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Tips from a local: Starting your own vegetable garden

People by: Dylan Licopoli, April 21, 2022

Northport Village resident and local gardener Dylan Licopoli with his wife Jesse and their children Leona and Valentine at the Robert Kubecka Memorial Organic Garden, near the corner of Greenlawn and Dunlop Roads.

Planting your own garden can be one of the most satisfying activities you engage in this season. It can also seem intimidating and scary. What if the plants don’t grow? How much water do they need? What if the rabbits eat them?

RELAX! Gardening is more about the process than the product; and it is a universal truth that no matter what you do, the fruits and vegetables you grow yourself will taste better than anything store bought!

With that knowledge in hand, here are a couple of pointers that may help ensure a “fruitful” bounty:

1. For main summer fruits such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, etc., it is recommended to start with seedlings as opposed to seed, and those seedlings should be planted once the average nighttime temperature is above 65 degrees. In our climate, that usually occurs somewhere between Mother’s Day and the first week of June. If you get your plants in later than that, don’t worry…they will still fruit, it may just take a little bit longer. These days most nurseries carry seedlings ready for planting, and many have a full range of organically grown plants for your garden. Give a call to check on local inventory and when their shelves are restocked.

2. Overwatering is a bigger problem than not enough water. For the first week or so, you can water daily; first thing in the morning is best if possible. Avoid mid-day watering, and if you can be consistent with your schedule, the plants will appreciate it. Use the “knuckle rule” to know if you have watered enough. If you put your finger in the soil around the plants, the soil should be damp up to your second knuckle (about two inches). After the first week or so, one to two deep waterings per week is more than enough. It is much better to water deeply, infrequently, than to frequently provide only shallow water. In order to become vigorous growers, plants need to go through dry periods, and there are many seasons where the water that nature provides is more than adequate to keep plants healthy.

3. Gardeners garden because we love it. Yes, the harvesting is definitely one of the best parts of the experience, but remember, we share this Earth with a vast network of interconnected life, and they need to eat too. So, if a rabbit takes a few bites of your lettuce, or a bird nibbles on a tomato, fear not, it is quite unlikely that they will eat them all, and rest easy knowing that your labors have given back to the system which provides for all of us.

Henry David Thoreau very wisely wrote, “These beans have results which are not harvested by me. Do they not grow for woodchucks partly? The ear of wheat… should not be the only hope of the husbandman; its kernel or grain is not all that it bears. How, then, can our harvest fail? Shall I not rejoice also at the abundance of the weeds whose seeds are the granary of the birds? It matters little comparatively whether the fields fill the farmer’s barns. The true husbandman will cease from anxiety, as the squirrels manifest no concern whether the woods will bear chestnuts this year or not, and finish his labor with every day, relinquishing all claim to the produce of his fields, and sacrificing in his mind not only his first but his last fruits also.”

Editor’s note: Dylan Licopoli is a Northport Village resident and owner of Home Organic Gardening Service (HOGS). He is committed to educating and celebrating a community of mindful gardeners on Long Island. Since the inception of HOGS, Dylan has designed and installed over 200 gardens, compost systems, hoop houses and water management systems here on Long Island. Read more about the Robert Kubecka Organic Memorial Garden, where Dylan maintains a garden plot of his own, here. Plots are currently available to TOH residents; apply for yours here.