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Episode 73: Joe The Mason | Gardening on the Banks of the Penobscot River | Orono, Maine
Joe The Mason started out as a listener who connected with me on Facebook and I was able to convince to come on as a guest! He shares some amazing knowledge for a new gardener, but because he is both inquisitive AND a man of action he has taken some great advice from the experts at the local University of Maine, applied them with gusto and is quickly becoming a master gardener in his own right!
Tell us a little about yourself.
I just turned 50 years old this year, I live in Orono, Maine, in Eastern Maine. I graduated High School in 1983. I left Orono for the Navy for 4 years, but ended up staying out of state for 24 years. I come back in 2007, back to Orono. I actually live in my grandparent’s house, but will soon be moving into my parents house, which is where I have the garden we will be talking about is.
I’m a custodian at the local elementary school, which is the school I went through as a kid. So it’s kinda cool to be back, right back in town. I really like it a lot!
I have to give you a huge shout out, as an elementary school teacher I know how VALUABLE you’re job is! None of the school could run without the custodians. It’s good for the kids, it’s good for the teachers and it’s good for everybody! I give you a HUGE thank you and shoutout for doing that! It’s much appreciated! :~))
Really fun to be honest, I don’t get to see the kids too much, because I’m usually there in the evening or when they’re leaving and wave to them in the hall, but they’re usually very full of life and that’s nice to see!
Yep lots of good friends who are custodians! Excellent!!
You know I like to start the show by asking about your very first gardening experience?
The house that I’m moving into, my parents house, when I was a kid my grandfather had this huge garden, it was huge to me as a kid, behind the house. It sits on the embankment of the Penobscot River which is one of the biggest rivers in Maine. Now that I’m older, I like to think of myself now as my grandfather’s “quality insurance checker” because I loved walking out the back door of the house and picking a cuke or something and rubbing it off on my jeans and eating it! Or pulling a tomato or a carrot or a radish. I didn’t actually help my gradnfather except to make sure they were yummy!
That’s what my grandkids do too!
My first actual gardening experience I think was probably, and your gonna chuckle, but I lived in Philadelphia for 12 years. I lived in South Philly and they are all row homes so you really don’t have any space behind your house, except maybe a 6×10 spot. In this row home I was in, I had a little brick wall that I built up on my deck that was maybe 2 feet high, maybe 4 feet long. I went to Lowes, and bought some dirt, it wasn’t organic, now I realize this but I also bought some tomatoes. So I’m growing tomato plants on my back deck in Philly, and I’m growing tomatoes on my 3×6 foot floor deck! But it was great to walk out and pick tomatoes! It was because my grandpa and my parents always grew in that same garden. I’ve been around gardens a lot.
I think that will encourage people that do live in an apartment that maybe just a tomato plant will get me going!
Or an herb in a pot!
Or one of each they make great companion plants!
What does organic gardening/earth friendly mean to you?
Really not using the pesticides and the poisons! That’s what I’m doing this year, that’s really been my focus. Really you have to respect your food by respecting the soil. I’ve really tried to just live by that since I put my garden in this year.
I talked to this old friend of mine from high school Mary Frances Harris on episode 71 and she also lives on a river in NJ, and she realized anything that flows out of her lawn or even out of her driveway goes right into the lake.
Who or what inspired you to start using organic techniques?
I play a game called disc golf, people might know it as frisbee golf.
Or Folf! :~)
Yeah, it’s kinda fun! I think it was around 2010 it was just a couple of years ago I was meeting friends in the disc golf community. And a friend of mine Noah worked for a local garden center that really promoted a lot of organic gardening. And he was talking about Monsanto, and I was like who. I felt almost embarrassed that I didn’t already know this at this point in my life, and I did all this research I did and learning about that and learning how people use these products to kill stuff and then going into the plant and I was like when I have a garden I’m not gonna do that! So it was really Noah who got me on that path!
That’s my grandson’s name, Noah! Well, and I’m always learning tons, we can’t all know everything, we learn it as we go. So you must have learned it when you needed it!
How did you learn how to garden organically?
In my town of Orono there’s a farmer’s market and most of the farmers or a good portion of them are organic farmers. So I started going to that on Staruday and I started talking to people and asking them questions as I was buying their produce as I was buying their melons and things. I really went to one more then others, for no other reason then I enjoy talking to them. The Snakeroot Organic Farm really started guiding me.
I learned so much from them and the other vendors
When I started gardening with a smaller garden where I currently am, with some neighbors. Near the raspberry patch in the pictures on Facebook you saw. Just some Hot peppers and some cucumbers.
I just immediately started without using any of the stuff you can buy in the store. One of the neighbors had chickens we always used her chicken droppings, and even know that’s what I use is the chicken waste.
And this isn’t for browning points, I’ve learned so much stuff from the guests on your podcast! I write stuff down when I’m listening at work, so I remember to try something!
Awww. Thanks. I have to say, I have learned a ton! So I’m sure listeners are as well.
I always tell people our chickens are for the manure the eggs are just bonus!
Tell us about something that grew well this year.
Yep right now we’re talking in mid-August, I don’t even like zucinin but I planted some for my parents cause they enjoy them so much. I bought a tray of 6 seedlings at the Farmer’s Market. I gave 2 to them in a big pot, I kept 2 and I gave 2 to the neighbors. These things are the leaves are so big it could cover a seat! It is giving me 5-6 zucchinis a week! I am giving them away hand over fist. I like em enough I could grill em now and then! So the zucchini the first year I put em in are going nuts!
The cukes are doing good as they always do. But really surprising is radishes, I’ve never had the patience to separate seeds
This year I just listened to the river, and I was outside and it was a nice day. And I spaced them. I’m actually on my second batch, but I’m giving em away! I’m just so excited, I don’t really eat em, but ‘;m loving that they’re growing!
I’m in Eastern Maine in Zone 5A
Maine has a lot of zones, up north is like 3A their growing season, it’s like a 5B zone along the coast. We have quite a few growing zones. I’m in 5A, I’m only about 50 feet above sea level. The actual primary campus of the University of Maine is located here in my home town. So even though our population when the school is away, might be about 10,000 it goes up by about 12K when the school comes in. It’s a small town that gets big with the college here.
I never appreciated how cool it is to have a college in your town,until I lived where there wasn’t one. When I was growing up my mom lived by a college,
There’s always cultural stuff that goes on.
Maine is a big forestry and agricultural college, with geology and engineering. I have actually used and get information people who pay 1000$ of to school. I have these professors I can ask, one’s a forestry professor who’s given me some advice on Maple syrup. There’s a geology professor when you dig your lawn save the sod, compost that…
Having these friends of mine are very into helping with my gardening!
Is there something you would do different next year or want to try/new?
Something the farmer’s market here all the vendors, have these salad turnips, Hakurei turnips or Japanese salad turnips (The turnip greens can also be eaten.)
They’re small and white, about the size of a radish, with the leaves that come up! They don’t taste like your grandmother’s turnips. They’re almost like a radish without the spice. (Johnny’s Selected Seeds catalog (from Maine) carries the seeds and I am totally ordering some!)
I want to find out. I think what they do, they let the others grow
I think they’re pulling them out early. They’re so good with hummus, with a salad, just to pop in your mouth, and the other thing is the leaves are edible to saute or put in a salad. Like a salad green! They’re so good!
Megan Cain from the Creative Vegetable Gardener just talked about fall planting. And she recommended radishes and turnips for fall planting!
Tell me about something that didn’t work so well this season.
I always struggle with melons, even thought I get them as seedlings. I think that our growing season here is just short enough here that if we lose any time to extended old weather, an early fall with them that the melons just don’t have a chance to mature.
I don’t have a hoop house, a lot of the farmers around here do. But I don’t so I’ve always struggled with melons.
We just got these seeds from this gentleman (Bill McDorman) brought back from Siberia or something… we’re gonna give it one more try!
Something that you find is easy to grow and is generally successful every-time.
Cucumbers. Maybe zucchini as I have learned this year. I know for me cucumbers are fantastic, any pickling or salad size. Again I start them from seedlings I get from Snakeroot Organic here at the Farmer’s Market.
I think there’s an assumption when you go the Farmer’s Market it’s all organic. I always thought that. I felt like the organic police, at the market recently saying I have a podcast about organic gardening. They were like we’re pesticide free…
Something you would steer new gardeners away from that you find is typically challenging to grow in your climate
Probably with listeners from my area, unless you have a hoop house or a greenhouse,
we had a really cool june,so I’m not really thinking my melons are going to mature before fall here because june was a little chilly for us.
Which activity is your least favorite activity to do in the garden.
Um, I know for a lot of people it’s weeding, and even though I went away for a week and it’s like Aaah the weeds are here! I’m still catching up with that. I don’t like to pull up a plant that is failing. That kinda hurts. Cause, you want them all to produce something, like this year, the green pepper seedling. 4 of the 6 are just struggling.I thought no, no, they’re gonna be ok. I just decided, they’re not going anywhere, pulling a failing plant would be the worst for me.
So you got all of the seedlings at the same place and just 2 of them didn’t make it. So maybe that’s a lesson for people. sometime;s that just happens.
The ones that are producing the green bell peppers for me. They’re not grocery store size. I’m pulling one bigger then a hot pepper it’s an heirloom that snakeroot farm has been doing themselves. They have their own tomato varieties. But when I had to pull one of those.
I know, even thinning or cutting the flowers. I cut my basil plant back all the time, but I’ve been doing that for years and I know it’s gonna grow back, so maybe I just need the confidence, but even just making a bouquet to bring in the house. And I have so many flowers this year.
What is your favorite activity to do in the garden.
I love being barefoot in the dirt! I know my family laughs at me, once the good weather hits heare, I don’ th ave shoes on. Especially in freshly
I turned lawn into garden, I actually hand tilled it! got rid of that
So being in that loose dirt, that was just just turned, since gram shut his garden down
That’s why I don’t mind weeding!
I like that job too! I almost think it’s one of the clearer gardening jobs.
My friends laughed and were like why don’t you just get a tiller?
And it was one of your episodes, with Cathy’s Crawlers!
For the past three years, mostly through diet, so I’ve lost like 60 lbs in like 3 years.
Some people pay to go to the gym to get a work out. I’m gonna get my work out!
What does Kelly call it? From Kelly Ware? Permaculture Crossfit!
My husband always makes fun of me, I want to go hiking, or running or just enjoy the forest. He’s always like we need to go firewooding, or mushroom picking, or looking for huckleberries – bushwacking yuck! But then he works in the garden all day and is fit as a fiddle. It’s so unfair you guys and your gardening metabolism!
Tell us about the best crop you ever grew.
Yeah, I gotta go back to cucumbers, I put in like 12 cucumber plants and I stopped counting after I had picked 150 off of 12 plants. Yes it was crazy Jackie, either the weather was perfect, or
or they liked the music I played,
but they were just growing and every time I picked up a vine, there were like three more! I was giving cucumber’s away hand over fist. I couldn’t get a dill brine that worked for me. Have you heard of mustard pickles?
Like mustard relish?
Exactly kinda sweet!
Sort of ends up being a sweet pickle, my canadian grandfather, I asked what was it the pere used to make, I looked online
You know what I want to know is? What’s your playlist?
I do like to listen to the birds and the river, to be just out there and hear the birds. Every now and then I like to listen to I think it’s called Ameircana, coutnry, bands like Wilco, My mornign jacket, blue grass mixed in with that. That’s mostly what I play. Every once in a while I get a kick and gotta have some Rolling Stones or Led Zeppelin playing.
What is the best gardening advice you have ever received?
One of the Professors from the University of Maine when I was growing brussel sprouts for the first time.
You have to snip the top of the plant off at the end of Sept tells the plant to stop growing upward and instead put all of your energy into your vegetable, in this case the Brussell sprouts plump up. He told me the brussel sprouts up here, can actually survive a frost, so we picked them into late October, knowing that helped give me a decent crop that first year.
OK, well this is sort of embarrassing. Miek wanted som cauliflower pants, and I grabbed like three trays cause they were so cheap. And when I got in the car he was like you know these aren’t cauliflower right these are brussel sprouts… so we have brussel sprouts growing…so is there anything else we should know?
Im not sure when you would need to clip the top, part of the plant, cause it just keeps growing up and it will develop vegetables an ag professor, has worked for me. Of course youl;ll cut the stalk then you have to use a pairing knife to get them off the stalk. But they’re so good!
How do you cook your brussel sprouts? I just steam them with salt and pepper.
I had visitied friends in Phlily over new years, and I went to this Greman restaurant, and got this bs that the had baked in the oven, with salt, pepper, garlic and white onion. They were so good! My hope is that I can replicate that, I bought brussel sprouts in the store and I’m trying to replicate it! I pan fry with a little garlic and olive oil. They’re great I love brussel sprouts.
Have you ever entered a fair? How’d that go?
No, not with any product. Just to ride the tilt-a-wheel!
A favorite tool that you like to use? If you had to move and could only take one tool with you what would it be.
It would probably be that garden fork, it’s sort of like a pitch fork, more flat and broad, so you can actually dig into the soil and pull it up without it all just falling though. That really helped me clear that sod out. And I’m thinking it’s gonna help me get my carrots out.
Mike told me, I was gonna write post about pitch fork, and mike said we have one that’s called a potato fork…
Yeah and it’s my grandfathers.
Do you have any secrets for preserving food-making it last?
I would love to get a dehydrater (Santa Claus if your listening… ) I can, I know canning because my mom would do it, she shared tomatoes and green beans and all of that. So I do that water bath method. Some of your guests use a pressure cooker but I don’t know how to do that so I just do the water bath.
I do make raspberry jam, blackberry jam, I do the water bath canning. Someday I do want to get a pressure canner some day.
Do you get them at the farmers market or?
A couple of my neighbors here, maybe 15-16 years, ago, started digging up raspberry plants that they would find along the river bank or abandoned spots. And they would put them in this spot pretty much across the street from where I live on land. They brought wild berry plants up much larger then what we have here, so she dug some up from her parents place and brought the up.
all thse years later, we have this enormous raspberry patch, we throw manure from the chicken patch and throw it on the snow, and let it melt. We prune back the dead branches, and leaves, and it just results in an enormous amout of raspberries. Last winter put a a bit but the new growth that we saw, it just looks like next year is going to be a humongous year!
For example, last year, just myself, I picked 40lbs of raspberries!
her son and his wife pick doubt bath same amount.
other neighbors that helped put it in, they picked that amount!
It’s neat because we have the large berry plants out of SW Maine that are still growing, we have the small berry plants, we also now we have a medium berry plants growing up. somehow the plants intermarried and so we have 3 sizes of berries you can pickthey are so prolific!
Years ago they had the foresight to put them together, and say this field isn’t being used.
This year however because of the beatings the plants took from all the snow, and the weeds
only got 20lbs
Oh, poor you. Our raspberries sort of faded out this year, too. Idk what happened, the weeds sort of over took it. But we didn’t get any this year.
Just down the river there’s a wild blackberry patch, I’m gonna go check that this week because they kind of come on when the others go out.
Do you have any special techniques for cooking weird or unusual foods?
So it’s not something I actually grow, we have something here in Maine called fiddleheads which are essentially ferns, it’s a certain genus, everybody knows where the grow, they always go back and cut them, and they look like fiddlehead, they are curled around. People up here love fiddleheads! So people, so my cousin will go pick them at the base of Katadin which is the biggest moutain here in th is part of the state.
I’ll get some fiddleheads boil them for about 5 minutes, keeps that green color
saute them in olive oil But you only get them in the spring.
Kind of like asparagus. You only get those in the beginning of spring too! That sounds exciting!
I like fiddleheads:~)
A favorite recipe you like to cook from the garden?
Well, I’m looking forward to trying the brussel sprouts, for sure. What I did this year, I grew some swiss chard for the first time. I brought that in and using tips from some of your guests I never
olive oil, garlic,
The swiss chard was Fantastic! Just really basic
one of my other gardener friends told me that how to do it! I’m gonna be doing that here come September, sometime next month!
A favorite internet resource?
I do, only because I’m leaning on a lot of people who grow in our climate. I use a site form the University of Maine Cooperative Extension site has a ton of information for growing in this area.
Snakeroot Organic Farm their website is also fantastic!
A favorite reading material-book, mag, blog/website etc you can recommend?
I don’t really other then those internet sites, I really don’t pick up any reading material, for the gardening part just those websites.
The JoeGanic Gardener!
Yes I like that!
Final question- if there was one change you would like to see to create a greener world what would it be? For example is there a charity or organization your passionate about or a project you would like to see put into action. What do you feel is the most crucial issue facing our planet in regards to the environment either in your local area or on a national or global scale?
I wish we had people in Washington that didn’t support Monsanto so much, it would be nice to get those people ou of office so there wasn’t that much protection given to them.
The labeling law, there was that food bill that was just passed. They’re not allowing
too much power in government
People don’t get to choose the food they want to eat. It seems like that needs to change in my opinion.
People want labels that say if food has GMO’s in it. Genetically Modified Organisms.
There’s this commercial I watch on tv every morning. I can’t believe eI can’t think of it, I want to say it’s like flashlight… (Maplight) so the example they give. In California they wanted to creat theis thing that said kids in Claifornia would get a snack of healthy fresh fruit every afternoon but the food processing companies said well we don’t make money on the food so they went through and mad eh bill say nutririouts fruit instead of fresh fruit ut that
It seems like we should know what’s in our food, and I don’t understand why there are roadblocks to that.
I had a guest tell us that Hawaii with a very small grassroots campaign did pass it. I get so frustrated with people in America, you can have a politician on your side but if they didn’t have the support they can’t do anything anyway. There’s certainly lots of corrupt politicians.
In maine, there’s been an upsurge. The state tight the oldest median age. We’re always the oldest state according to that study, but Maine has the youngest farmers
A study based on the 2012 census? between 2007-2012 young farmers who
increased by 40% in maine, where the national average was 1.5% for other states. There’s a lot of young people coming to maine because there’s land available can put a farm on. They can specialize in one or two things, and there’s Farmer’s market to go to, support getting their product out there.
Even NPR did a story about the younger farmers in Maine. So I think for our state there’s definitely an awareness to making sure we have access to these really terrific tasting fresh organic fruits and organic grassfed beef farms and milk and chickens! There’s a lot of negative about it but I really like that Maine is in the forefort.
I keep telling people these Millenials are on it. They just seem to be super conscious, certainly lots of podcasters are
That MOFGA group help young farmers get loans and buy land and things like that. So it’s really a great group!
Two things about Maine, my favorite podcaster John Lee Dumas is from Maine!
My friend John O’Shea wrote this book that has nothing to do with gardening, Shakespeare’s Revenge. but it’s a great mystery!
Steven King lives next door.
Mr king and lobster and maybe organic gardening soon!
Is that near Bar Harbor? we went on vacation up there. It was such an adventure. WE went up to Nova Scotia, I remember collecting the mussels on the beach!
We definitley get all four seasons!
I’m a cold weather girl so that would be a great place to be!
Do u have an inspiration tip or quote to help motivate our listeners to reach into that dirt and start their own garden?
Well, you know when I was getting ready to talk, I thought that would be too forced, so I don’t really have a quote
it looked like a big project, converting I got 18×55 feet dug, it seemed daunting! And now that’s it dug I think I still got another 20 feet I can push out next year!
Go where you’re gardening where your plants tell you where to go!
I don’t know if I’d say starting small is 18×55 maybe 8×10! Unless you want to lose 60 lbs like Joe and do your gardening crossfit!
This weekend is the 21st anniversary of the Orono Farmer’s Market! Gonna have live music!
How do we connect with you?
My email is firstname.lastname@example.org! If anyone has any questions I’m more then happy to chat.
Comedy bang bang
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