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River and Roots Community Garden gets ready for spring

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In the aftermath of Sandy, River and Roots Community Garden’s soil gets a clean bill of health; garden members roll up their sleeves and get ready to work to put River and Roots back together.

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Even though it’s still cold outside, gardening season is upon us.

As of March 17, our temperature zone was ready for direct sowing peas, a St. Patrick’s Day tradition for many gardeners. Next week we will be ready to put lettuce, beets, carrots, radish, onions sets, peas and swiss chard seeds in the ground as well.

River and Roots community gardeners are excited to get going. We have another fabulous crew, with some originals and some new faces. I know we’ll have a successful year by the river. But, we’ve got lots to do.

You may remember the garden took a beating when Sandy tore through our area. The storm surge moved beds around the garden, reducing a few to splintered messes. A tremendous evergreen tree was wrenched from the ground, amazingly missing the fence. Our shed was a disaster. Two seasons worth of donated and purchased books, paper records of our 2012 season, and numerous supplies had to be thrown on the garbage heap.

Our gardeners really stepped up and arrived at the garden last fall en masse. We picked, moved, pulled, trimmed and chopped. Though the garden appears to be almost back to normal, garden organizers spent the winter worrying.

When the Peconic River receded, River and Roots was left with an oily, slimy sheen. The shed bore the water line and the area below the line required soap, water and some serious scrubbing to remove the filth. We knew that all the businesses around the garden had seen their basements flood and we were very concerned about what may have leeched out of them and into the waters that had overwhelmed the garden.

2013 0323 garden post sandy 1Best-case scenario saw us rebuilding some raised beds, looking for new shelving and supplies for the shed, and finding someone to grind up the large stump in our picnic area (Jim Dreeben of Peconic Paddler came in after the storm, like a knight in shining armor with a chainsaw, and cut up the tree itself.) Perhaps we can get Carrick tree service to come take a look!

Worst-case scenario: a soil test would show that our garden was contaminated and the dirt would have to be remediated. That would require removing all the soil and bringing in new dirt. A lot of it. Some of you may remember that our initial compost donation from Long Island Compost consisted of 60 cubic yards, or for the visual amongst us, two tremendous container trucks of dirt.

Needless to say, it’s been an anxious off-season. Amy reached out to Miller Environmental and discussed our issue. This past week, they generously donated their services and tested our soil. Much to our great relief, our garden passed with flying colors. River and Roots is now ready to go! Sort of.

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We still have that “best case scenario” to work on and that means rebuilding a few beds. Once again, Cornell Cooperative Extensions Department of Family Health and Wellness has come through for River and Roots. The “Creating Healthy Places in Suffolk County” grant is covering the cost of the wood we need to construct beds.

CCE has also gifted us with an item that’s been on our wish list since we started this crazy dream: individual drip irrigation for each bed. We anticipate the irrigation helping to keep down diseases that thrive when plants are not watered consistently. It’s going to allow our gardeners more time to focus on other issues (like weeding!) and remove a burdensome chore. And the best part is that Lindsay Irrigation is doing the work for just the cost of supplies.

You may have noticed that we are so very, fabulously blessed to be the recipients of such generosity from the many wonderful people, organizations, elected officials and businesses in our community. They have all proven what a worthy project this is and helped River and Roots epitomize “community” gardening. We are humbled by the support we have received. We are driven by a dream realized.

Now, let’s get to work! The wood will be delivered in the next few days and we’ll be calling out our gardeners to do some building. Once that’s done, we can reset all the beds in proper alignment and have the irrigation installed. After that, let the planting begin! And keep an eye out, we have some exciting stuff planned for River and Roots this season.

While we wait for the ground to warm up, I plan to make this great recipe with the potatoes that came in my last winter vegetable share from the Golden Earthworm Organic Farm CSA. I stumbled upon it in Mother Earth News about a year ago and haven’t purchased a fried potato since. (It turns out the Belgians created this delicacy and are quite touchy about calling them “french” fries.)

Homemade Belgian Frites Recipe


Starchy potatoes
Frying oil (Traditionally, Belgians used beef tallow, but any oil with a high smoking point will work, e.g., canola, safflower, grapeseed, sunflower and peanut oils.)
Salt, to taste


1. Peel potatoes and hand-cut them into sticks at least 1/2-inch thick. (I don’t peel them, that’s too much work to suit my lazy nature. They come out fine with the skin and are better for you this way.)

2. Rinse potatoes to remove excess starch, then pat dry.

3. Begin heating enough oil in a deep fryer or skillet deep enough to submerge a couple of handfuls of fries. When the temperature reaches 320 degrees Fahrenheit, put in a couple of handfuls — but no more — so as not to cool the oil too much.

4. Fry for 5 to 8 minutes, depending on the thickness and the kind of potatoes, gently shaking the pan or deep fryer cage to prevent sticking.

5. Empty the fries into a large bowl lined with paper towels and let them cool down for half an hour.

6. Increase the oil heat to 375 degrees, and refry the fries for 2 to 3 minutes, until they’re crispy and golden brown.

7. Serve with salt, mayonnaise and a beer … the Belgian way!


RiverheadLOCAL file photos by Emil Breitenbach Jr.

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Laurie Nigro is a mother of two, wife of a gardener, and co-founder of River and Roots Community Garden. Laurie resides downtown and though she came to gardening by accident, has welcomed it into her life.

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