Maine may be vacationland, a dream-come-true for urban visitors longing to get in touch with nature, but for gardeners the climate poses a few challenges. Summers are cool and short and the number of frost free days are often less than 90 days in many areas of the state, limiting the crops that can be grown successfully during Maine summers. Growing lush green gardens brimming with fresh fruits takes a bit of consideration, but it can be accomplished.
Choose a location for your Maine garden that receives at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight. Exposure for the entire day is preferred, particularly for warm season crops like tomatoes and peppers. Select a south-facing area free of obstructions like trees and buildings that may cast shadows on the garden.
Contact the Maine Cooperative Extension office and request a soil test kit to determine the needs of your soil (see Resources). An analysis of the soil provides you with the information you need to amend the soil for optimal plant growth.
Till the soil to a depth of 8 to 10 inches and follow the instructions for taking a soil sample.Typically this involves gathering soil from several areas on the garden plot and mixing them together. Return the sample to the soil testing office.
Follow the directions including in your soil test analysis for amending the soil to balance nutrients, adjust pH and improve the overall texture and condition of the soil.
Select short season vegetables with days to maturity that are less than the predicted frost free days in you location. There is considerable variation from the southern tip of Maine to the northern areas. Keep in mind that days to maturity are typically calculated under warm weather and optimal growing conditions and may vary in your specific garden.
Start vegetables from seedlings purchased at the nursery, instead of by seed. This gives vegetables a head start by several weeks, increasing the chance to grow to maturity before fall frost threatens.
Use row covers or plant caps to protect plants from late frosts in the spring. Keep covers near the garden and watch the weather for any signs of frost.
Prepare to cover plants if early frost threatens in the fall. You can often extend the season by several weeks by covering them at night with sheets, plastic or tarps and removing them in the daytime.