05/04/14 9:05am
05/04/2014 9:05 AM
Talmage Farm Agway nursery manager Sherry Brezinski with some of the vegetable and herb seedlings in the store. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

Talmage Farm Agway nursery manager Sherry Brezinski with some of the vegetable and herb seedlings in the store. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

The North Fork is renowned for its sprawling farms and beautiful wineries. But how about its old-fashioned backyard gardens?

With a little effort and some helpful advice, anyone can grow their own vegetables — yes, anyone.

Read all seven steps on northforker.com

12/01/13 12:00pm
12/01/2013 12:00 PM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Dave Cichanowicz, owner of Creative Environments in Peconic, demonstrates the proper way to wrap a boxwood to protect it from winter winds and snow.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Dave Cichanowicz, owner of Creative Environments in Peconic, demonstrates the proper way to wrap a boxwood to protect it from winter winds and snow.

As temperatures continue to drop along with the falling leaves, safeguarding gardens and shrubs from the weather becomes the task at hand for many homeowners.

While many think picking up those fallen leaves is a good place to start, area experts say otherwise.

“Protecting the root system is most critical in the winter,” said Dave Cichanowicz, a member of the Southold Town tree committee and president of Creative Environmental Design of Peconic.

One way to protect plant roots is to use those fallen leaves as insulation, helping keep moisture in the ground, he said. He recommends using a mix of mulch and leaves.

“People want to have pristine, clean-looking gardens, so mulching is probably the best way to keep it nice while protecting the root systems,” Mr. Cichanowicz said.

Nancy Gilbert, Riverhead resident and former master gardener with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, said homeowners should also water their plants and shrubs until the ground freezes, because the fall season has been very dry.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | The Skip Laurel is very sensitive to winter winds, cold and snow.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | The Skip Laurel is very sensitive to winter winds, cold and snow.

Since September, the National Weather Service reports that only 2.75 inches of rain have fallen at the area’s closest official measuring station, in Islip – and the difference between that and what’s fallen on the North Fork is not significant. In contrast, the average rainfall for our area from September through mid-November is 9.86 inches.

Ensuring that moisture remains in the ground through the colder months will help protect plants from winter burn, when the combination of high winds and low moisture causes them to dry out, said Chris Mohr, a landscaping expert in Cutchogue.

Wind burn occurs most commonly in plants that do not lose their foliage, such as the Leyland cypress, blue spruce, cedar trees and junipers, Mr. Mohr said.

Mr. Cichanowicz said once roots are well-watered and insulated, homeowners can protect trees and shrubs by wrapping them in burlap -— starting about this time each year.

“The idea of the wrap is to protect the foliage, keeping the cold wind out of the plant,” Mr. Cichanowicz said.

Winter burn is most common in locations near Long Island Sound, which feel the harsher effects of arctic winter winds coming from the northwest, Mr. Cichanowicz said

While burlap wrap can be applied in many different ways, Mr. Cichanowicz said a basic method starts with laying the burlap over the top of the tree or bush, then wrapping each end as far around the sides as possible. To secure the burlap, he uses a screwdriver to poke holes into different areas of the material and then ties it down with zip ties.

“You want the wrap to [hold] in 30 mph to 40 mph winds,” he said, which means homeowners need to be sure wraps are fitted securely.

Burlap, available through landscaping suppliers as well as local home and garden centers, is often sold in rolls or by the yard, said Kim Talmage of Talmage Farm Agway in Riverhead.

She said she recommends medium bulk burlap, which sells from $1.49 to $2.99 a yard at the Riverhead store.

Homeowners who see wrapping trees and shrubs as too much work should think about applying an anti-dessicant to help keep moisture in a plant, Mr. Mohr said.

“It’s actually an oil that gets sprayed on the plant to prevent the wind from sucking the moisture out,” he said.

When spraying plants the temperature must be between 28 and 35 degrees – and the later in the season the spray is applied the longer it will last, he said.

“Most customers only want to pay for one spraying, so we try to spray between Thanksgiving and Christmas, which will last until March depending on Mother Nature’s mood,” Mr. Mohr said.

The spray is a good way to enjoy the look of evergreens throughout the winter, Mr. Cichanowicz said, but he added that it will not work for all types of plants.

Shrubs like cherry and skip laurels, which have large, loose foliage, should be wrapped because high winds can strip them of all greenery, leaving them at even greater risk of wind burn, he said.

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05/16/13 5:36pm
JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Southold students and community members gathered Thursday for the district's first garden expo.

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Southold students and community members gathered Thursday for the district’s first garden expo.

Southold students and community members gathered Thursday morning for the district’s first garden expo featuring vegetables they’ve grown and displaying information about environmental sustainability practices.

New York State Board of Regents member Roger Tilles visited the expo to learn about how the garden teaches students about math, science and arts.

Mr. Tilles, who lives in Great Neck, said he is the only member of the Board of Regents who currently has children attending public schools. He’s also retired from his former profession as a lawyer and said he spends a lot of time in the field meeting with educators and finding out how the Regents’ decisions affect them.

The Network of Edible School Gardens, which represents more than 20 East End school gardens, local farmers and neighboring school officials also attended the event.

Pick up the May 23 issue of The Suffolk Times for more on this story.

03/24/13 8:00am
03/24/2013 8:00 AM
Organic lawn care on North Fork

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Master gardener Nancy Gilbert cuts back last year’s leaves on a Hellebore in bloom in her yard in Jamesport. Witch Hazel and Snowdrops are very early blooming plants next to the Hellebores.

Spring is in the air (at least, it should be), meaning property management and landscaping are in the near future.

As people become more aware of the environment and the role fertilizers and pesticides can play in its demise, the trend toward organic lawn and garden care is taking off.

“It has probably doubled over the past three years, as far as money being spent and people using organics,” Dee Merica, an organics expert, said while giving an organic lawn care seminar at Talmage Farm Agway in Riverhead last week.

Bill Van Schaick, Talmage general manager, said he also is seeing increased customer interest in organic products.

“Even if they are not completely organic people, the average person is starting to say ‘I don’t want to keep dumping endless amounts of chemicals on my yard.’ People are just wanting to do things more naturally and less invasively,” Mr. Van Schaick said.

In the past, many people turned to chemical-based fertilizers for a rapid lawn green-up.

The main chemicals in most fertilizers include nitrogen, to make things nice and green; phosphorus, to promote root and flower growth; and potassium, to form sugars, which make plants strong and healthy, said Larry Kaiser of Kaiser Maintenance in Jamesport.

These common fertilizer chemicals are now more strictly regulated.

“New York and California basically have the strictest laws,” said Mr. Van Schaick. “Long Island in particular is really tough when it comes to any lawn and garden use. A number of things are legal in the rest of New York that aren’t legal here on Long Island.”

As of Jan. 1, 2012, the Department of Environmental Conservation prohibited the use of fertilizers containing phosphorus on lawns throughout all New York State, except when a new lawn is being established. And no fertilizers may be applied to lawns between Dec. 1 and April 1, according to the DEC website.

Kevin McAllister, head of the Peconic Baykeeper environmental advocacy group, said he would like to see more stringent laws during the time fertilizer can be applied. “We have become obsessed with the trophy lawn. It is a significant problem that we have to address in the interest of protecting surface water quality,” he said. “Individual property owners have to be a part of the solution.”

So, how do you start if you want to cut down on the chemicals?

“The best thing that people can do if they want to go toward the organic program is to start rebuilding all the microbes and fungi in the soils, to make the soil healthy,” said Mr. Kaiser, who offers customers a range of organic and chemical product packages. “You don’t have enough if you’ve been using chemical fertilizers.”

Ms. Merica compared fertilizers with chemicals to chemotherapy, saying they “wipe out the ecosystem of the lawn.”

Adding products with microbes starts to build that ecosystem back up.

“Instead of having nitrogen, these products take microbial action in the soil and start breaking it up,” Mr. Kaiser said.

Phosphorus, for example is naturally bound up in Long Island’s soils, Ms. Merica said. Re-establishing microbes is an organic way of activating that phosphorus.

“Read the labels, see which fertilizers have them,” Mr. Kaiser said.

They both said “bio-packs” of microbes are available at most home and garden stores. The small packs are water-soluble. “You mix it up in a small sprayer. They include all the beneficial microbes and microbial fungi to really enhance the natural process. You are building up the microbial population, so it’s a lot stronger.”

Cutting down on nitrogen is another good step, Mr. Kaiser said.

Three different types of nitrogen can be present in any fertilizer, Mr. Kaiser said: water soluble, which melts instantly in water; water insoluble, in which nitrogen is released over time; and sulfur or polymer coated, in which the nitrogen is coated and water or microbes eat away at it, releasing it over time.

“The best advice I can give,” said Mr. Kaiser, is to make sure that the percentage of water insoluble nitrogen in the fertilizer is higher than that of water soluble nitrogen. This will cut down on the amount of excess nitrogen entering the water table.

As for combating weeds, corn gluten is the natural route. It is 100 percent organic and works by inhibiting root formation in weeds when they start to germinate, Ms. Merica said. It doesn’t inhibit roots of mature plants or transplants unless it is used at a very high rate. You do not want to use it if you are laying down grass seed, because it will prevent it from germinating.

“It does work but is somewhat costly,” Mr. Kaiser said. “It doesn’t work immediately, it takes at least one to two growing seasons to really set up a mat of protection against seeds growing from the ground.”

It is known as a pre-emergent, so it does not work after a weed has already grown.

“If you have a dandelion, to the best of my knowledge there is no organic thing to spray on it,” Mr. Kaiser said.

As for weeds that have already sprouted, “pull them,” said Nancy Gilbert, a master gardener who has taught the master gardener program at Cornell Cooperative Extension since 2002. She relies on compost as a natural fertilizer. Adding microbes to a compost pile is also beneficial, as it will help speed up decomposition and cut down on any odors, Ms. Merica said.

For weeds in the garden, planting thick, dense layers of plants will help keep weeds from breaking through, Ms. Gilbert said.

“You want lots of different heights, and plants that are going to flower and bloom at different times,” Ms. Gilbert said. “You don’t want a lot of bare soil.”

“A good garden is a balance of lots of different insects and lots of different plants. It’s that balance that keeps a garden healthy,” Ms. Gilbert said.

Tossing boiling water on gravel driveways is one of many tricks for keeping weeds from overtaking the stones, Ms. Gilbert said.

Pure straight white vinegar is another alternative but be applied in sunlight. One thing to remember, however, is that these methods are “non-selective,” so they will kill anything they are applied to, Ms. Gilbert said.

“There isn’t a good organic thing out there for everything, but there are things that are generally lower impact,” Mr. Van Schaick said.

“If someone wants a perfect pristine lawn with no weeds, no issues, that’s unicolor, I would suggest organic may not be the way to go initially,” Mr. Kaiser said.

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09/04/11 7:34am
09/04/2011 7:34 AM

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | Trimbles of Corchaug owners Anne Trimble, left, and Nancy Leskody with a sample of Crape Myrtle, one of the plants they suggest for fall.

There’s more to autumn gardening than sprucing up an otherwise withering flower bed or border with a few chrysanthemums.

Many gardeners, thinking the growing season ends come Labor Day, abandon colorful, fragrant blooms for traditional autumn decorations such as pumpkins, hay bales and corn stalks, said Nancy Leskody, co-owner of Trimble’s of Corchaug Nursery on Main Road in Cutchogue.

It’s a habit that dates back to the colonial era, when early American settlers planted in the spring to take advantage of the rain and harvested crops in September.

But a wealth of flowers — including Montauk daisies, asters and sedum autumn joy — bloom bright and big this month. In addition, gardeners say usually deer-resistant ornamental grasses and trees can go a long way toward beautifying a landscape as the season changes.

Trimble’s co-owner Anne Trimble suggests planting Swiss chard, cabbage, kale and other leafy vegetables to enhance a fall garden.

“It’s all about texture,” she said.

The fall is also a good time to plant trees other than beech and oak, said Jim Warner of Warner’s Nursery & Garden Shop, a 500-acre farm in Calverton. Tree tops give a final colorful show and but the roots are expanding, he said.

One of Mr. Warner’s favorite fall trees is the autumn flowering cherry, which has small, light-pink blooms that turn an orangey-red as the season progresses. The trees can grow as high as 18 to 20 feet tall, which is still small for a tree, Mr. Warner said.

Flowering pears, Japanese maples and lindens have bold fall colors ranging from garnet to reddish mahogany, he added. Japanese maples are on the smaller side, only about six to eight feet high, but are 10 to 12 feet wide. Lindens, a big shade tree, grow as high as 45 feet.

Mature tree size comes into play when envisioning and planting a garden.

“You have to think about what shape it’s going to get, and place it accordingly,” Mr. Warner said.

Marilyn Anne Marks, a landscape designer who owns the Shorecrest Bed & Breakfast in Southold, maintains a 20-foot by 200-foot garden at her inn, plus additional shade gardens and other flower beds. Tending the gardens is a chore during the summer, but keeps the property lush and colorful into the fall.

“It’s designed to bloom at any given point of the year,” Ms. Marks said.

Montauk daisies, goldenrod and rudbeckia, all perennials, are reaching full bloom right about now, she said.

Relying on such long-lasting flowers is one of her tricks of the trade. They come back year after year, helping her garden, built in 2006, require less maintenance. She also intersperses the perennials with annuals that flower until the fall’s first frost.

“I have giant verbena, and a lot of container plantings,” she said, adding that she also uses jasmine and passion vine.

To add more low-maintenance interest to her garden, Ms. Marks breaks with tradition. Rather than focusing on flowers, she adds visual interest with seed heads and dried hydrangea on the branch. When she took ownership of Shorecrest, one of the only flowers in the garden was a huge hydrangea that had been there since the 1920s.

“They start out bright blue, with giant pompon heads, almost as big as a soccer ball,” Ms. Marks said. “Then they fade to a paler color, with pink tinges, and some will go greenish or a deep pink.”

She also incorporates hydrangea paniculata, which is more treelike than its cousin, in her garden. It’s just starting to bloom, she said.

Tall, spiky agastache, a perennial herb, also blooms in the fall and adds depth and color to the back of a fall flower bed, said Alexandra Andon, a landscape designer at Timothy Coffey Landscape Contractors in Southold. The herb can grow almost five feet tall.

“It has an interesting lemony-scented leaf,” she said, adding that she’s also noticed Japanese anemones are underused in fall gardens. The anemones can be staked to grow tall or left to trail along the ground.

Ms. Andon also recommends colchicum, an autumn bulb that grows to only a few inches tall.

The fall can also be a time to prepare for winter landscapes. Ms. Trimble recommends a red twig dogwood, green and white during the growing season with bright red stems in the winter. It looks “spectacular in a snowstorm,” she said.

“The challenge is to realize that you can still plant,” Ms. Leskody said. “The sun is warm, and the ground is warm, and there’s a long growing season here.”

01/26/11 1:00am
01/26/2011 1:00 AM

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | Skip Wachsberger holds his memoir in the living room of his Orient home. Behind him are some of the hundreds of plants he has grown.

When Skip Wachsberger first bought an 18th century barn-turned-house on Village Lane in Orient in the early 1980s, his real estate agent warned him he was moving into a fishbowl.

He took the plunge anyway, all the while dreaming of creating an ideal backyard garden at his new place. That dream sprang from a seed planted when, as a child, he coaxed buds from a peach pit and brought peonies in from his yard as a centerpiece for his family’s dining room table. As an adult, while living in a New York apartment and working as a trompe l’oeil artist, he yearned to have his own garden.

Mr. Wachsberger, 66, and his partner Charles Dean, the maitre d’ at New York’s Carlyle Hotel, now have one of the best-known gardens in Southold Town. While Mr. Wachsberger’s story is well known in the fishbowl of Orient, his newly released, privately published memoir, “Into the Garden with Charles,” tells his garden’s history; the continuing love story of his life with Charles, his partner of nearly 15 years; and his ongoing battle with prostate cancer.

He began the book 10 years ago, with the idea of recounting his life through the story of the 12-month cycle of his garden. But that was before he joined Orient neighbor Karen Braziller’s writing workshops. Mr. Wachsberger and Mr. Dean had previously edited a compilation of garden stories for Ms. Braziller’s small publishing house, Persea Books, called “Of Leaf and Flower,” released in 2001, with illustrations by Mr. Wachsberger.

When he started “Into the Garden with Charles,” he knew he wanted to write about the garden and Charles, but he’d not yet been diagnosed with cancer, hadn’t yet become the proud owner of a Havanese pup named Rover and hadn’t yet filled in every inch of the garden with rare trees and flowers. Finally, last spring, after one last tough re-write, the writer’s group convinced Mr. Wachsberger that the story had enough of an arc to be considered done.

“People said it was impossible,” Mr. Wachsberger of his initial concept for the memoir, “but I had a deep core feeling that my story was inseparable from the garden. I’ve changed the structure so many times.”

He spoke of the project on a recent cold Saturday, during a brief visit to his Orient home between treatments at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan. Much of the garden was buried under a thick blanket of snow, and his living room was crammed full of tropical trees and bushes, all waiting for the warmth of spring, when they will rejoin the hardier plants in the garden.

Mr. Wachsberger is a master watercolorist who has honed a unique technique of painting scenes from family photographs so vividly that they look from a distance like photos. Scenes from his garden, painted with the same technique, grace the pages before the each chapter of the limited edition book, just like the fairy tale books Mr. Wachsberger remembers reading as a child.

He pre-sold the 150 signed and numbered books to friends before this past Christmas to cover the printing costs. For a premium, several collectors also purchased the original watercolors.

The books were printed on heavy paper stock by The Studley Press in Dalton, Mass., which specializes in quality color reproductions.

Mr. Wachsberger and Ms. Braziller are now seeking a trade publisher, though they doubt a commercial publisher would match the quality of the original private edition.

“One of the reasons we made this edition was we were able to do it exactly as it should be, without having to compromise,” said Ms. Braziller. “I might never be able to do that again. But we’re satisfied we’ve done the perfect book.”

Mr. Wachsberger’s story is full of miracles, from how he found Charles’s personal ad, which had inadvertently run in an East End newspaper, far from Charles’s Manhattan home, where Skip saw it, to the flock of hummingbirds that gathered on the trees outside Charles’s mother’s window just before her death, as if coming to say goodbye.

He said that the initial draft of the book told of even more miracles in his life, but that another member of the writing workshop, poet L.B. Thompson, told him he needed to “kill some of his darlings” to make those that remained really shine.

Pruning the garden proved as much a leap of faith as pruning the text. Mr. Wachsberger had to avert his eyes as Charles first pruned his magnolia trees, when the two began gardening together in Orient. He wanted to save every branch, but Charles convinced him that every cut would sprout five new branches. By taking the leap of faith that the tree would thrive, Mr. Wachsberger started to find the core of trust on which to base a life-long love.

By the final year of the memoir, 2010, the garden had become more lush than ever. Mr. Wachsberger said that, in the back of his mind last year, he thought that the garden might have been putting on a final show for its caretaker. His thoughts turned to what would happen if he were gone and the house were sold to a stranger who couldn’t appreciate the garden.

He has never asked his doctors how long he has left to live, in part because of his own hope for another miracle — that he will see his garden come into bloom many more times.

With the garden, Charles, Rover and the constant presence of neighbors and friends who want to sneak a peak into the garden, “I consider myself the luckiest person in the world,” he said.

Mr. Wachsberger has begun work on another book at Ms. Braziller’s workshop, this one about Rover, and the first buds will soon be here, as will his and Charles’s 15th anniversary.

Joyce Beckenstein, a writing workshop participant, has donated a copy of “Into the Garden with Charles” to the Floyd Memorial Library in Greenport, where it will be available in the near future.

“He’s just a fabulous writer. He’s a kind, gentle, unostentatious, generous man,” said Ms. Beckenstein. “He is a treasure.”

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