendron connection.
Anyone who thinks marigolds and model trains don't mix hasn't met the Maine Garden Railway Society. With some one hundred members and appearances at public gardens and home shows around Maine, the group has been spreading its message since 2001 that green thumbs and greasy fingers are not mutually exclusive.
"It's the greatest hobby in the world," declares club president Carl Churchill, of Buxton. "Once my wife got me out in the garden with my trains, I enjoyed it immensely." Churchill says the club was founded by Douglas K. Johnson, who had been a member of a similar group in Vermont, after the director of the McLaughlin Gardens in South Paris asked him to construct a garden train for the December holiday presentation. "We have club members who go around and set up displays at nursing homes and veterans homes," Churchill explains. In all the society can measure more than seven thousand feet of track among its members.
"It's really surprising the way the two - trains and gardens - fit together," Churchill admits. His observation isn't limited to Maine; each year over the holidays the United States Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C, shows off an elaborate, multilevel, model-train display in its front courtyard.
This month the club is being given an entire building at the Fryeburg Home, Garden, and Flower Show (May 16 - 18) for its display. But Churchill and his fellow members aren't in it for the fame. They just like to play with trains in flowerful surroundings. As Churchill confides: "It's kind of an addiction, you know." Just like gardening itself.
Sailors of Unity A group of landlocked youngsters are building a seaworthy future.
Take a stroll anywhere on the coast in May and you can't miss the sights and sounds of spring: the whine of power sanders, the sharp aroma of freshly laid varnish, and the telltale droplets of spilled paint on the Carhartts of schooner captains and backyard boaters. But this year such maritime evidence can also be found in the unlikeliest place imaginable - the pasture-rich, inland Waldo County hamlet of Unity, where a group of landlocked youngsters has been spending the winter building a pair of wooden boats.
Led by Greg Rossel, a boatbuilder from Troy, and organized through the Unity Barn Raisers, the class of ten boys and girls are putting the finishing touches on two eleven-foot shellback prams designed by the late Joel White, of Brooklin. The students, the youngest of whom is just eight years old, had only minimal adult supervision as they laminated the oak stems, trimmed the planking, and formed a seaworthy sailing dinghy out of what was just a pile of raw materials back in November. "We had adult volunteers to keep an eye on things, especially when using the bandsaw and the few other power tools we have, but mostly we're using hand tools and the kids have been just great," Rossel remarks. "From cutting up the initial pieces of wood to sailing to the island for a picnic, they'll have done it all. And you don't get that experience anymore - everything is so premanufactured."
Rossel says he already has students interested in taking the course next year, with some coming from as far inland as Waterville for the classes, which are held on Wednesday nights and Saturday mornings. "When the Unity Barn Raisers came up with this idea, it was because shop programs have all disappeared from the schools. Yet boatbuilding is still a very big deal in this state, and boatbuilding schools can't crank out students fast enough," he says. "Whether this might be a future job for someone, who knows?"Not easy being greenWhat's an environmentally conscious Maine homeowner to do?
You're not alone if you found yourself taking a second look at the spiral compact-fluorescent (CFL) bulbs in your home this spring, after a report by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) came out revising what you should do if you break one of the high-efficiency bulbs. The revisions (the full text is available at www.maine.gov/dep
) were announced nearly a year after a woman in Prospect broke a bulb in her child's bedroom and, after consulting a hardware store and the DEP, determined that the mercury that had escaped from the broken bulb represented an environmental hazard. A professional cleanup crew estimated that it would cost the homeowner more than two thousand dollars to decontaminate the home, a project that was eventually completed by the state.
The Internet fueled the homeowner hysteria that ensued, while environmentalists tried to stress the global benefits of switching to CFLs (a power plant emits ten milligrams of mercury while producing the electricity for an incandescent bulb, compared to just 2.4 milligrams for a CFL) outweighed the minimal risk the bulbs represent (each contains about four milligrams of mercury, compared to five hundred milligrams in a mercury thermometer). The state, meanwhile, set about determining if its initial reaction to the break - the homeowner was referred to the state toxicologist, and a DEP tester was sent to the house to conduct detailed studies - was perhaps a tad overzealous.
Heather Jackson, an environmental specialist with the DEP, says that while there were no bombshell revelations as a result of the study, which involved breaking forty-five CFLs, it did suggest homeowners should be more careful with the bulbs. "The cleanup guidance didn't change too much, but we did find that some lingering mercury exists, especially on some carpets," Jackson remarks. "We recommend considering cutting carpet out if possible, and we're also now recommending opening the window of the room where a break occurs." In addition, the study suggested homeowners seal the broken pieces of the bulb in a glass jar.
"Those of us who did the study are still using them in our homes, but we made some adjustments," Jackson says. "I took them out of my kids' rooms, for instance."
Thinking globally, it seems, requires a bit more careful action locally.FOUND IN UNCLE HENRY'S
Free for the taking. Very old iron furnace (wood/coal). Been in my cellar since we bought house. I have no idea what it is or what it is worth. It, along w/other metal pieces that go w/it need to go. I think it would heat a chicken barn, or garage maybe? Dont know? It is huge and you will need to come get it. Hey, can't beat the price right? Fairfield, ME."Loon"
Along the granite shore, cove bent
To hold two jeweled reefs,
The waves explored their phosphorescent
Rhythm and recall.
The fog is carded through the tips
Of pointed juniper and spruce;
Patterns of silver water, on the lips
Of disappearing spring.
Jet beaked aristocrat, tranquil loon
Floating across the narrow bay
Your preening rain-washed croon
The harbinger of May.