STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — The borough’s own “Glam Gardener” Aly Stoffo encourages cultivating a garden at home. Even in a small apartment on a sunny sill, the project is doable, says the outdoor education specialist who works in the dirt — and keeps it Mother Earth glamourous.
As a crafter of herbal products made from locally cultivated plants, Stoffo promotes the do-it-yourself approach to harvesting food. Garden-starting tips from Stoffo are listed below.
NYC’s own “Glam Gardener” will be featured at the Staten Island Museum, Livingston, on Earth Day, Saturday, April 22, for the “Vulnerable Landscapes” show, open to the public from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Her portrait is highlighted in the presentation, a piece painted by Sarah Yuster. Yuster is one of 11 artists featured by the Museum.
Here are her suggestions.
Vegetable and herb plantings in the window. (Advance File Photo/Beth Nakamura)
1.) Kick off indoors.
Stoffo prods, “What do you want to grow? This is going to depend on your expertise as a gardener and the space that you have. If you have a small indoor space and you’re new to this, try planting common herbs like basil, cilantro, and mint as they are all easy-to-grow plants that can survive on a kitchen counter or in an outdoor space.”
Seeds for the planting (Advance File Photo)
2.) Get your seeds on.
Stoffo says, “You can buy seeds from anywhere like Dollar Tree, Home Depot, or Amazon. But first try a local outfit like one of our many nurseries or the Hudson Valley Seed Co. Not only do they have local-specific breeds of plants, but you’ll find some unique herbs, flowers, and veggies that you may never have known.”
Another pro tip, she points out: know the difference between annuals and perennials. Annuals last only one season. If you have an in-ground space, consider perennials which are plants that will come back every year.
Basil in a well-drained pot with a water catch. (Staten Island Advance File Photo)
4.) Pick a sunny spot.
If growing in the house or apartment, she says, designate a sunny spot for indoor seedlings for the next four, six or eight weeks. No grow light is necessary.
She adds, “Look for a bright spot near a window and since your planters will have drainage holes, consider a catchment tray so when you water, water doesn’t get all over your furniture or flooring.”
A space-saving garden for indoors or outdoors (Courtesy of Harvi Gardens)
5.) Pick thy planter.
Not all planters are alike, Stoffo maintains.
“Keep in mind that the containers you start your seedlings in are not the containers they will live in as adults! So avoid ceramic or metal — and all other non-malleable containers — and opt for a biodegradable cardboard or plastic container,” she coaches.
The Glam Gardener adds, “You shouldn’t start any plants in a container that is larger than 3 x 3 inches. Small is good for seedlings so they can build a sturdy root structure.”
Labeling herbs (Staten Island Advance File Photo)
6.) Every plant has a name.
Do not forget to label containers with what’s growing inside of them.
James Hannah explains how he uses a cold frame to keep his seedlings like these basil seedlings safe during cold spring days and nights in Tottenville. (Staten Island Advance File Photo)
7.) Use moist soil.
“Seeds like to live just below the surface of soil — no more than one inch, and even that’s too much for small seeds like oregano! So fill your container with only moist soil,” says Stoffo.
She further notes, “Beginner gardeners mess up the planting process in one of two ways: they plant one seed per container or pour the whole envelope of 100 seeds in. I recommend putting three seeds per container in the moist dirt to ensure that you will get one viable plant from at least one of the three.”
Another pro-tip: research the germination rate of the seeds slated for planting. For example, with basil a grower is more likely to get a plant from each seed, as opposed to lavender that has a much lower germination rate.
Stoffo illustrates, “So in my lavender containers I will put more than three seeds.”
Water well without over-saturating soil. (Advance File Photo/Chris M. Worrell)
9.) Water, wait and watch.
“Seeds are ‘smart’… and the strongest usually survive,” says Stoffo.
“But if you find your containers are crowded with sprouts, feel free to pick some of the smaller ones after about three weeks of sprouting, so the plant can give the most energy to the strongest spouts, she says.
Stoffo concludes, “Celebrate mid-spring by transferring them outdoors in ground or larger containers.”
Pamela Silvestri is Advance Food Editor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.