For rent or food, lawn caretakers save the day during the summer

NEW YORK (AP) — Take my card, please!

The season has come when many home gardeners, their numbers on the rise since the pandemic began, they are being rewarded with vegetables and flowers fully ripe and ready to pick. It’s also holiday season, and this summer travel is back.

How do you maintain your garden and take advantage of all the homegrown goodness during long trips? Even experienced gardeners can end up with more tomatoes, beans, and squash than they bargained for at the end of summer.

Yard keepers are one answer.

Some home gardeners hire professionals, while many just trust their neighbors and hope for the best.

“It’s very hard to leave the garden,” said Theresa Fiumano-Rhatigan, a longtime home gardener in Brooklyn. She relies on her parents and other close relatives as yard keepers during her five weeks each summer on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. “Nobody does it like me.”

Having an experienced caregiver who isn’t afraid to take control can help. Avoid a wrestling match of inexperienced neighbors and friends wandering around to pick out what they want with no care for the plants and no idea when to water.

“The first thing is to find a friend with a garden you like and make sure they’re willing to return the favor,” said Adam Choper, associate director of outdoor gardens and sustainable horticulture at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx.

He suggests walking your yard caretaker through the process beforehand to make sure things are done right. Installing sprinklers or soaker hoses will make things easier while you’re away. For container gardens, group containers in the shade so your plants don’t dry out as quickly if your vacation is only a week or two, Choper said. Some gardeners place containers in wading pools with water that a groundskeeper only needs to fill if necessary.

Chopper also recommends mulching before going outside for extended periods. This helps the soil conserve water and keeps weeds at bay.

For gardeners without trusted neighbors or loved ones, gardeners for hire abound on local online message boards or at nurseries and horticultural societies.

Rachel Mulkerin tends to about 3,000 square feet of garden space on her 9-acre property in Sherman, Connecticut, and has hired special needs helpers that she found through her mother, a former adult education teacher.

“It’s a tremendously beneficial arrangement for both parties,” he said.

Mulkerin uses about half of what she produces for herself and her family and gives the rest to those in need in her community.

Gardens have long offered a sense of security and comfort, so trusting them to others can be difficult, said Ambra Edwards, garden historian and co-author of “The Story of Gardening.”

Edwards, who works herself in rural Dorset, England, finds the holidays a respite from hard work, but she knows plenty of manic gardeners who can’t part.

“I have a friend in particular and she has to travel a lot. She travels the length and breadth of the country. And when she does, she takes from her all her vegetable plants, all her sweet peas and one particular myrtle in a pot given to her by a very dear friend, now deceased, and she loads them into the auto. They go with her. She is the snail that runs a house,” Edwards said.

Gardeners, generally speaking, share, and sharing vegetables while they’re away not only produces more after-picking, but also prevents tomatoes and other crops from rotting.

“Rotten tomatoes will make other tomatoes rot, and they smell bad, too,” Choper said.

Some vegetables, like cucumbers and zucchini, need to be picked so they don’t turn into monsters that aren’t as nice to eat.

A designated lawn caretaker can take what he wants and leave the rest on a front porch or at the end of a driveway after spreading the word of free fresh food.

Heather Grabin in Hampton, New Jersey, has 10 garden plots on her 40-acre property. She also owns a coffee shop in a town an hour away that doesn’t have access to much fresh produce. She uses her vegetables and herbs in her restaurant and sells some of her surplus there cheaply.

Grabin had to delay a three-week trip to California this year due to a new school schedule for her two children. When she and her family left, her tomatoes and zucchini were plentiful. With such an overwhelming amount, she went the contract nanny route.

“It’s different when you do it yourself and when you have to ask someone else to do it for you,” he said. He has been freezing everything fast. Its alot.”

Doug Guttenberg and his wife, Tal, grow herbs in their backyard and vegetables in a community garden just minutes from their home in Brooklyn. They also own a home in Detroit and spend a month in Michigan each summer. They entrust their Brooklyn plants to a neighbor, a fellow gardener, and know firsthand what happens without a babysitter after choosing to give up one last year.

“When we got back, the cucumbers had attacked everything,” Tal said. “It was like this cucumber tornado. It was a little crazy, and they didn’t even come to fruition. I mean, no cucumbers came out.”


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