"We're small, and because we are small we are able to produce a quality product for our customers" Carol Mayberry told me, as she was transplanting small vegetable seedlings into individual containers. "I grow everything from seed, and all our plants get a lot of individual care and attention before going out the door."
I was talking with Carol in one of the three greenhouses that she and her husband Tim have built next to their farmhouse in Sebago. Mayberry Farm grows bedding plants, table-ready vegetables and flowers for the nurseries and supermarkets in the Lakes Region. If you have been to Reny's Department Store in Bridgton, Tony's Foodland in Naples, or a Hannaford's in Standish, Windham or Gorham, or to other similar outlets you may have bought some of Carol's plants or vegetables. She even supplies bedding plants to nurseries as far away as Boston.
A program that Carol is especially enthusiastic about is Maine Senior FarmShare. She has 30 shares and provides fresh produce grown at Mayberry Farm through this Maine Department of Agriculture program, and the produce is then provided free of charge to low-income seniors via food pantries and meal sites in the Lakes Region.
Carol has been in the nursery business since 1972, but their Mayberry Farm operation is only six years old. She and Tim were looking for a working farm when they bought the old White place up the road from us in 1997. Since then they have worked hard to bring the old fields back into production and have built 5,500 square feet of new greenhouse space. They have come a long way in a short time, and their return customers are a testimony to the quality of their produce.
It was early January this year when I drove over to help Tim spread and smooth the cement for the floor in the new greenhouse #3. "This area will be the pad that the furnace and supplies go on," Tim said as we waded ankle deep in wet cement. "The rest of the greenhouse will have a sand floor for better drainage, and I'll build wooden shelves for all the plants," he added.
Nearly three months passed since the cement job before I made the time to go over and see how the new greenhouse was coming. Carol said, "Come with me and I'll show you what we've done. It is my pride and joy!" The greenhouse was completely full with trays of bedding plants and plants in pots. A pipe rack stretching from one end to the other of the 100x27 foot space was full of hanging flower baskets, each one growing small plants. Tim has set up an automatic drip system that waters and fertilizes the plants. The furnace was keeping the greenhouse warm on this cloudy, cool day, and the smell from all the plants was like a lush garden in mid-summer.
I asked Carol when her farm year begins. She said that she starts in January growing the first trays of vegetables and flowers from seed in a light box on her dining room table in the house, and then moves the plants into the greenhouse starting the last week of the month. As the plants grow larger they are transplanted into individual plastic pots or bedding trays. When they are strong enough and the weather warms in the spring, she moves the trays outside on trailers to "harden" them for planting. Some of these plants make their way to nurseries and markets where people buy them to transplant to their home vegetable gardens or flower boxes. Others Carol and Tim plant in the fields surrounding the greenhouses where they grow table-ready vegetables for the food markets. They raise 8 varieties of peppers, 6 of squash, 15 different kinds of tomatoes, as well as fresh cucumbers, cabbage, cauliflower, lettuce, pumpkins, and 10 different herbs.
"And when do you get to use your dining room table again?" I asked.
"Not until sometime in mid-summer. As soon as one batch of plants is moved to the greenhouse I start another," she said. "I start planning in December and lay out a daily calendar for the entire growing year based on how long each type of flower and vegetable will take to grow. Then every morning I check my calendar to see what should be planted that day. I try to time the first ones so that they will be ready for spring planting and the flower holidays," she said. "Mothers Day is our first big holiday, and I always want to have our best flowers ready in time."
"Every year I've been growing more flowers," Carol said. "Maine folks really appreciate the color that our flowers bring to their homes, and we grow flowers for people's outside flowerbeds as well as a big variety of hanging flower baskets." She showed me a bench full of vigorous green plants that I first took for geraniums. "No, these are lavatera, a new flower I'm trying this year. They have a pretty pink blossom and will last all season. Here, take one home to Penny and let me know what she thinks of it."
If you prefer buying directly, Mayberry Farm also sells retail. They will be setting up their farm stand for the summer season soon, and Carol will have a selection of flowers and fresh vegetables for sale on the honor system. Take your produce and leave the money in the cigar box. Or drop by the greenhouse and Carol will help you pick out the flowers or vegetable plants that will go best in your garden. Mayberry Farm's phone number is (207) 787-4113. Call first, but this time of year it is a good bet that you'll find Carol out in the greenhouse.
This article was edited and published in the Neighbors Section of the Portland Press Herald on April 15, 2004 under the title "Mayberrys lavish care on see-grown flowers, vegetables".
Photos by Allen Crabtree