09/29/13 2:30pm
09/29/2013 2:30 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | This Aquebogue home recently renovated by owner/builder Daniel Cartagena is on the market for $279,000.

Home-buying can be stressful for anyone. But for buyers shopping at the more affordable end of the North Fork price spectrum – say, under $300,000 – a slim inventory and a high-demand area can make the process even harder.

So what can one expect to find?

For one, competition.

“It’s a very popular slot price-wise,” said Pat Wilson with Colony Realty in Jamesport.

Second, be prepared to get your hands dirty.

“I would imagine there would be some work that would need to be done,” said Sheri Winter Clarry of Corcoran in Southold.

And third, understand that the house itself will likely be somewhat modest — but it will be yours.

“You’ll find a fairly decent starting house,” said Patrick Fedun with Fedun Real Estate in Aquebogue.

In addition to a North Fork market that’s inherently competitive due to its location, real estate overall appears to be on the rebound, making homes in the $300,000 area tough to come by.

Mr. Fedun added that, so far this year, “we’re pretty much back to normal with what’s going on with sales. If you look at what was going on five years ago, it’s pretty much the same.”

This year’s numbers to date tend to confirm this.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | The kitchen and living room of Mr. Cartagena’s house. In order to create an open floor plan, he added a steel beam between the two areas.

According to Suffolk Research Service, a real estate data tracking firm, median home values in Riverhead Town bottomed out last year, when the median price of a single-family home fell to $320,000. So far this year, it’s jumped to $349,000. In 2009, the median home price was $355,000.

The number of sales in the $150,000 to $300,000 range has picked up as well, particularly since the beginning of 2012.

Last year, 111 homes in that range were sold in Riverhead, well above the 74 sold in 2011. Through mid-August 2013, 68 homes priced at or under $300,000 had been sold. The median selling price in the range is up 3.8 percent this year over last.

“We’ve been incredibly busy this year,” Ms. Wilson said. “We started running in January and have been selling and showing since. I think we’ve had a hell of a year.”

Ms. Wilson is currently showing one home listed for $279,000. While most homes on that end of the overall real estate market can be expected to have some wear and tear, this three-bedroom, 1.5-bathroom ranch in Aquebogue was renovated by the owner and sports granite countertops, new appliances and more. It’s more the exception than the rule, however.

“Unfortunately, a majority are in horrendous shape,” Ms. Wilson said.

Many of those homes end up staying on the market for extended periods, she said, creating a cycle that makes it harder and harder for a first-time homebuyer — or any buyer in the price range — to invest their money, as neglected homes get no better over time. Some vacated short sales currently on the market have sat for over a year.

For first-time buyers, Suffolk County recently jump-started a program that offers up to $14,000 in down payment assistance for qualified individuals buying homes costing up to $333,000. Applicants have until the end of October to apply; as of Sept. 19 — less than three weeks after the county started taking applications — 64 people had applied. In total, the county is offering $500,000 in down payment assistance.

In the meantime, interest rates have risen more than a full percentage point from an all-time low of 3.38 percent about a year ago.

Aidan Wood, senior vice president with Bridgehampton National Bank, said he’s noticed more movement in purchases on the East End this year, as refinancing has slowed with rising interest rates.

Mr. Fedun echoed Mr. Wood’s sentiments.

“We’ve seen a good jump in [purchasing] interest because interest rates have gone up,” he said. “It’s encouraged people to buy a little bit. We’ll see where it goes.”

jpinciaro@timesreview.com

To see some examples of affordable homes on the market, northforker.com features regular North Fork real estate segments, Three Under 300K and Three Under 350K.

07/28/13 10:00am
07/28/2013 10:00 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | John and Boanne Wysoczanski’s pool at their Baiting Hollow home has the added feature of deck jets.

Own a pool and on the fence about replacing the pump this season? Consider purchasing a new energy-efficient model now — while the Long Island Power Authority’s rebate of up to $400 is, like the weather, still hot.

LIPA officials said they hope the new mail-in rebate offer will encourage pool owners to replace their single-speed pumps with Energy Star-rated equipment. The updated models operate more efficiently and at the lowest speed necessary to filter swimming pools.

Energy Star was established in 1992 as part of the Clean Air Act and is a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency voluntary program to promote energy conservation. Products earning an Energy Star label have been certified through tests conducted by EPA-recognized laboratories, according to Energy Star’s website.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | After the Wysoczanskis installed a new pool pump, they got a $400 rebate from LIPA.

A traditional pool pump’s motor speeds are typically unchangeable and are usually set higher than is required to circulate water and clear debris, LIPA officials said.

The authority is offering two different mail-in rebates: a $150 rebate for a two-speed pool pump and a $400 rebate for a variable-speed pump.

John Wysoczanski, owner of Islandia Pools in Riverhead, said he took LIPA up on its offer last week and installed a new pump in his own pool in Baiting Hollow.

“A lot more people are thinking about it because of the rebate,” he said. “It cuts down energy costs and cleans more efficiently. It’s a no-brainer.”

Mr. Wysoczanski, who sells Pentair pool pumps priced at least $1,500, said the newer machines use less energy by operating with a magnetic field device and should last between 10 and 15 years.

While energy-efficient pool pumps initially cost more, LIPA officials said customers will see a return on their investment from energy savings over the life of the unit.

LIPA spokeswoman Elizabeth Flagler said the new models “minimize energy consumption by up to 90 percent, are extremely quiet, provide maximum water flow and pay for themselves in five years.

“On average, an Energy Star-certified pool pump can save you over $160 per year,” she said.

LIPA began offering rebates in 1999, starting with compact fluorescent bulbs and commercial lighting. Ten years later, several other products were added to the list, including photovoltaics in 2000. One of the newest products for which LIPA is offering in-store rebates is LED bulbs, Ms. Flagler said. She added that LIPA is working to incentivize other products, including energy-efficient clothes dryers.

In addition to the current pool pump rebate program, LIPA is offering $40 to $75 rebates for air conditioners, $40 for dehumidifiers and $50 to $100 for refrigerators. All appliances must also be Energy Star-rated.

LIPA’s pool pump rebate applies only to residential pools and there’s a limit of four rebates per LIPA customer. Purchases must be made between Jan. 1 and Nov. 30 and must be installed by a participating dealer in order to qualify. Rebate checks will be processed within six to eight weeks.

For more information about LIPA’s pool pump rebate program, click here.

jennifer@timesreview.com

07/21/13 2:30pm
07/21/2013 2:30 PM

COURTESY PHOTO | Brian Kelly of East End Tick Control counting ticks after ‘flagging’ a customer’s yard.

After servicing a pool in Wading River last week, Sean Lanigan of Lanco Pool Services found himself covered in ticks, a surprise to him since he’d been in the customer’s backyard only a few minutes.

“They were so hard to find, you didn’t even realize they were ticks. You think it’s a piece of dirt until you see it’s moving on your finger,” Mr. Lanigan said. “I had about 20 all over me.”

This, apparently, is the new normal on the East End.

“Tick numbers are significantly higher on Eastern Long Island from what they were two decades ago, and lone star [ticks], in particular, appear to be spreading westward,” said Daniel Gilrein, an entomologist at Cornell Cooperative Extension.

Lone star ticks are in their nymph stage this time of year, meaning they are very tiny and difficult to see, explained Brian Kelly, owner of East End Tick Control, which services homes across the East End.

This season, he said, the ticks are out in “unbelievable” numbers, making it important to safeguard yourself and your home.

COURTESY PHOTO | Lone star ticks are in their nymph stage at this time of the season.

The experts say homeowners can take a number of steps to safeguard their yards – beginning with what’s called “flagging for ticks,” to see if there are concentrations of ticks on a property — and where they’re located.

To flag for ticks, simply take a white sheet and attach it to a stick, as you would a flag to a pole, Mr. Gilrein said.

“Something with a bit of nap would be best,” he said, like corduroy. “Perhaps flannel would be a good alternative”

Slowly drag the flag across the lawn and bush edges — wherever you think the ticks might be — and then turn it over to see how many ticks the flag picked up.

“Sometimes it’s just a couple, sometimes maybe 50 to 60 ticks,” Mr. Kelly said.

The ticks will stand out against the light-colored fabric.

Mr. Kelly recommends wearing high rubber boots with pants legs tucked in while flagging. Use a good repellent as well, he said.

Lots of ticks means it’s time to clean up the yard, the experts say. Start by removing leaves, brush and weeds from the lawn’s edge and the home’s perimeter. If you have swings or play sets, pull them away from the property’s edge, and at least 15 feet from any woods. Be sure to clean up any brush around children’s play areas.

If possible, restrict use of ground cover vegetation – like pachysandra and ivy, Mr. Kelly said. Mice and chipmunks, which often carry ticks, use those areas to feel protected.

“It almost turns into a tick condominium,” Mr. Kelly said.

“Trimming your trees and letting sunlight on your lawn makes a big difference with the ticks,” he added.

While Mr. Gilrein warns that lone star ticks like both sunny and shaded areas — unlike deer ticks, which tend to hang out in the shade — both say keeping the lawn cut short is important.

If homeowners are still having trouble keeping tick populations down after sprucing up their properties, Mr. Kelly said there both synthetic and organic insecticide options are available.

Synthetic options usually last about 30 days, he said, while organic options tend to take out the ticks only at the time of the application.

Mr. Lanigan said he checks himself every time he leaves a customer’s yard now, and that he also often finds ticks inside boots.

“I’ve caught about 60 ticks on me so far this year, and normally I have 10 the whole year,” Mr. Lanigan said. “I would get your backyard sprayed.”

He added that even though you might leave a property tick-free, that doesn’t necessarily mean man’s best friend is OK.

“Don’t forget to check your dogs, too,” he said.

cmiller@timesreview.com

06/30/13 7:00am
06/30/2013 7:00 AM

RACHEL YOUNG PHOTO | Polly Weigand, executive director of the Long Island Native Plant Initiative, preps little bluestem, big bluestem and switchgrass for commercial sale with Chris McHugh, an LINPI technician.

Centuries ago, before the onset of industrialization, wild plants and grasses grew freely across all Long Island, decorating the landscape and providing sustenance for local wildlife. Things are drastically different now, of course.

Much of the region’s original landscape has been replaced by housing developments and shopping centers and, in those areas, plants from across the globe have been planted and take shape each spring. Meanwhile, native plants and grasses have become harder to find.

The Long Island Native Plant Initiative, however, is working to make the hunt for indigenous plants a bit easier.

“We go out and collect the seeds from wild populations of native plants that are common on Long Island to provide the plant material for the industry to grow,” says Polly Weigand, executive director of the Hampton Bays-based organization, which was founded in 2005 and advocates for the propagation of native plant genotypes.

Ms. Weigand, who is also a soil technician for the Suffolk County Soil and Water Conservation District, says planting native species is crucial to protecting local biodiversity.

“Wildlife need these plants in order to survive,” she says. “If everyone was able to implement native plants into their landscapes, that would provide habitats for the small animals that depend on them. From an environmental perspective, it’s also important to plant [native plants] because they don’t require fertilizer or supplemental irrigation.”

Below, Ms. Weigand shares her picks for the three best-selling native plants and grasses, along with two more unusual varieties.

BEST SELLERS

Butterfly weed: “It’s not a weed, despite the name,” Ms. Weigand says. “It’s a milkweed that likes dry areas. The butterfly weed has bright orange flowers and people are attracted to it because of its form and its flowers. Its vegetation is the host plant for monarch butterflies when they’re in the caterpillar phase.”

Joe-pye weed: Also not a weed. “People like this one because it attracts butterflies and pollinators,” Ms. Weigand says. “It has a striking pink flower and it also provides a very good habitat for wildlife and birds. The joe-pye weed tolerates a wide range of soil types and it gets up to six feet tall. It’s showy and dramatic.”

Big blue stem: “It’s a tall bunch grass and it has a beautiful flower that looks like an upside down turkey foot,” Ms. Weigand says. “Big blue stems have green foliage that has a beautiful purplish-blue tint to it. The bunched grass itself will get three to four feet high and then the flowers will come out the top.”

UNUSUAL VARIETIES

Stiff aster: “It has very rigid foliage and narrow green leaves,” Ms. Weigand says. “The stiff aster has a beautiful purple flower with light yellow in the center. It’s shorter than the New England aster and has a different form. The stiff aster is native to the East End and likes dry places.”

Maryland golden aster: “Don’t be fooled by the name,” Ms. Weigand says. “This flowering plant is local and has fuzzy leaves shaped like rosettes. It produces beautiful, striking yellow flowers. It provides wildlife benefits, and it’s one people have probably never seen in the nursery industry. When you see it blooming, it’s a show-stopper.”

ryoung@timesreview.com

06/23/13 8:30am
06/23/2013 8:30 AM

MICHAEL WHITE PHOTO | The Rev. Sean Murray of Riverhead turns improperly prepared ‘hot mulch’ in hopes of oxidizing and salvaging the delivery of ground wood chips. He realized the mulch was burning his plants a few hours into spreading it in his flower beds.

The Rev. Sean Murray is not only a man of God, he says he’s also “a bit of a gardening maniac,” who’s been at it for some 20 years.

And so, he laments, he should have known something was amiss on a recent Friday morning when six yards of mulch delivered to his house gave off an unusual, acidic smell, something like vinegar.

“I just figured I was in a new place,” said the Rev. Murray, who moved to Riverhead earlier this year from Syosset to become the spiritual leader at First Congregational Church on East Main Street.

But it wasn’t the North Fork or its trees that created the smell, which was unfamiliar and unlike the mulch he’d been used to spreading around his property over the years in Nassau County.

The delivery to the Rev. Murray’s Riverhead house was what’s known as in the industry as “hot mulch.” Referred to on a Cornell University Department of Horticulture website entry as “sour mulch,” the terms refer to mulch that hasn’t been prepared or stored properly, causing excess liquids or gases to form.

And, university staffers warn on gardening.cornell.edu, it “can kill your plants if you’re not careful.”

“Once you’ve spread sour mulch on your plants, there isn’t much you can do,” reads a Cornell website entry on sour mulch. “[The plants] may recover on their own after being set back some. But removing the mulch seldom helps once the damage is done.”

MICHAEL WHITE PHOTO | Although this lamium malculatum, commonly called a spotted dead nettle, appears to be ‘living up to its name,’ says the Rev. Sean Murray, it has shown signs it will rebound from exposure to hot mulch.

“This is the first time I’d seen something like this,” the Rev. Murray said during a recent tour of his property. “It kills me, man.”

Nancy Orientale, vice president of Sound Side Landscape in Southold, said mulch that isn’t fresh would quickly be identified as such by most professionals.

“I would say that it’s probably something limited to a homeowner experience,” she said. “Mulch catches fire all the time due to high nitrogen levels in it. It’s supposed to sit for a time and get turned. It’s like a dog urinating on a lawn and it turns brown.”

And it’s not as if the mulch has no hope for a future of sprucing up a garden, Ms. Orientale added.

“It’s really just mulch that hasn’t completed the process of breaking down,” she said. “Where all it needs is good old-fashioned oxygen that would balance out all those elements. We’re very attuned to the mulch, and if it doesn’t pass the smell test, we wouldn’t lay it down.”

Ken Kraus is the owner of Island Bio Greens, a Riverhead company that offers organic soil enrichment services. Before he got into the business he owned a hotel and restaurant.

And he, too, has encountered hot mulch.

“I’ve had personal experiences where I’ve also burned plants,” he said. “The mulch should certainly smell right and earthy,” and not biting or pungent.

“You put down mulch more for the aesthetics and color,” he said. “So knowing that, you want to apply it judiciously and carefully and not have it sit on plants. Even if you plan on watering these plants it’s always good to have a bit of room for some water to penetrate.”

Last week, the Rev. Murray inventoried his losses. The mulch burned a sage, two garuas, two creeping phlox plants and several annuals, including begonias and petunias, with some plants still hanging on.

“In spite of what seems a bit like a prolonged death march, I’m trying to remain optimistic,” he said.

After noticing his plants were being fried the day he was laying down his mulch, he scurried to the Web and found the Cornell informational page. He followed directions and pulled the mulch back from dozens of plants. Then he watered to wash away the acidity.

He called the vendor about the bad mulch, but never heard back after leaving messages. The reverend said he’s not looking to hurt anyone’s business, but contacted the paper so he could help his neighbors avoid batches of bad mulch before it’s too late.

“Most of the people I’ve spoken with were completely unfamiliar with the problem,” he said. “I want to help others avoid such heartbreak.”

Should other home gardeners end up in the same boat, standing in their gardens at a loss for what to do, the Rev. Murray offers this godly advice:

“In order to turn things around in our lives, we repent. In order to turn things around in our gardens, we replant.”

mwhite@timesreview.com

06/09/13 10:00am
06/09/2013 10:00 AM

COURTESY PHOTO  |  Floyd Memorial Library opened in 1917 on First Street. The stone building was donated by Grace Floyd, whose grandfather William Floyd was a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

The architecture of Greenport illustrates the village’s growth from its pre-Revolutionary beginnings through its heyday as a commercial whaling center into a modern-day working waterfront that serves locals and visitors alike.

After the Revolutionary War, the village was called Green Hill — named for its expansive marshland and a hill located near present-day Greenport Yacht and Ship Building. The hill was leveled at the turn of the century to fill in the marsh that would become the incorporated village.

Lacking the natural materials to make their own, residents relied on bricks shipped from Europe to build the foundation of the village’s earliest homes until the discovery of clay, according to local historian Carlos DeJesus.

Many buildings were even floated into Greenport, village historian Gail Horton said.

Today, Greenport’s historic district consists of 254 wood-framed structures, a mix of residential and commercial, laid out in a fan shape from the village’s Main Street waterfront business district.

Vernacular, Greek revival, Italianate, Queen Anne and Victorian styles were among the most popular home designs.

COURTESY PHOTO | The Metro Theatre was a popular attraction in Greenport during the early 1900s.

“The architecture of this village is fascinating,” Ms. Horton said. “You can walk around and really see the past in the housing. You can tell what people did for a living.”

Turn-of-the-century dwellings occupied by the working class are typically found on cross-streets near Carpenter Street. Most are small, simply designed homes sited close to the street on deep, narrow lots.

The village’s official jailhouse was also located on Carpenter Street. The jail was nicknamed the Greenlight Hotel because a green light was turned on out front when the jail was occupied. While no longer used in any official capacity, the brick building still stands at 232 Carpenter St.

Members of Greenport’s rising merchant class built their homes on Bay Avenue. They favored the Italianate style, which features decorative molding, often in a floral motif, and open front porches with tapered square columns.

Main Street was where wealthy captains constructed grand, impressive houses. At one point the road was called High Street or Captain’s Walk after the stately homes. It even held the name Murray Hill — a reference to the upscale Manhattan neighborhood.

An example of the upper-class-style house is the Ebenezer W. Case House at 527 Main St. Mr. Case resided there through the mid-1800s. The two-story house is a vintage Victorian with a side bay window and a double front door.

Sterling Street was also the site of prominent homes. Built in 1835, the waterfront residence at 162 Sterling was home to the president of New York City Fire Insurance Co. The house, set on spacious grounds, has several unique features, including a Palladian style window in the front gable and wood fanlight carving in the gable.

Many of the multi-room houses in the village were later transformed into bed-and-breakfasts.

Today, Greenport’s Historic Preservation Commission keeps a watchful eye on its oldest residences, and has even published a pamphlet, “Recommendations for Homeowners,” as a guide for protecting the historic integrity of the buildings.

cmurray@timesreview.com

06/02/13 8:30am
06/02/2013 8:30 AM

VILLAGE OVERHEAD DOORS COURTESY PHOTO | Multiple garages with custom doors made of western red cedar.

Garage doors are getting a high-end makeover on the North Fork.

No longer satisfied with having their garages look like everyone else’s, some local homeowners are shelling out thousands of dollars for custom-made wooden, glass or steel carriage garage doors.

Wally Voegel, owner of Doorworks Garage Door Service in Mattituck, said wealthy clients are veering away from the vinyl and steel look that’s been standard in new home construction for decades.

“Wood is where you find your more expensive products,” said Mr. Voegel, who has worked in the industry for 20 years. “Usually we end up with mahogany, cedar or teak. They’re higher quality woods that hold up well in weather conditions and don’t rot out as quickly as pine.”

Mr. Voegel said custom doors at his store cost upwards of $8,000 or $9,000 — a hefty price tag, but one wealthier clients are willing to pay.

“Nothing looks prettier than cedar or mahogany when it’s stained,” Mr. Voegel said.

Aesthetics aside, wooden doors still require upkeep to look their best. They need to be painted or stained every couple years, said Steve Hall, owner of Village Overhead Doors in Southold.

Rain and snow can also rot the doors.

VILLAGE OVERHEAD DOORS COURTESY PHOTO | A contemporary-style garage with a frosted glass door.

“Out here on Long Island, wooden doors have to be maintained to a high level because of the dampness,” Mr. Hall said. “You can’t let moisture get into the wood.”

Homeowners who want the look of a wooden door without the maintenance are in luck. Steel carriage doors, which look like wood but are made with vinyl overlays, have become very popular. Less costly than custom wooden doors, steel carriage doors lend rustic charm by appearing to swing open like barn doors.

“You get the look of a custom wood door without the maintenance,” Mr. Hall said. “That’s what I put on my garage.”

“They’re less expensive than wooden doors and you don’t have to paint them,” added Robert Elmore, owner of Titan Overhead Doors in Cutchogue.

Mr. Elmore said there are too many variables in the construction of steel carriage doors to estimate an average cost, but he said a custom stained mahogany garage door can cost as much as $15,000. At Mr. Hall’s shop, a steel carriage door costs roughly $3,000.

Of course, not everyone wants wooden or steel carriage doors. For a modern look that offers more natural light, some homeowners are going with glass. Mike Kontokosta, an attorney who owns Kontokosta Winery in Greenport, had Titan Overhead Doors install glass doors on a three-car garage at his Water Mill home two weeks ago.

“They complement the house, which is very modern,” Mr. Kontokosta said. “They’re cool doors. They give the house a more contemporary look and feel.”

Some garage doors fall outside the scope of the ordinary. Mr. Voegel said he once installed a door completely covered in stainless steel at a Shelter Island home.

“It looked like a giant silver refrigerator,” he said.

Most East End homeowners, however, take a more conventional and budget-friendly approach to their garages.

Bill, a sales specialist in the millwork department at the Riverhead Lowe’s who asked to be identified by his first name only, said one of the store’s bestselling garage doors is the 500 Series, a steel door with two inches of insulation that costs around $290.

Whether someone pays a little or a lot, one thing is certain: aesthetically, garage doors are as important to a home as paint, siding or windows.

“Changing your garage doors is one of the largest single things you can do to the appearance of your house,” Mr. Hall said. “It’s relatively inexpensive and can change the whole appearance of the house.”

ryoung@timesreview.com

04/28/13 8:00am
04/28/2013 8:00 AM

COURTESY PHOTO | There’s no need for a big investment of space to grow fruits and vegetables out of season.

Forget just going green, now it’s all about staying green.

A hoop house, a smaller version of a greenhouse, allows gardeners to enjoy fresh, 100 percent organic produce even during the coldest months of the year. Twenty years after Peconic resident Renato Stafford began growing his own produce that way, others are following the trend and eating what they cultivate.

Using a 12-by-20-foot dugout-style hoop house, Mr. Stafford harvests homegrown spinach, tomatoes, garlic and lettuce fresh from his backyard.

“Anyone with any level of interest can do it,” he said. “The big trend is local and there is nothing more local than your own backyard.”

Greenhouses have long been used by farmers to jump-start summer seedlings in early spring. Hoop houses similarly allow the growing of fruits and vegetables off season.

COURTESY PHOTO | A hoop house shows the semipermanent nature of year-round cultivation, with a center trench that allows a gardener to cultivate without constantly bending over.

Dugout-style hoop houses are the most efficient way to grow year-round, Mr. Stafford said. This type of hoop house setup involves digging out a center trench to put planting beds at waist level, which eliminates the need to bend over to maintain crops.

Another option for year-round farming is a cold frame hoop house, which is similar to the dugout-style but lacks a trench. Cold frames require less work to install and provide similar protection from adverse weather. Both types of structure must be positioned in areas with plenty of sunlight and, if possible, relatively little wind, Mr. Stafford said.

The right approach varies depending on the gardener.

“There are many levels of making these things,” he said. “Some people might want a simple cold frame in their backyard or build an elaborate one. Some people want to put herbs in a pot. Just find what’s right for you and get growing.”

Regardless of the enclosure’s design, successful planting begins with the proper soil — and Mr. Stafford recommends using homemade compost. Compost can contain any organic material including leaves, manure, branches, even seaweed, fish or shellfish.

But compost can take anywhere from eight months to a year to form, so Mr. Stafford advises anyone who wants to get started immediately to purchase organic soil from a reputable company.

Contrary to popular belief, all-season gardening requires less maintenance than summer vegetable gardening, he said. Weeds are a common problem for all gardeners, of course, but using a hoop house, where seeds are planted in compact rows, mitigates the concern.

“When I plant in rows I know everything between is a weed and I can easily yank them out while they’re small,” he said.

Novices are encouraged to plant a variety of crops at first and to customize their garden.

“Focus on the food you want to eat,” Mr. Stafford said. “I have a big Italian family, so I grow two to three hundred pounds of garlic every year.”

The benefits of eating garden-fresh greens are many. From a health standpoint , homegrown produce has more minerals and contains no synthetic pesticides, he said.

“The benefit is you know what’s going into your food,” he said. “You can’t buy that anywhere, at any price.”

Other payoffs include a lower grocery bill and the satisfaction of a hard day’s work. “When you eat your own homegrown food it is so different from anything you can buy in the store,” he said.

Mr. Stafford founded his business, Homegrown, three years ago to share his longtime passion for growing organic foods. Rather then sell his produce, Mr. Stafford said his business focuses on education. For nearly a decade he has taught clients how to grow their own food and more recently began constructing customized hoop houses. For more information on year-round growing, visit homegrownorganic.net   or call 631-514-5315.

cmurray@timesreview.com