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    Posted June 9, 2012 by
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    From garden to table

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    Herbs and Veggies and ... Groundhogs? Oh My!

    Although Long Island was witness to one of the mildest winters to date, the growing season here in the northeast does not typically kick off until the middle of May, when all threats of possible nighttime frost are behind us. The window of planting time is now underway, and so too is this assignment, for which I will check in periodically to report the successes and foibles of my culinary gardening endeavors.

    My kitchen garden space includes four plots in the backyard, as well as several pots. The first plantings are comprised of herbs. I use fresh herbs extensively in my cooking. Nothing beats the appearance and flavor of a finishing touch of sprinkled parsley over potato salad, basil over a pasta entrée or chives over mashed potatoes. I always grow an entire plot of basil and plenty of parsley to accommodate my pesto cravings. Rosemary makes for an aromatic and decorative focal point in a second garden plot, flanked by the chives that faithfully revisit the scene year after year, their purple blossoms attracting butterflies from their flight. Other herbs are relegated to lengthy pots that grace the railing around the deck just outside the kitchen door, making a snip of oregano here and a pluck of sage leaves there very convenient during cooking projects.

    Patience has never been one of my stronger virtues, thus my complete cold shoulder treatment toward seeds remains steadfast. I need instant gratification; I need to have an actual plant in view as inspiration for continued efforts. The one time I attempted to plant sunflowers from seed, the birds enthusiastically enjoyed their perceived snack. Thus, my garden is sowed exclusively with small plants.

    Gardening commences with a visit to the Peconic River Herb Farm, a full service nursery on the eastern North Fork of Long Island situated along the picturesque Peconic River. This particular venue offers an extensive array of unusual herb, vegetable and flower varieties. The final roster for this year’s kitchen garden includes parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, basil, oregano, mint, chives, cherry tomatoes, yellow tomatoes, beefsteak tomatoes, white eggplant, Ichiban eggplant, and bell peppers in red, yellow and purple.

    Being an avid gourmet cook who delves into epicurean projects that showcase a vast array of flavors from around the world, my preference for Italian cuisine has influenced much of the repertoire of selected edibles to include in the garden. I look forward to the prospect of grilled eggplant, roasted cherry tomatoes with chopped fresh oregano, chicken cutlets dressed in a blanket of pesto and pasta tossed with eggplant, peppers and tomatoes.

    Though visions of culinary delights dance in my head, to elaborate on my chosen title for this assignment, I must accept the unfortunate fact that others share in my eagerness to sample fresh produce. Our backyard borders several acres of preserved woodlands; consequently, neighbors in the form of groundhogs, chipmunks and rabbits are getting hungry. Every season the battle begins, the initial declaration of war already evident this year as I have discovered some nibbled leaves on the purple pepper plants. The progression of this year’s conflict will determine which direction this assignment shall take: will the focus highlight a victorious bounty, or will the groundhog take center stage as the star of my penned project when I catch him in the act of devouring my eggplants? This is yet to be continued.

    The epicurean garden finally planted, I can now turn some of my focus toward adding bursts of colorful summer blooms to liven various locations around the property. Planting is therapeutic, offering time for contemplation and reflection as the gardener becomes one with nature. The results are also beneficial, offering both an inviting and colorful environ in which to wile away some down time relaxing outdoors and the satisfaction of serving the freshest locally produced provisions from the garden to the family dinner table.
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