When Marian Heller and her husband Richard had some health problems last year, they had to abandon the vegetable garden at their summer house in Pine Plains, N.Y. But this season, they're back at it in full force. "After Richard's stroke and my car accident last year, the garden became our therapy," says Marian. "We value it now more than ever before. It's hard work, but luckily we are still able to do it," she says.
Musicians at the Metropolitan Opera for much of the year, Marian and her husband spend most of their summer at this house, where they've been gardening since 1987. "We've always valued having a garden at our summer house, especially since we live in Manhattan most of the year," says Marian. "We have an 80x50-foot vegetable garden with raised beds where we grow a variety of crops such as peppers, tomatoes, beans, asparagus, Asian greens, soybeans, garlic, onions, potatoes and strawberries," she says.
Marian and Richard aren't just country gardeners. Marian starts many of her vegetable transplants in her apartment in Manhattan, usingthe APS Seedstarter. "We start tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and many flowers in our APS," she says. "It works so well that we've begun starting our seedlings later in spring because they grow so fast and are ready to go in the ground before the soil is warm." Starting seedlings in their apartment has therapeutic benefits as well. "Growing seedlings indoors helps us get through the bleak months of winter," she reflects.
Marian likes to experiment, and she has found a number of products that have helped her become a better gardener. This year, she's trying red plastic mulch on her tomatoes. "So far the tomatoes grown in the red mulch are fuller and more lush than the other plants," she says. She keeps the tomatoes upright with the Tomato Spirals. "When compared to wire cages, the tomatoes grown with the spirals are much easier to harvest," she says.
Because Marian and Richard travel back and forth from the city, they need products that help them care of their garden when they aren't around. "The Pro Weed Mats keep unwanted plant growth between the rows at bay so we don't spend all our time catching up with weeding," says Marian. She also uses Summerweight Fabric to help protect her plants from insect damage. "It helps keeps the flea beetles off my eggplant and basil and is an ideal shade cover for growing cool-season vegetables in midsummer."
Marian believes the most important factor in her gardening success is the soil. "We used to be so zealous about composting that we'd save scraps in Manhattan, and bring them on weekends to the summer house for composting," she says. Recently, she's become less obsessed, but is still a big fan of composting. She has usually maintains two piles: one that's cooking and one to add to. Plus, she has leaf mold compost piles from all the leaves she collects each fall. Marian uses the Super Hot Compost Starter to jump-start the leaf piles and help them decompose more quickly. All of her plants get a dose of this rich leaf mold compost each spring.
Over the years, Marian and Richard's gardens have provided them with a great deal of pleasure, and Marion felt the need to share some of that with others. For the past 5 years she has participated in the Garden Writers' Association Plant a Row for the Hungry program. She plants extra potatoes and beans to be donated to the local food shelf and brings other crops back to the city to share. "We have always shared our bounty with friends, but felt like we could help more people by working through the food shelf," says Marion. "It's great to know that this nutritious produce from our garden is being enjoyed by others less fortunate than us," she says.
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