Garden Guru for Hamptons Residents and Restaurants
by Jamee Gregory
Dine at ever-popular Nick & Toni’s in East Hampton, Estia’s Little Kitchen in Sag Harbor, or Southfork Kitchen in Bridgehampton, and it’s easy to taste the difference that freshly gathered, organic ingredients make. These restaurants entrust their kitchen plots to vegetable gardener Jeff Negron, who shares his message and his magic throughout the Hamptons, ever conscious of the energy he conserves by bicycling from one job location to the next.
A Darien, Connecticut native, Negron arrived in Sag Harbor seven years ago, after working in the plant business and studying floral design. He labored at Beds and Borders in Laurel and Sag Harbor’s Summerhill Landscapes before deciding it was time for a change; his passion for healthy, locally grown produce determined his direction. Negron launched his kitchen garden design and management business in 2009; he was determined to help individual and retail clients create and maintain their own edible patches that provide ingredients all season long.
“I am lucky to play in other people’s backyards,” Negron says. “My business grew from word of mouth.” He lectures and works with Bridge Gardens and public and private schools, and he received a grant from Slow Food East End and the Joshua Levine Memorial Foundation to help expose more people in the area to the joy of vegetable gardening.
Originally he kept his clients within a five-mile radius, carrying tools and seeds on his bike. Today, his biggest project sits on half an acre, at Tom Colicchio’s Topping Rose House inn and restaurant, which opens in Bridgehampton later this summer. At the garden, he uses no pesticides: “It’s the only base model I know.”
If you’ve ever dreamt of owning an East End vegetable garden bountiful enough to feed your family or stepping outside your door to cut fresh herbs just before dinner, Negron, the pied piper of growing your own edibles, can make that wish a reality. He suggests first testing your soil with Cornell University Cooperative Extension. If all is clean, a family of four should allocate a 15-by-4-foot plot to garden and plant seeds—it’s slower but more rewarding.
The impatient can buy seedlings from Water Mill’s Halsey’s Green Thumb Organic Farm. Start with arugula, beans, lettuce, and radishes; avoid tomato varieties other than cherry because of late blight. Use compost and Espoma Plant-tone fertilizer, and mix vegetables with decorative and beneficial plants, like nasturtium, calendula, borage, marigolds, chamomile, rue, and comfrey. Design is important; consider balance, access, harmony, structure, and color. Also be sure to protect the project from deer and rabbits, using three-foot fences, applications of liquid deer fence, and motion-activated sprinklers.
“I want kids to understand the principles, learning to grow what they need to eat,” says Negron of the importance of his work. “It connects and nurtures them. Food is the next revolution.”The Growing Seed, 655-3031
photography by Eric Striffler