Fellow Long Island gardeners, now is the time to start planting your crops for fall harvest. So grab those gardening gloves, shovels and rakes and get digging. Yes, we have definitely been getting a good deal of heat, which can make starting a vegetable garden a bit challenging at the moment. So we turned to the experts at Hicks Nurseries and Crossroads Farm at Grossmann’s to share some rules of (green) thumb to get those gardens going.
Pick a Location
Once the early-maturing vegetables such as radishes, peas and spinach have been harvested, you can begin to ready your garden to plant midsummer root crops and other greens and vegetables. As with most things home-related, it’s all about location, location, location.
Make sure you have all of your essential tools before you get down and dirty to prep the soil. Karen Musgrave, Marketing and E-Commerce Associate at Hicks Nurseries in Westbury, suggests a hand trowel, shovel and garden fork for digging holes and loosening soil, a hose with a spray nozzle for watering, and a rake for easy clean-up.
“The most important thing to remember when planting a garden is to choose a location with six or more hours of sunlight per day and well-draining soil,” Musgrave says. “Use a garden fork or shovel to turn the soil over, and add some topsoil and compost to loosen up the existing dirt.”
Choose a Bed Style
Next, decide on your style of garden: raised beds, directly in the ground, planters or a greenhouse. Any of these options make great fall vegetable gardens, Musgrave notes.
“Build or buy a garden bed made up of boards in the shape of a rectangle 3 to 4 feet wide by 6 to 8 feet long,” says Leonore Russel, Director of Education at Crossroads Farm at Grossmann’s in Malverne. “Fill with good soil, compost and cow manure—dried and from the package.”
Once stubborn rocks and debris are moved out of the way and the soil is leveled out, you can begin planting.
Choose Your Crops
Fall is the season for roots and leafy greens, but planting during the warm summer temperatures aid plants in establishing a root system. As the cooler weather rolls in, the crops will be encouraged to produce a bountiful harvest. Many of these crops, such as broccoli and lettuce, can be harvested until the ground freezes.
“Although most crops are relatively simple to grow, lettuce, cauliflower, broccoli and kale would be easiest for first-time gardeners,” Musgrave explains. “More experienced gardeners or those with amazing soil could also add carrots, radishes and beets to their list.”
Water, Fertilize, Love
There are certainly key aspects in creating a great garden, but few are as important as taking the time to care for your crops as they need it. The combination of watering, enriching the soil, and added flora to attract natural helpers is a recipe that needs perfecting.
“By using organic or biodynamic methods, your garden will grow ever stronger and healthier than ever,” Russel says. “Create a garden haven by planting not only your veggie beds but flowers in borders around your yard that attract pollinators, such as zinnias, cosmos, marigolds, and snapdragons.”
The added perennials and native plants will return each year, giving structure to your garden. Pollinators are excellent because they attract insects that will aid in helping your fruits and veggies flourish.
Watering is a given when gardening, but the right amount is essential—too little can lead to dry, dead plants, while overwatering can damage the goods as well. The key is to establish a regular watering and fertilization schedule, while also keeping an eye on how heat waves and rain (or lack thereof) are impacting your garden.
“We recommend that gardeners use an organic vegetable fertilizer such as Plant-tone from Espoma, and only water when necessary,” Musgrave notes. “Veggies only need about one to one-and-a-half inches of water per week, so there is no need to water daily. Overwatering is the number one killer of plants.”
Also be sure to properly space the plants apart—the distance is usually listed on plant tags or seed packets. Planting too close to one another may encourage disease and insect issues, although not all insects are bad.
“‘Good bugs’ are bees, butterflies, moths, ladybugs, crickets,” Russel says. “If you see an unknown bug, check with the internet and identify it before removing it and do not use pesticides at all, they kill good bugs as well as ‘bad’ ones.”
Hicks Nurseries is the 2021 Long Island Choice Award Winner for Best Nursery & Garden Center. Crossroads Farm at Grossmann’s is the Long Island Choice Award Winner for Best Farm Stand. See all the Finalists and Winners for all things Long Island at LIChoiceAwards.com.