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Cornell Master Gardeners Guide Growers In Westchester

From left, Master Gardeners Mark Gilliland, Pat McDonald and Peter Lee Waczek guide other gardeners at the Hastings Farmers Market.
From left, Master Gardeners Mark Gilliland, Pat McDonald and Peter Lee Waczek guide other gardeners at the Hastings Farmers Market. Photo Credit: Danny LoPriore

HASTINGS-ON-HUDSON, N.Y. - Peter Lee Waczek, Pat McDonald and Mark Gilliland can be found in front of the Hastings Public Library on selected summer days, the New York City skyline a backdrop as they as dispense tips on growing produce in the burbs.

"I've been a lifelong gardener, since being given my own spot in the family plot at age five," said Waczek, who co-owns Rivertowns Taxi in Hastings and gardens in his free time. "It grants the opportunity for a little bit of quiet and solace from all the cacophony of life."

The Master Gardener program is a volunteer service program. The Cornell Cooperative Extension Master Gardener Volunteer programs are managed individually by county associations. Volunteer training occurs at different intervals for each county. Counties select volunteers as needed through an application process from their pool of residents of that county.

The local trio of green thumbs who work the Hastings Farmers Market each graduated from the Cornell University Master Gardener program and are now volunteer tutors in the art of growing food.

Gilliland, who lives in Irvington, came to the Masters program so he could bolster his knowledge and share his love for gardening.

"I wanted to become a CCE Master Gardener to increase my knowledge and skills, but also to be able to share such with folks (the public) through various venues and out-reach projects," Gilliland said. "I also felt being involved with other Master Gardeners would be a great learning experience."

Waczek, who enjoys learning about wines, foods and sharing his avocation, said the farmers market is a prime location for garden talk.

"I was told about the Master Gardener program by my sister one day and she thought it would be perfect for my rather eclectic interests," Waczek said. "The farmers market offers a great social opportunity to interact with the public; the table questions and answers often become a collaborative dialog and if we can't answer the questions ourselves we can at least offer resources to find the right answers." Gilliland has a lifelong interest in the subject dating back to his childhood.

"I started gardening as a young kid (under tutelage of my mother)." Gilliland said. "Years later, in college I had roomfuls of houseplants in all of my apartments. Then, eventually, when I purchased a summer house upstate, in the mid 80's, I was able to have a dedicated gardening experience in my own yard."

Waczek said beginning gardeners should start with choosing the right plant for the right site because the number one reason plants don't thrive is because they are not suited for the light, soil or water conditions. "And in terms of vegetables and produce, one should grow what they like, and then be willing to experiment with some new things." Waczek said.

Gilliland said good gardeners can produce great results in a small patch of Westchester ground. He offered these tips to do "Square Foot" gardening in containers or raised beds:

  • Good soil with organic amendments and compost
  • Sufficient light (tomatoes require full sun - 6 to 8 hours/day for best results), enough water (esp. important to water deeply for root growth)
  • trellises (tomatoes, zucchini) to allow vertical growth

And he warns that suburban gardeners should guard against deer and other "foragers" by using fence or chicken wire.

Those interested in meeting the local Master Gardeners may visit the table at the Hastings Library during Saturday farmers markets from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

For more information on the Cornell University Master Gardeners program, log on to the organization's website.

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