At the root of it all: Island farms and gardens

Fri, 06/05/2020 - 2:30pm
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Block Island is a haven for gardeners — whether tended by a master gardener or the casual hobbyist, the town is full of beautiful gardens filled with produce and flowers alike.

The Block Island Times asked some local farmers, gardeners and horticulturists to gain a little insight into what is being grown this coming season: What have you planted this season?

“I start some plants inside, and in early April I move outside to my heated hoop house over 2,000 plants. In one little plant tray holds 72 plants, which transforms to a massive explosion of plants grown. I currently have four varieties of eggplant, six varieties of tomato, four varieties of pepper, four varieties of beet, three varieties of carrots, a lettuce blend, three varieties of kale, arugula, three varieties of radish, two varieties of turnips, basil, dill, cilantro and purple tomatillo. I chose the seeds in February, and it can be hard to stay controlled in choosing the seeds. I chose 102 varieties of seed, and I save 30 percent of my seeds.”

— Jessy Howarth (Southeast Gardens)

“Your basic items: potatoes, tomatoes, peas, rutabagas — all sorts of vegetables. If it is edible, we have had a go at it. We became rather adept at storing food either by canning, drying, salting, or root cellaring!”

— Everett Littlefield

First you can expect beets, chard, lettuce, and all types of brassicas like broccoli, kale, and cabbage. Soon to come after will be zucchini, summer squash and cucumbers. Later this summer we will have different varieties of tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, and even ground cherries. In late summer and early fall, we should have winter squash, and be able to plant lettuces again when temperatures cool off! This season my focus is on what has been most successful, in this particular plot, for the last two seasons.”

— Alicia Leone (Block Island Farming)

“This year I intend on kicking it up a notch! I selected interesting varieties, like foxglove, pincushion, dahlias, poppy, and cerinthe to pair with easier blooms like zinnias, cosmos, and rudbeckia. Everything is organically and sustainably grown! It has become extremely important for me to shift my lifestyle and reduce my carbon footprint and the flower industry has a big one. I saw an opportunity on the island to offer locally grown blooms.”

— Mimi Arnold (The Farmer Florist)

“The first to go in the ground are potatoes, usually in the last week of April to the first week of May. Early May we put in the cold hardy plants: kale, lettuces, broccoli, beets, spinach, radishes, swiss chard, and more. In mid-May it was carrots, basil, parsley, peppers, beans, and corn. The last to go in are the plants that prefer warmer weather: tomatoes, zucchini, squash, cucumbers, eggplant, butternut squash, and so on. My planting schedule depends more so on plant growth and strength as to when they are ready for outside island elements.”

— Seth Draper (1661 Farm and Gardens)

“We have fruit trees and a vegetable garden. I put in peas, strawberries, and potatoes. Garlic has been in since the fall. I usually start all my plants on my dining room table; [my son] Chase is using the table for schoolwork. The plants are now outside in a hoop house.”

— Heather Hatfield

“By August, all the plants are pumping out food and I find myself harvesting and prepping for market most days, trying to take some time for myself on Sunday afternoons. It’s exhausting work. Islanders know August is the final push to make money, and everyone is pretty burnt out by the end.”

— Kathryn Helterline (Green Gully Gardens)

“I had no idea when putting in my seed order this winter that circumstances would most likely be very different this coming season. It’s hard to know what to expect and how to best supply the island with fresh vegetables and flowers. I’ve decided to carry on as usual and have started all seedlings at the usual time. Regardless of possibly not having the regular flow of summer visitors, I do know that fresh organic food will be welcome by all that are here. As usual, I will be growing many flowers for bouquets, also. We all need fresh food and flowers.”

— Amy Keeler (Succotash Farm)

“Last summer was our first time operating as a ‘market-garden,’ and we sold primarily flowers and herbs, a project we got into after growing all of the flowers for our wedding in 2018. This season, in light of the pandemic, we are focusing on growing edibles over cut-flowers. I’m a big fan of baby greens, so we have baby kale, cutting chard, and cutting-lettuce mixes, along with specialties like wasabi-arugula, which is one of my favorites. Herbal staples like basil, oregano, and thyme are also growing, along with more niche herbs such as toothache plant and feverfew. Fun varieties of beets, carrots, and radishes are also in the mix, along with tomatoes and peppers, and many other veggies. Lastly, to touch on flowers, cut-flowers like sweet peas, delphiniums, and ‘everlastings,’ like strawflower, are growing. We interplant with marigolds, calendula, chamomile, and island-natives like yarrow and tansy, so even with a shift to focus on veggies, there will be flowers everywhere.”

— Molly Nolan (Little Island Garden)