Tucked away in the westernmost corner of Rockaway is Fort Tilden, and deep in Fort Tilden is a large community garden where a select few residents turn military foundations into bountiful harvests.
Walking among his numerous plots, Ralph Isola showed off his squash, eggplant, peppers and green beans.
“What I enjoy growing the most are tomatoes,” he said.
Caring for his gardens is a full-time job for Ralph, who started gardening in 2005.
The first few years yielded moderate growth, but through a steady process of trial and error Ralph has learned some tricks.
“Everything takes time,” Ralph said. “You learn what to put into the ground, and you have to keep nurturing the ground. I give it horse manure.”
Fellow gardener Pat Kearns said bugs and “four-footed rabbits and two-footed people” pose problems. Fences keep people from picking the vegetables.
“When you’re not around, they sneak in,” Kearns said. “You can’t help it.”
The garden consists of 80 plots measuring eight by ten feet. People can buy multiple plots, and there is a waiting list for new plots.
Periodically, staff from Floyd Bennett Field, which oversees the gardens, will check to make sure people are caring for their plot.
Built on top of a former military base, the gardens are a place of relaxation.
“This is why you go and retire,” Kearns said. “You relax and get all your good food. You’re in your own little world here.
“Every night you can get your own fresh pickings,” he added. “It beats sitting at home.”