Four years ago, Tom Colicchio, the venerable chef, restaurateur and host of Top Chef, started a garden outside his home in Long Island. Now, Colicchio loves spending summer days in the dirt; pulling weeds, planting seedlings and harvesting fruits and vegetables to cook for his family.
While tending to his garden has become a passion, Colicchio doesn't consider himself an expert. Here are five things Tom Colicchio has learned (so far) while gardening.
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A garden is never finished.
While Colicchio is always stretched for time, he spends as much of it gardening as he can—because gardening is never over. “If I have the whole day and I know I have to get a certain amount done, I can spend the morning, afternoon and evening out there tinkering and harvesting,” he explains. “The process is constant, it doesn’t stop and that’s what I like about it. It’s never finished. And the results are great—I get to cook everything that I grow.”
Gardening is healthy.
“Gardening is really relaxing and it's good for me, both mentally and physically,” he says. “The first summer I did it, I lost 20 lbs. The practice of working in the dirt, there’s just something about it. There are a lot of beneficial qualities of just quieting your mind. The only negative part is it cuts into my fishing time.”
The options for what you can grow are endless.
“All of it’s work, but there’s no particular plant that’s more difficult than any other,” he explains. “Right now I have snow peas, beans, carrots, onions, radishes, beets and lettuces all in the ground. We grow four or five different varieties of tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers as well, along with leeks, kale and brussels sprouts. In terms of fruits, I have raspberries, gooseberries, currants, blackberries and melons at the moment. My garden has really become an absolute passion.”
When in doubt, just pickle it.
While Colicchio uses as much of his garden’s yield as possible when it's at its freshest, he also preserves certain vegetables to enjoy later in the year. “I’ll pickle a lot of things for the fall and winter, like carrots, beets and cucumbers,” he says. “I’ll process and jar tomatoes too. The goal is to use everything I can and then give away what we won’t use.”
It takes bugs a year to discover your plants.
“The first year we did the garden, it was just amazing, everything came in beautifully with great yields,” he explains. “Then the second year, we got lots of bugs and the third year, we got even more. I had no idea that it takes a year or two for them to really find you and then they don’t want to leave. Once the bugs know, it gets more difficult.”