BETHEL — Ladies and gentlemen — start your rototillers. The vegetable garden season is about to begin.

Barbara Murphy, master gardener and educator from the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Service, brought enough gardening tips, soil building advice and enthusiasm to get scores of gardeners ready to begin the season to a program on To Your Health sponsored by Western Maine Senior College Wednesday evening.

“This is inspirational. It’s time to start doing it,” said Bonnie Pooley, a longtime vegetable gardener who has beds of asparagus, herbs and flowers.

Peter Gailitis, a resident of Bethel who just moved from San Diego, said he was looking forward to Wednesday’s talk by Murphy. He remembers having a garden when he was a child growing up in New England, and now he’s ready to try it again.

“I’ve been thinking about a garden. I’ve cut some trees, I’m ready to do it,” he said.

Melissa Prescott, an art teacher at Telstar Middle School, came with three students from the middle and high schools. They were researching how to grow a school garden and how to compost.

“This will be the first time,” Prescott said.

She and high school teacher Sarah Savage are organizing the garden project.

Murphy had lots of tips for veteran, as well as beginner gardeners.

For example, she suggested that the traditional garden of having rows and rows, each separated by 3 feet or so, can be a waste of soil and not particularly productive.

Instead, she recommended creating raised beds. Soil can be more easily improved, more food can be grown in less space, and plants can more easily be tended. And they don’t even need boards to box them in, she said. Just building up soil in a section 3 or 4 feet wide, and as long as the gardener wants it to be, works.

Growing vegetables vertically can also be beneficial to such crops as cucumbers and squash.

“The poles or trellises have to be strong,” she said. “You don’t have to buy trellises. Use saplings.”

Growing some vegetables through an inter-crop method also works for some. This way of gardening alternates crops that need less time to mature with those that need a longer period of time, such as growing broccoli and lettuce together.

The quality of soil is important. She advised gardeners to have their soil tested every few years to learn which nutrients are needed.

And, she suggested a variety of ways to extend the growing season.

Row covers allow both sun and rain to get through while providing warmth for seedlings as well as some protection from insect pests.

Other tips include:

• Checking for, and removing, larvae as a way to organically protect vegetables.

• If a new gardener, plant no more than 10 varieties the first year.

• Buy the best quality seeds and seedlings for the best crops.

• Use rain barrels to collect water, and make sure the crops receive between 1 and 2 inches of water a week.

• situate the garden so it receives full sun.

She said gardeners can begin planting onion sets, lettuce, spinach and peas directly in the garden now. Other seeds can be started inside, then transplanted in six weeks or so.

Murphy’s gardening discussion was the first of two sessions on local foods.

The second is set for 4:30 p.m., Thursday, April 22, at the Bethel Congregational Church when several speakers will provide information on community supported agriculture, farmers markets, senior farm-shares, container gardening and the philosophy of buying local and healthy foods.

Everyone is invited. For more information, call 824-2053.

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