Expressway: A novice gardener grows backyard success

Produce grown by novice gardener Paula Ganzi Licata

Produce grown by novice gardener Paula Ganzi Licata of Bellmore (Credit: Paula Ganzi Licata)

From my little patch of planet to my plate, my produce is as local as local gets.

When I bought my house in Bellmore years ago, I didn't imagine my property producing anything more than pretty flowers. Then last year I planted my first vegetable garden. Some people pot a few cherry tomato plants on their deck and declare themselves vegetable growers. We dug a trough.

"What's that?" asked a neighbor, pointing to the trench running down the middle of the 12-foot by 15-foot area of freshly tilled soil behind my garage.


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"It makes it easier to weed and pick the vegetables," I explained (having asked my boyfriend, Billy, the same question when we dug it). Well, he dug it -- but I still get gardening credit. I weeded, watered, planted, pruned, transplanted, hoed, mulched, raked and staked. OMG . . . I'm a farmer! I don't even own a pair of overalls and get regular mani-pedis.

Until now, I never realized how much work it takes to grow vegetables. (Are they "crops" if it's just a "patch"?)

Knowing how much time and effort it takes to grow a few heads of cabbage, I'm filled with farmer respect and have a newfound sense of awe at the staggering bounty found in produce aisles.

You don't appreciate the size of cucumbers until you watch them grow beneath the canopy of leaves from nothingness into thick long gourds hanging amid the creeping vines.

And you don't realize that supermarket tomatoes are tasteless until you grow your own. Mine are big and juicy -- sort of ugly, less pristine looking than the pale store-bought kind that are picked too soon. . My tomatoes wouldn't make the casting call for Food Network shows, with marks and gouges on their skin, uneven coloring, and cracks from being close to bursting they're so ripe. But when you slice into my home-growns, they're meaty and juicy, flavorful enough to bite into like an apple. They're a meal unto themselves, not an accessory to a salad. They don't need lettuce and croutons to mask their tastelessness or olive oil to pump up the flavor.

Growing vegetables is not without its problems. When our cucumbers were being decimated, the diagnosis was hungry rabbits. We were advised to cut out the bottoms of plastic planters and insert the hollowed-out forms into the earth to surround the plants. The rabbits can't eat what the rabbits can't see. We ended up harvesting a bumper crop of 'cukes.

One evening after work, anxious to pick some arugula for a salad, I grabbed my gardening gloves and headed for the backyard. While there, I gathered what was ripe, including some peppers and eggplants that had fallen to the ground. As I carried my harvest into the house, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror, dirt from the plants on my clothes. Perhaps I could use a pair of overalls.

Reader Paula Ganzi Licata lives in Bellmore.

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