Real Estate: Southold’s Harry Katz grows 45 varieties of produce

07/19/2015 6:00 AM |

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It’s not an exaggeration to compare Southold resident Harry Katz’s backyard to the produce section of a small grocery store.

Mr. Katz’s 200-foot-long garden, which he planted two decades ago after moving to his home near Horton Point Lighthouse, features at least 45 varieties — everything from sweet potatoes and mustard greens to zucchini and watermelon.

“I have broccoli, cauliflower, peas, lettuces, cabbages, all sorts of beans,” the 62-year-old said last week. “I really try to grow just about every type of crop you could get at a market.”

A Plainview native who co-owns Echo Arms Adult Home in Port Jefferson Station with his wife, Ana, Mr. Katz used to ride his bicycle to the North Fork from Nassau County, admiring the work ethic of the area’s numerous farmers.

“I remember thinking, ‘There are still people here on Long Island doing this wonderful work,’ı” he said. “They inspired me to really start gardening.”

While his two-acre property is impressively cultivated today, Mr. Katz’s initial foray into gardening wasn’t an all-out success. He had to learn through trial and error how to make it thrive.

“[The garden] was much smaller and I was very naïve,” he recalled. “I had no idea the damage deer and rabbits would do to an unfenced property and how quickly weeds would grow, so I really didn’t have much luck the first year.”

Undeterred, Mr. Katz erected a 10-foot-high mesh fence and kept planting. He now devotes around 16 hours every weekend to tilling, fertilizing, harvesting and weeding. And his wife often joins him when she isn’t tending to their egg-laying chickens.

“They spend hours out there,” said the Katz’s son, Carlos, 27, who isn’t involved in the garden’s upkeep but counts asparagus among his favorite crops. “I think my parents are some of the few people in Southold who can say that when they have dinner, 70 percent or so of the ingredients are a product of their own work.”

Incorporating his vegetables into meals like kielbasa with peppers and new potatoes is one of the elder Mr. Katz’s hobbies, but he said planting his own produce doesn’t save him much money over purchasing it from a grocery store. It costs him $350 a year just to have someone maintain his Honda Rototiller, which he uses to plow.

Despite this — and the “constant battle against weeds, some of which have thorny vines that can pierce your skin just about on contact” — Mr. Katz hasn’t given up.

“It’s my hobby and I feel I have something to show for my physical labors when I’m done,” he explained, adding that he and his wife sometimes bring extra produce to the residents at Echo Arms. “If you’re going to have a serious garden, it’s not something that can be done with half attention.”

So far this year, Mr. Katz’s crops are faring well, something he attributes to this summer’s “perfect amount of warm weather and rain.” His five varieties of potatoes are now ripe and his garlic bulbs are large enough to make an Italian nonna weep with joy. Even the catnip he grows for the family’s cat, Rohan, is flourishing.

“You don’t have to be super-techy or intelligent to raise a garden,” Mr. Katz said. “God made all these types of food available for us to utilize and man somehow developed the skills to do what God intended for him to do.”

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Photo caption: Harry Katz harvests potatoes last week. (Credit: Rachel Young)

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