Sanford Community Gardens receive grant

(As reported in Journal Tribune, June 27, 2019)

SPRINGVALE — The York County Chapter of the University of Maine Extension Service Master Gardener Volunteers, and the Maine Master Gardener Development Fund has announced the awarding of a $500 grant to the Sanford Community Gardens.

The Maine Master Gardener Development Fund supports the establishment or expansion of horticulture-based educational projects in communities across Maine.

Located at the Pence Community Ecology Center in the McKeon Environmental Reserve on Blanchard Road in Springvale, Sanford Community Gardens has begun its first year of providing raised bed plots where folks who lack access to suitable land can grow their own organic vegetables, flowers, and herbs.

More information can be found here:

Local Master Gardener Project Coordinators and Mousam Way Land Trust Directors form the Community Garden Advisory Committee which oversees the project. Master Gardener volunteers assist the raised bed gardeners with all aspects of gardening: initial soil testing interpretations, compact and season-extending gardening methods, organic weed, pest, and disease controls, to safe harvesting techniques and winter bed preparations.

For more information about the Master Gardener Program, email:

Lending a Hand

(As posted on Journal Tribune Newspaper website).

As hundreds of volunteers from local businesses fanned across York County for the United Way’s 2019 Day of Caring event, these Pratt & Whitney employees  worked alongside Mousam Way Land Trust members at the trust’s Pence Community Ecology Center at the McKeon Reserve to clear areas for a future access road and parking lot. They also built a stone berm along a future greenhouse area, and installed fencing to help protect the Sanford Community Garden from hungry, determined deer and other critters.

Wood Frogs

The duck-like barking sounds of the wood frog are usually the first to be heard by our singing amphibians, as they call out to their mates from their vernal pool breeding sites.  

Wood frogs are found in all types of forests, preferring damp areas like ravines, forested wetlands, swamps and bogs while foraging for a variety of insects and small invertebrates, including spiders, beetles and moth larvae.

 At 2”- 2 3/4” long, wood frogs are identified by a white line above the lip, a dark “robber’s mask” across the eyes, and their color ranges from brown, rust to shades of green…with the ability to change color. Sexes can be distinguished by examining the shape of the webbing found in the hind toes; females have concave webbing, while males are convex.

Wood frogs emerge from hibernation when warm rainfall thaws them. They participate in a yearly migration that brings them to vernal pools for breeding, starting in late February and March. Males search for a mate by hugging other frogs until they find one who is round enough to be carrying eggs. Females lay approximately 1000 eggs, often in the deeper sections of the pools and often attached to other egg masses which in turn are attached to vegetation within the pools. Eggs will hatch in 10-30 days, depending on the temperature. The larval stage, known as tadpoles, feed on algae, detritus, and the larvae of other amphibians…taking a little over a month to mature into frogs. Tadpoles die if the pool dries up prior to growing into a frog.

It is the only frog species that survives above the Arctic Circle, aided by the rare ability to withstand partially freezing. It will not urinate all winter…sometimes for 8 months in Alaska. Microbes in their guts recycle the urea, which begins to accumulated in tissues as winter approaches; and glycogen in the liver converts to glucose as the body begins to freeze. Both urea and glucose act as a sort of anti-freeze, restricting ice formation and cell damage while its heart, brain, and blood flow stop…becoming dead by conventual definition! Cells continue a limited function with a loss of cellular communication. Frogs can survive many freeze/thaw events during winter if no more than about 65% of the total body water freezes. The ability of wood frogs to successfully complete their winter survival transformation is related to the amount of insulating snow cover that exists, as well as how deep a frog is able to burrow into its winter hibernacula. Warmer temperatures bring a slow resumption of function, and they make their way to a nearby vernal pool to shower us with their springtime barking. 

As climate change continues to redistribute snowfall, wood frog habitat that begin to exhibit thinner winter snow cover are likely to suffer population declines.

The Lady Slipper

Probably Maine’s best known orchid, these beauties make their home in many parts of The McKeon Reserve.
Maine has four species of Lady Slippers; Pink, Yellow, Showy, and Ram’s Head. Two of these are rare in Maine: the Showy and the Ram’s Head. The “Ram’s Head” variety is endangered and rare world-wide. Being very beautiful, many folks would like to have some in their home gardens, but they are deep-rooted and next to impossible to successfully transplant. Lady Slippers require a specific fungus in a specific soil to survive. This fungus allows the plant to feed from otherwise unavailable nutrients in the soil. The acidic soil type is found only in Forested Wetlands, and under upland forested canopies of evergreens and thick hardwoods.
The flowers are difficult to pollinate; it’s the native bumblebees that do this by climbing through the narrow opening down to the base of the pouch where they hope to find nectar…BUT there is no nectar, just pollen! The bees soon learn that their efforts go unrewarded, so after visiting a few flowers in late spring, they stop trying and many flowers do not get pollinated and so bear no seeds. But the flowers that do get pollinated will produce thousands of tiny seeds! These seeds, like the plant, require that special wild soil fungus to germinate and grow. When they do find these rare conditions, those little seeds will send their roots over six feet deep into the soil!
These conditions are obviously next to impossible to duplicate, and would be extremely expensive, and work-intensive to do so, thus no commercial operations exist for this purpose. If you see one for sale, it has most certainly been dug up, and transplanting it is unlikely to be successful. This is one wild thing that can not be tamed, so PLEASE, enjoy it in the wild, advocate for its protection, but do not try moving it; it took a lot of work, and some luck, for that stunning plant to stand with pride in the forest, showing off its beauty!

Sanford Community Garden Sign-up Form

Sanford Community Garden Hosted by Sanford/Springvale Mousam Way Land Trust; Managed by University of Maine Extension Service’s York County Master Gardener Volunteers

After an absence of several years, Sanford has a community garden where those who lack access to suitable land can grow their own organic vegetables, flowers, and herbs. The Sanford Community Garden is located at the Pence Community Ecology Center in the McKeon Environmental Reserve on Blanchard Road in Springvale. On May 19, the garden will be created by applicants, Master Gardener Volunteers, Land Trust members, and others.

Garden Philosophy 

The whole purpose of this enterprise is to have an enjoyable, healthy, and successful experience. Toward that end, we will work with you to ensure this happens. We ask that you think of your gardening neighbors and the garden while working there. 

The tool shed will serve as a communications center. Notices will be posted, along with the garden guidelines, and lists of approved organic soil amendments, pesticides, and herbicides. The Master Gardener Volunteer schedule, a list of people to contact with any problems and questions you may have, and a message board will also be there. 

You’ll be encouraged to use the square foot gardening procedure developed by Mel Bartholomew as a means of getting the most out of a limited space, but you can use whatever layout you want. By the same token, certain species and varieties will be recommended based on experience. Again, you may choose your own. In any case, the point you should keep in mind is that the size of the bed places a limit on how many types of plants you can grow.

The Garden

Each selected applicant will have a four-foot by twelve-foot, 10 inch high raised bed filled with blended topsoil amended with compost. A membership fee of $25 will be used for expenses during the summer. Four free plots will be reserved for low income folks. Two others will be reserved for home school students and their families.

Selected applicants will be assigned plots on a first-come, first-served basis, and will be expected to volunteer at least three hours of caring for the food pantry plot during the growing season; this is a requirement for having a plot in the garden another year.

Gardening tools, water, and a first aid kit will be available for gardeners to use. Master Gardeners will provide advice and help, if needed. They will also oversee the garden beds and the food pantry plot. 

Applicants, Master Gardeners, and land trust members will gather at a required meeting in late March to go over guidelines, review some of the techniques of square-foot gardening, and answer any questions folks might have about the garden or gardening.

General Policies

  1. The following are not allowed: Smoking, alcohol, pets, subletting plots, non-organic control materials, unattended children, fresh manure, cannabis, illegal or invasive plants.
  2. Place disease-free plants, parts, and weeds in the compost pile provided.
  3. When leaving the garden, return any tools you used to the tool shed, lock it, and make sure the water spigot is turned off. 
  4. Consider neighboring plots when planting vine or tall-growing plants such as cucumbers, squash, corn or sunflowers; use dwarf-type varieties and plant tall or trellised crops down the center of the bed.
  5. Plots should be fully planted by June 8, and be properly cared for during the whole season; ask for help if you need it!

Using a plot at the Sanford Community Garden is a privilege; the Advisory Committee reserves the right to revoke the privilege of any gardener at any time for any reason it deems appropriate.

Application For Garden Plot 



Payment for 1 raised bed plot at McKeon Reserve Community Garden


Alternatively, print out and complete the following application and General Rules and Waiver Contract:

Sanford Community Garden

Name: _______________________________________ Phone: _________________________

Mailing address: __________________________________________________ Zip: ________

Email: _________________________________ (We will use this to communicate with you.)


Membership fee for a 4’ x 12’ plot is $25


Please make checks payable to: “SS Mousam Way Land Trust”

Mail to: Mousam Way Land Trust, 917 Main St., Sanford, Me., 04073

General Rules and Waiver Contract

I agree to waive, release, and hold harmless Sanford Springvale Land Trust, York County Cooperative Extension Service, and Master Gardener Volunteers from any and all damages, claims, suits, or injuries. By using the Sanford Community Garden located at Blanchard Road in Springvale, I assume responsibility for all risks, damages, to self or personal property and hazards, including ant third parties I may bring onto said property, for the purposes of gardening or otherwise. Insurance coverage is my own responsibility. I agree to act in a safe, sensible, and responsible manner, and will use respect with property and other people while at the garden. I also understand and agree to follow garden rules and policies.

I have read and understand the General Rules and Waiver Contract. I understand that my signature here is an acceptance of the General Rules and Waiver, and I agree to abide by them.

Signature: _____________________________________________ Date: __________________________

States of Dormancy

Hibernation, torpor, diapause, aestivation, and brumation

Dormancy refers to the state of reduced activity that many organisms enter when exposed, or anticipate exposure, to environmental stress. During the dormant phase, energy is conserved within the organism by reducing metabolic activities. Chemical changes may also occur to protect the organism from freezing, heating, or drying. The five types of dormancy are hibernation, torpor, aestivation, diapause, and brumation. 


Many rodents, including chipmunks and groundhogs, as well as mammalian species like hedgehogs and bats use hibernation to survive harsh winters. To prepare for hibernation, food is gorged upon and stored as body fat. Then shelter is found for their winter’s deep sleep, during which heart rates slow to as much as 90%; a chipmunk’s heart rate drops to 4 beats per minute from 350! Hibernation can last for weeks or months. Some hibernators awaken during warming periods and will eat and urinate, but soon will resume their deep sleep.

A champion of hibernation is the Arctic ground squirrel, supercooling its body from 98° to 30° for 8 months…shivering (without waking) every 2-3 weeks to reheat. The severe cold shrivels their brain neurons, which totally recover when they awaken. A protein called tau builds up in their brain cells when hibernating…and in the brain cells of humans with Alzheimer’s. The squirrels scour tau from their brains when they wake up. Studies of the squirrels abilities could provide insights into Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases. 

And the only bird to hibernate is the common poorwill, close kin to our whip-o-will. Found in the Western United States and Mexico, their body temperature drops from 104° to about 41°. Other birds enter a state of dormancy called torpor.


Some animals, mostly birds and bats, reduce their body temperatures only a few degrees for only a few hours a day, along with lowering activity levels. This dormancy state is called torpor, and is used during cold nights, when food is scarce, and as a general energy saving adaptation. Studies have shown that those few degrees save a significant number of calories from being burned off overnight.

Hummingbirds require huge energy levels with heart rates over 1,200 beats per minute; they use daily torpor to conserve energy even in the tropics, dropping their body temperature over 50%. Chickadees and swifts are other well known users of torpor.


Butterflies are cold-blooded, so when they get too cold they can’t fly, and if too hot, they’ll dry out. To survive these conditions, they’ll enter a state of dormancy called diapause…a spontaneous reaction to certain environmental conditions. This temporarily affects their life functions and development by slowing them down to almost a stop. This state can happen at any time of year, and for varying lengths of time; it mostly affects insects, but also happens with birds, fish, and mammals. Some butterflies use diapause in the middle of a hot summer day for an hour or so, and some insects may enter diapause for months. Diapause in summer is often called aestivation.

Aestivation (Estivation)

To avoid the stresses of excessive heat, estivation is the state of dormancy in which animals in mostly desert and tropical habitats use a summer sleep for survival. The sleep is relatively shallow, allowing the critters to awaken quickly when conditions return to favorable levels. Some animals, notably insects, are common estivators. Salamanders, frogs, and snails conserve water requirements by estivating during dry times. Probably the expert is the African lungfish: it’ll burrow into the mud of a dried up lake, cover its body with mucus which dries into a water-retaining sack…breathing through a small tube. The lungfish is able to thus survive without water for up to 3 years! 


Brumation dormancy can be described as torpor done under ground by reptiles. Sometimes during brumating, the reptile will become a bit active during a warm spell; although not requiring food, it searches for needed water to escape hydration. So, like torpor, it’s not a true hibernation phase. Brumation in reptiles may be considered the opposite of aestivation in insects, where the former addressees the heat and the latter, the cold.  

Preparing for brumation, eating is increased to not only build up fat reserves, but also to add glycogen, which is a form of sugar and is mostly stored as energy in the muscles. Some glycogen is stored in the blood, which aids with oxygen intake in low-oxygen environments like underwater. Some turtles have areas of high blood vessel concentrations at their cloaca (butt) which can absorb oxygen from the water…a butt snorkel! And snakes will absorb oxygen through their skin. The added fat seems to play more of a reproductive part with reptiles, aiding egg production and post-dormancy mating. 

A relatively sheltered place called a hibernaculum is found and often shared with many others of the same species…sometimes hundreds! Crevices in rock piles, leaf litter, caves, burrows…even under water for some…are used. Generally, they enter dormancy in the cooler, shorter days of autumn and emerge from their rest at the arrival of the warmer, longer days of spring. 

Subnivean Zone

See those slithery, tunnel-like and bumpy shapes on top of the snow? You are witness to the creatures of…The Subnivean Zone! There are many ways that animals handle Winter’s cold. Some actually rely on the snow of winter for survival. Here’s how they do it.

During the first lingering snowfall, hardy, stiff vegetation and rocks block snow from accumulating under them. Lowering temperatures stiffen more vegetation. Subsequent snows cover these areas, bending the stiff vegetation, creating small tunnels and pockets of space. The earth’s warmth is captured by the overlying snow cover, which also insulates the soil against the freezing temperatures of winter from above. The snow laying on the soil sublimates, changing from a solid directly into a gas, creating more space. These sublimating gasses re-freeze within the snowpack, creating a dense layer of round, snowy ice crystals; we see them during the spring thaw. 6” of snow creates this snowy ice canopy; another 2” keeps this space within a degree or so of 32°. 

This winter habitat provides protection for the voles, moles, and shrews…creatures of the subnivean zone. Winter’s cold and wind are held at bay, and some predators are foiled. Tunnels are created and used for travel and fresh air between between food caches, and for foraging along the forest floor for bushes, bark, grass, leaves, seeds, and insects…all of which remain unfrozen. The system of tunnels can be quite elaborate, leading to food stores, sleeping quarters, dining areas, and waste areas. Most mazes begin at a tree, rock, or bush, absorbing solar heat and aiding temperature moderation of the surrounding soil and underlying vegetation. This action is evident at the base of the trees in the forest, where the snowpack has receded from the trunks.  

Here’s a short video of a little critter making its tunnel:

But some predators are not fooled by this little world. Owls, with their extremely keen hearing and location abilities, will zero in on these guys as they run around…making the subnivean zone a lucrative hunting zone! Foxes and other canids aren’t fooled either! The occasional miss by these predators will result in the tunnel being crushed and the unfortunate critter underneath suffocating…providing yet more food for another hungry critter. Ermine will squeeze through the tunnels, feasting on the rodents, making a nest from the fur and commandeering the living space for a short while.

Dangers are present, however, and can be catastrophic. Spring thaws and rains  can flood the tunnel systems over the entire landscape, drowning hoards of critters or chasing them out of their protected zone to become easy prey. Also, the spring freeze/thaw cycles weaken the subnivean roof structure, sometimes causing a wholesale collapse of tunnel areas. As the snow recedes, the once bustling habitat is revealed, as bumpy little humps from tree to rock and along the remaining few inches snow appear…giving us yet another reason to ponder the wonders of our wood walks…The Subnivean Zone! 

World Wetlands Day

Today February 2, is World Wetlands Day. Take a moment to reflect on the value of wetlands and how we can harness the natural power of this ecosystem to turn the tide on climate change. 

Cleansed and enriched by the Red Maple-Sensitive Fern and Black Spruce Forested Wetlands in The McKeon Reserve, these waters are seen by Brianna (center, right) entering Branch River near Carpenter’s Crossing Bridge along the Rail Trail. The importance of these valuable wetlands is the subject of many completed and ongoing studies, and preservation efforts are increasing in urgency as these studies are showing the positive ecological impact upon the surrounding environment…and how those impacts relate to the betterment of the human condition.    

These incredibly diverse, biologically rich areas provide many benefits to their surrounding habitat. The constant presence of water creates a habitat that support uniquely adapted plants, water and land based animals, and allows the formation of the increasingly rare and valuable wetland soil. The water in wetlands typically moves slowly and through a large area, trapping pollution-laden sediment and allowing the formation of biological soil creatures that actually eat and process these contaminants!

Raccoon, fox, turkey, deer, moose, and many other critters hunt here for frogs, salamanders, bugs, nuts, fresh woody shoots, and other tasty snacks provided by the wetland’s unique habitat and abutting areas. Recent wood-harvesting operations now support an emergent growth forest ecosystem, providing rich habitat for many birds, amphibians, and other forest denizens. Portions of The Reserve have been mapped and described by Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife as Inland Waterfowl and Wading Bird Habitat.  

Take a look here at how Beaver ponds create wetlands which are among the most biologically productive ecosystems in the world. Beaver eat wood, and by thinning the trees along the shore, algae and aquatic plants grow in the sun drenched wetland. And vernal pools (also called “spring pools”) are ofter associated with forested wetlands and are found in The Reserve and many of the Trust’s other lands.

The microorganisms in these saturated soils process (eat!) various man-made pollutants, effectively removing them from the ecosystem. (The “Red Tide” blooms, sometimes caused by high fertilizer use, are one type of pollution-caused event that wetlands help to reduce). Wetlands also act as “flood reducers” by their ability to retain and hold water for long periods, slowing down the flow, reducing erosion. 

All these unique conditions support the bedrock food chain of the surrounding habitat…and do so year round! They have been called the most productive ecosystem on earth!!


The oldest stone wall in New England was built in 1607 near the Kennebec River north of Portland. Most of them were built between 1775 and 1825, a time when massive deforestation made way for farms, tillage revealed the glacially deposited stones, and there were many young hands available thanks to the baby boom following the Revolutionary War. But what about all those stones…

Genesis: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.”

Maybe the big Bang? Wisdom was with God at that time, so maybe a whisper to Him that, “Hey, You got to do SOMETHING to create all the stuff You want.” (Folks, if you were God, wouldn’t you want to start it all off with a bang??…why not; no fireworks ordinances…ANYTHING’s possible!!).

Anyway, 13.772 billion years ago, a minuscule dot of humungous mass blew up, scattering stuff all over the universe. Gravity caused these guys to come together, compressing into clouds of space dust, creating heat, and igniting to form stars. Hydrogen is afire in thermonuclear fusion. Helium and other elements are created. The star gets old, grows to a Red Giant, and blows up…scattering the elements. 

These pieces are again attracted by gravity and form planets. Meteors and asteroids slammed into some of these planets, depositing the ice that they were carrying. Thus, the Earth has water. But it’s cold, so ice sheets form and grind away at the Earth’s rocky surface. Think sandpaper makes sawdust, and grinding ice sheets make rocks (and real tiny rocks,…sand; and even smaller rocks..silt; and tiny rocks with water-holding minerals…clay). Various erosive actions further break down these rocks, and deposit them amongst the finer sandy soils. 

Bacterial plant life began in the ocean, making oxygen. Other stuff came into being and died, like everything does. Their remains settled to the ocean’s bottom, the ocean receded, and stuff grew from the rich decayed matter within the sandy soil. Winds blew stuff around. Dead stuff kept adding to the soils, making other stuff grow and die…

Then, eventually, we came into the picture. We got hungry. We began farming, and found all those rocks. To get them out of the way, we moved them to the edges of our fields, forming stone walls. There were many glacial events in the New England area, so we have a lot of rocks planted by the glaciers into the sandy, organic soils, and we had a lot of hungry humans wanting to grow stuff…thus a lot of stone walls. 

So, while out doing our  woods-walks, or driving along pastoral lanes, we now have the occasional stone wall story to ponder. Darkness, Light, Elements, Planets, Water, Rocks, Plants, People…it’s ALL Stardust!