Summer may still be a distant dream, but you’d never know that at the home of Monica Flaherty.
She’s already sown the early crops: onions, snow peas, kohlrabi, shelling peas, radishes, beets, spinach and garlic, all neatly planted in the raised beds along the side of the home. But that’s only the beginning. Step inside her dining room and you’ll find it’s overtaken by this summer’s plants.
There, under a double set of gardening lights, tomatoes, peppers, broccoli and herbs are already sprouting from the seeds she planted a few weeks ago. Crowded at one end of the table raspberry bushes, rhubarb, and even a loose leaf lettuce are growing new leaves. And down the middle are plastic bags of seeds that are germinating: cilantro, chives, and mint.
Ms. Flaherty grew up in the Pacific Northwest, learning gardening from her grandfather, who was raised on a farm, and her mother, whose kitchen garden included apple and cherry trees, and her Aunt Terri, who was the first to show her how to plants bulbs as a small child. But it wasn’t until Ms. Flaherty moved with her husband, Cantor Erik Contizius, to a home in New Rochelle just over the Larchmont border that she was able to start a vegetable garden of her own.
And what a garden it is!
Last year she was wandering through Barnes and Noble when she spotted the All New Square Foot Gardening book by Mel Bartholomew. The author’s system promised to grow twice as much in half the space, with less than an hour’s work a week.
Ms. Flaherty bought the book and immediately got hooked on the system. With the help of now nine-year-old Jacob, she built four raised beds along the side yard, with each bed divided into nine squares. Following the square foot method, she filled the beds with a mixture of 1/3 compost, 1/3 peat moss, and 1/3 vermiculite and by mid-April the seeds were in the ground.
The results? Nothing less than spectacular.
While most Larchmont gardeners were weeping over their blight-stricken tomato plants, Monica, Erik and Jacob were harvesting two gallons of tomatoes a day. The lettuce, planted 4 to a square foot grew to be 16 inches across. And most squares were planted three times over the course of the growing season. Tomatoes followed lettuce; carrots succeeded tomatoes; and cabbage and Brussels sprouts were planted in the fall and harvested just last month.
Ms. Flaherty says that starting plants from seeds indoors is not only more economical – one packet of seeds produces dozens of plants – but the seedlings are stronger and hardier than those that are purchased from a nursery. And, because she grows from seed, she never experiences blight, mildew or other ills that beset many gardeners.
The garden has many other added benefits. The family has become familiar with their neighbors, who stop by to chat and follow the progress of the plants. And it brought Ms. Flaherty and her step-son Jacob together as he quickly became enchanted with the garden and its produce. And now the family is helping Temple Israel create a community garden that will grow vegetables for New Rochelle’s food pantry.
Now that spring is almost here, they are planning a new bed along the 64-foot fence of their back yard. Once again they will be using the square foot method for this year’s crop of rhubarb, tomatoes and peppers.
You can see the miracle of this garden at the corner of Sunhaven and Griffon. You’re welcome to stop and chat with the family about what’s growing – but please, don’t pick the vegetables.