January 2012

Our first day back to S.T.A.T.E. in the new year was also our first tools-in-hands day of our Project Recycle for Sweetbriar Nature Center. We acquired their old recycling unit in hopes of salvaging the lumber for use in our new design. After a great deal of unscrewing, unbolting, and undoing, along with a great deal of help from our friend Sawzall, we ended up with access doors for the new recycling center and lumber to help frame the unit. After all, reusing and reducing are the only things better than recycling! As we pieced apart the old object, we took breaks at the drawing table to learn how to take a graphic of a design and figure out what materials and measurements are required to build it. All the while, our wonderful artists worked on the images that will be painted on the finished product. We finished the day much further along on the project than we’d started, and more excited than ever for the finished product!

After our first snowfall of the year, volunteers came out to enjoy a lesson on binocular use, species identification, and bird sighting during a lovely tromp along the Stony Brook harbor and up into Avalon Park and Preserve. Experienced birder and Four Harbors Audubon Society member Luci Nash led us on our exploration of the world of birding and all that it has to offer. Though it was a slow day for bird-spotting, we hardly noticed as we were busy practicing our new binocular skills, enjoying just how much more detail we could see through the lenses. We are already excited for a spring birding outing in a few months to see which birds have come, gone, or stayed in our waters, bushes, and trees.

February 2012

This was probably the most cheerful creation of gravestones that has ever occurred! Volunteers chose which materials’ decomposition rates we would highlight through this project, then took up pencils and sheets of plywood to begin tracing out a grave marker design of their creation. After carving it out with the saber saw, spray painting it, and letting it dry, we meticulously traced out letters and filled them in with black paint, ending up with a dozen educational, not-too-creepy gravestones to give to Sweetbriar Nature Center in Smithtown. These should be eye-catching and memorable enough to encourage folks who pass by to reduce, reuse, and recycle for the good of the planet!

Next was, without a doubt, our most successful construction project to date. With a group of volunteers full of ambition and excitement, we quickly went over the architectural drawings of the structure to be assembled that day, and got right to work. One team took on the challenge of creating our unique drawers for the depositing of recyclables, while the other began to put together the main frame. At the end of five hours, we had all five drawers finished and placed where they belong on a sturdy structure! The progress made in this one day is truly incredible. We are all looking forward to next week’s completion of this project.

On one of the only snowy days we’ve seen so far this winter, fourteen of us gathered to dive into the world of Biointensive gardening, and then begin picking our own brains as to how we would tailor this information to suit Arcadia. First, we headed outside to measure our beds and re-orient ourselves with the garden after a long season away from it. Ours was a rather long afternoon, broken up by a lovely potluck and walk around the park, and we accomplished a great deal, but not without some difficulty. Battling charts, equations, and combinations of possibilities wasn’t easy! Nothing is above our volunteers, though, and so they left with a list of this year’s crops, a good idea of where everything would go, and a great deal of knowledge about the Biointensive method. One thing’s for sure: it’s going to be a tasty summer!

We’ll be sad to see this project finished, simply because we’re having so much fun creating it! A very focused group of volunteers gathered to continue nailing, gluing, measuring, cutting, and building Sweetbriar’s soon-to-be recycling center. With a finished structure, all corners stabilized, a sturdy roof complete with tar paper and flashing, we move onto the next step: shingling and painting. After just a few other finishing touches, this center will be open for business! Awesome job so far, everyone!

A fresh coat of paint is one thing, but a fresh coat of paint festooned with fantastic volunteer-designed graphics is a wonder beyond words! During a school break, we took a Tuesday afternoon to get together and finally put Silvia and Mikaela’s designs onto Sweetbriar’s soon-to-be recycling center. At the same time, a crew worked on shingling the roof to give it a finished, clean look, and insure that it will last a long, long time out in the weather. The teamwork, precision, and artistry was astounding, and the results speak for themselves. We accomplished 85% of the decorating, so painting will be one aspect of our final event to finish this project. Bravo, crew! This has really been an incredible process.

If ever there was a beautiful day in February, this was it! In 60 degree weather, the volunteers struck out into Poquott’s 10-acre preserve to show the ever-choking bittersweet vines who’s boss. Our first task was to go through the preserve, snipping or sawing any vine we could see in order to liberate the threatened trees and decrease the likeliness of the vine/tree tangle being blown down in a storm. Once we were satisfied with our work, we spent an hour hacking clear the far end of Poquott’s loop trail, which was no easy task! Knots of multiflora rose and bittersweet vine blocked the way, but nothing can stop STATE-ees: they got through it, opening the loop for the first time in who knows how long. Everyone who goes adventuring in the preserve will be oh so grateful for you, volunteers!

After assessing local open spaces, our friends at Four Harbors Audubon told us that eight Eastern blue bird and four American kestrel boxes would be most helpful for supporting these struggling native species. It didn’t take long before our volunteers were down in the barn, assembled in teams, knocking the boxes out one by one. I’ve never seen such efficiency! At the end of four hours, we’d created the boxes, complete with predator guards to protect future inhabitants from snakes, raccoons, and squirrels. Four of the boxes will be hung the following weekend, while the others will go up soon thereafter. It’s incredible how quickly a great team of six volunteers can accomplish what would take one person nearly a week to do!

 It’s official: the 2012 garden is growing! On this mild February afternoon, volunteers pulled the poles, hardware, and canopy of our greenhouse to assemble it and affix it to a square of 6×6 lengths of lumber to ensure that we wouldn’t have another Wizard of Oz post-assembly greenhouse, blowing over the bushes and trees like last year! With a few hiccups along the way, which were all worked out by our determined volunteers, the structure went up better than ever before. Afterward, we mixed up some seedling soil and garden soil in our seedling boxes and planted the first flats of 2012. With lettuce, eggplant, broccoli, and more already soaking up moisture and enjoying the warmth of the barn, they’ll soon be popping up above the soil line in search of light, and then before we know it, they’ll be big enough to eat!

March 2012

This was probably the most cheerful creation of gravestones that has ever occurred! Volunteers chose which materials’ decomposition rates we would highlight through this project, then took up pencils and sheets of plywood to begin tracing out a grave marker design of their creation. After carving it out with the saber saw, spray painting it, and letting it dry, we meticulously traced out letters and filled them in with black paint, ending up with a dozen educational, not-too-creepy gravestones to give to Sweetbriar Nature Center in Smithtown. These should be eye-catching and memorable enough to encourage folks who pass by to reduce, reuse, and recycle for the good of the planet!

Next was, without a doubt, our most successful construction project to date. With a group of volunteers full of ambition and excitement, we quickly went over the architectural drawings of the structure to be assembled that day, and got right to work. One team took on the challenge of creating our unique drawers for the depositing of recyclables, while the other began to put together the main frame. At the end of five hours, we had all five drawers finished and placed where they belong on a sturdy structure! The progress made in this one day is truly incredible. We are all looking forward to next week’s completion of this project.

On one of the only snowy days we’ve seen so far this winter, fourteen of us gathered to dive into the world of Biointensive gardening, and then begin picking our own brains as to how we would tailor this information to suit Arcadia. First, we headed outside to measure our beds and re-orient ourselves with the garden after a long season away from it. Ours was a rather long afternoon, broken up by a lovely potluck and walk around the park, and we accomplished a great deal, but not without some difficulty. Battling charts, equations, and combinations of possibilities wasn’t easy! Nothing is above our volunteers, though, and so they left with a list of this year’s crops, a good idea of where everything would go, and a great deal of knowledge about the Biointensive method. One thing’s for sure: it’s going to be a tasty summer!

We’ll be sad to see this project finished, simply because we’re having so much fun creating it! A very focused group of volunteers gathered to continue nailing, gluing, measuring, cutting, and building Sweetbriar’s soon-to-be recycling center. With a finished structure, all corners stabilized, a sturdy roof complete with tar paper and flashing, we move onto the next step: shingling and painting. After just a few other finishing touches, this center will be open for business! Awesome job so far, everyone!

A fresh coat of paint is one thing, but a fresh coat of paint festooned with fantastic volunteer-designed graphics is a wonder beyond words! During a school break, we took a Tuesday afternoon to get together and finally put Silvia and Mikaela’s designs onto Sweetbriar’s soon-to-be recycling center. At the same time, a crew worked on shingling the roof to give it a finished, clean look, and insure that it will last a long, long time out in the weather. The teamwork, precision, and artistry was astounding, and the results speak for themselves. We accomplished 85% of the decorating, so painting will be one aspect of our final event to finish this project. Bravo, crew! This has really been an incredible process.

If ever there was a beautiful day in February, this was it! In 60 degree weather, the volunteers struck out into Poquott’s 10-acre preserve to show the ever-choking bittersweet vines who’s boss. Our first task was to go through the preserve, snipping or sawing any vine we could see in order to liberate the threatened trees and decrease the likeliness of the vine/tree tangle being blown down in a storm. Once we were satisfied with our work, we spent an hour hacking clear the far end of Poquott’s loop trail, which was no easy task! Knots of multiflora rose and bittersweet vine blocked the way, but nothing can stop STATE-ees: they got through it, opening the loop for the first time in who knows how long. Everyone who goes adventuring in the preserve will be oh so grateful for you, volunteers!

After assessing local open spaces, our friends at Four Harbors Audubon told us that eight Eastern blue bird and four American kestrel boxes would be most helpful for supporting these struggling native species. It didn’t take long before our volunteers were down in the barn, assembled in teams, knocking the boxes out one by one. I’ve never seen such efficiency! At the end of four hours, we’d created the boxes, complete with predator guards to protect future inhabitants from snakes, raccoons, and squirrels. Four of the boxes will be hung the following weekend, while the others will go up soon thereafter. It’s incredible how quickly a great team of six volunteers can accomplish what would take one person nearly a week to do!

 It’s official: the 2012 garden is growing! On this mild February afternoon, volunteers pulled the poles, hardware, and canopy of our greenhouse to assemble it and affix it to a square of 6×6 lengths of lumber to ensure that we wouldn’t have another Wizard of Oz post-assembly greenhouse, blowing over the bushes and trees like last year! With a few hiccups along the way, which were all worked out by our determined volunteers, the structure went up better than ever before. Afterward, we mixed up some seedling soil and garden soil in our seedling boxes and planted the first flats of 2012. With lettuce, eggplant, broccoli, and more already soaking up moisture and enjoying the warmth of the barn, they’ll soon be popping up above the soil line in search of light, and then before we know it, they’ll be big enough to eat!

April 2012

Well, I have to say, this morning exceeded my expectations! A reprise of one of the first STATE events, our volunteers set out into the flower fields of Avalon to search for praying mantis egg cases before the fields are mowed for the spring. Last year, five volunteers found 77 cases, which I thought was quite impressive. This year, twelve volunteers covered every field, finding a whopping 543 egg cases! Now lets do the multiplication: 543 x 100 and 543 x 400 gives us our range of number of praying mantis babies saved– between 54,300 and 217,200! Our top three finders were Evan with 82, Aidan with 71, and Rachel with 62. AWESOME job, everyone! I’m already looking forward to next year’s hunt.

Just in time for nesting season, volunteers met in the bluebird-perfect fields at this Brentwood convent to install their bird boxes in hopes of attracting our beautiful state birds. Our first two went in the fields, while the second pair were placed in the convent’s graveyard. As we were leaving the graveyard through the woods, a huge red-tailed hawk swooped out in front of the truck with a small mammal in its claws, leaving us most impressed and very glad to have attributed to the thriving ecology in the area. We hope that the struggling bluebird species finds these new homes and makes the most of them, bringing more beauty and peace to this natural oasis in Brentwood!

It was the final day in the barn with our Sweetbriar Recycling Center, and what a busy afternoon it was! We buzzed around that structure like bees, nailing on final shingles, touching up paint, installing drawers, animal-proofing, and checking for any protruding nails. With only a few finishing touches to go, we’re looking forward to the installation and completion of this unit at Sweetbrair in the coming weeks. How exciting to see our winter project come to life in the spring!

On a sunny, warm late-winter day, we gathered to plant the first seeds of 2012. With marigolds, peppers, tomatoes, basil, and so much more starting their journey from seed to supper, we talked about all of the delicious meals that we’d be making with our produce. The flats were seeded, watered, and placed in the barn until germination began. Once the little greenies began to pop up, the flats were placed in the greenhouse to enjoy a toasty existence until the season progresses a bit further.

Once a year, the soil needs some serious TLC. This spring, we took a long afternoon to add and fluff up our garden’s soil so that its plants’ roots will have plenty of breathing room underground. As we fluffed, we added organic nutritious goods to the soil so that the plants also had lots of food throughout the season. Our toughest task of the day was double-digging— loosening soil down two feet deep– new areas of the garden where grass had been. We persevered through the clay-y ground, leaving it broken and fluffed up, ready for corn, potatoes, and much more. The afternoon concluded with a few early plantings, leaving us all excited about the season to come.

What a kickoff to our shellfish seeding project! An ambitious group of volunteers gathered to learn about the precision behind carpentry and the magic that can happen when it all comes together correctly. We built not one, but two floating trays to house clam ‘spat’, or babies, which we will put into Stony Brook Harbor with the help of the Stony Brook Yacht Club, and then monitor throughout the season. Come autumn, with the spat looking more like the clams we know and love, we’ll sprinkle them throughout the sound, helping to repopulate the shores that are so often raked. With more shellfish, the water will be cleaner, and they’ll have more chance of repopulating themselves. Today’s building of the trays was a wonderful start to a fantastic project!

May 2012

  We arrived at Caumsett and became the Black Swallow-wort’s worst nightmare. This invasive species is even more despicable than the usual suspects: being a member of the milkweed family, it attracts Monarch butterflies, who lay their eggs on the plant. Monarch larvae that hatch on native milkweed plants feed on the plant, incorporating the plant’s bitter chemicals into their bodies, making themselves incredibly unappealing to hungry winged predators. Larvae deposited on the black swallow-wort are not given this advantage, and do not survive, striking yet another blow to the monarch population. With so many pairs of hands, we dug and pulled these plants out and bagged ’em up before the butterflies can make a mistake fatal to their offspring, thus saving a portion of the next generation of beautiful Monarchs. At the end of our day, we hiked around looking for— and finding— certain butterfly larvae, which proved to be a sign of good things to come for Caumsett’s native grassland efforts.

Our first of three collaborations this season, we joined forces with folks from Cornell Cooperative horseshoe crab research group for some late night citizen science efforts. Volunteers helped with every aspect of the count, from preliminary tests to determine visibility and weather stats, to counting and tagging the crabs sighted on the shoreline. It’s always exciting to be out on the beach so late at night, but the feeling is heightened by the knowledge that our research will be sent off to a national database to help further understand and protect these fantastic creatures.

Kudos to everyone— volunteers, parents, and friends alike– who came out for the eleven-mile Hike for Life. We raised hundreds of dollars for the New York Blood Center AND hauled our butts across a long stretch of the Long Island Greenbelt Trail in only four hours. It was a truly awesome Long Island experience; we were all surprised at what beautiful trails are hidden just beyond the guard rails of Jericho Turnpike, 25A, and Landing Avenue. The trail’s end was buzzing with wonderful feelings of grand achievement mixed with incredible exhaustion, but I think that I can speak for all participants when I say it was absolutely worth the physical push, and I know that many of us are already looking forward to next year’s event! Perhaps some will even venture to try the 32-mile hike. (Perhaps.)

With a greenhouse full of over-ambitious seedlings, we had to spring this seedling transplant to a closer date at the last minute in fear that the plants would begin to become root-bound and unhealthy. Luckily, three wonderful volunteers stepped up to the task and knocked out the transplanting in a matter of two hours. Our tomatoes, tomatillos, basil, peppers, and marigolds were so very happy for it! We’re already licking our lips thinking of all of those juicy veggies. They’ll be here before we know it!

Way to go, all: Students Taking Action for Tomorrow’s Environment won a volunteer service award from the Brookhaven Youth Bureau this year! A Brookhaven resident heard about all of your environmental efforts and spent a great deal of time putting together an application to submit for our program. The town of Brookhaven invited our volunteers who have committed 50 or more hours of their time to service through STATE to celebrate the group’s accomplishments at an awards ceremony last week. I would like to extend this congratulations to ALL of our volunteers, whether you’ve contributed three or one-hundred-and-thirty-three hours of volunteer events. We couldn’t achieve all that we do without each and everyone one of you, and while the township of Brookhaven, local and national politicians, and community figures all expressed extraordinary gratitude toward you, no one will ever be as grateful for your ever-inspiring energy and enthusiasm as I am. Great job, volunteers! Your good deeds will never go unnoticed.

What a fantastic effort we joined for the day! The Long Island Native Plant Initiative works year-round to propagate and sell true Long Island native plants, grown from harvested Long Island seed. Five of us spent the morning mixing up peat and fertilizer, creating afor table full of potting substance transferring root-bound plants from 6-pack flats into four-inch pots, spreading their roots and giving them more room to grow into happier, healthier plants. We felt wonderfully accomplished at the end of the day, having knocked out entire stocks of species, and knowing that there’d be that many more eco-superhero native plants offered at the organization’s upcoming plant sale.

We headed out for round two of counting and tagging, and were kept quite busy by the busy horseshoe crabs along the surf. Counting over 50 crabs this time, and tagging nearly half of them, we observed lone males, lone females, pairs, and pile-ups. Our team moved efficiently along, taking turns practicing our measuring and tagging skills while chatting about this prehistoric, fantastic species and all that there is to know about them as we went.

We love practicing our different skills throughout the course of an event, so on this day, putting up bird boxes, pulling out invasive species, AND planting natives made for a great string of activities. First, we went from a beautiful hidden shoreline meadow to the nearby golf course putting up American kestrel and bluebird boxes. Once we’d finished up there, we headed over to field 3 to do some serious invasive specie pulling. As the invasives were covered in the healthiest poison ivy plants I’ve ever seen in my life, we were given ‘bunny suits’— white, one-piece outfits to protect us from the poison ivy. Once enough was ripped out, we planted some native species and, overheated and exhausted, called it a day.

It’s rare that marking up any streets, let alone an entire village’s worth of roadways, is legal, but for this event, it was greatly encouraged. Four volunteers paired up into teams of two: one to use the spray paint, and the other to use the caulk gun and signs. We worked our way around the village, numbering the drains and putting a “Don’t Pollute: Flows to Waterways” sign on each one. The whole afternoon had a feeling of naughtiness, but as neighbors and passers-by asked what we were up to, we were able to educate them on our cause. Having run out of tags, we’ll need to head back soon to finish the job, but I don’t think that it will too difficult to get these volunteers back for another round!

Before taking a bit of time off a bit of time from STATE for the long weekend, we got into the garden to carry out a few very necessary projects. First, we built a bean pole for our soy bean plants. Next, we made experimental mesh arches for our cucumber plants and got them in the ground. After weeding the whole garden, we went around making sure everything was alright before finishing the day by planting corn in our newest bed. Lets hope that it grows swiftly, getting to that old “knee-high by July” stage!

June 2012

Our last count of the year was successful enough to introduce new crab volunteers to the counting, tagging, and measuring processes, with every STATE-ee getting her or his hands on the drill and the calipers, but a strong northwest wind made for a very, very choppy shore, and so there weren’t nearly as many crabs as we’d hoped for in our anticipated huge tagging effort. We look forward to getting back to counting next April and May!

While in this case, the ‘B&B’ stands for ‘bird and butterfly,’ it’s actually a very fitting coincidence, because this garden will grow to become both lodging and a food source for native birds, butterflies, bugs, and other creatures whose names do not start with a ‘B’. First, we rid our to-be garden area of grass, shaking the soil off each clump, and setting the greens aside to compost. After cutting a clean edge around the garden, plants were laid out, and we began the great digging. From annuals to trees, we took the potted flora and set them into their new homes in front of the library. Next, we covered the non-planted area with newspaper and mulch, finishing with a few more smaller plants just moments before a great wind and rain began to move in. The good soaking couldn’t have come at a better time! From the truck, we looked at our beautiful, native-supporting garden, amazed at what we accomplished in one afternoon, and excited about all of the good it will do in the coming years.

While in this case, the ‘B&B’ stands for ‘bird and butterfly,’ it’s With so much to munch on in the garden, we’ve been finding ourselves doing as much nibbling as we are weeding! Volunteers hunted for strawberries, pulled radishes, snipped crisp lettuce, and walked away with bags full of these goodies, plus much more. Beyond our snacking, we planted our late-summer crops, including squash and additional root vegetables, weeded all of our beds, and discovered all sorts of interested creatures within the leaves and soil. It’s never a dull afternoon in the garden!

After heading back to the drawing board regarding a few structural aspects of our clam aquaculture floats, we spent one more afternoon making amendments to the rafts. The bottoms needed to be secured, and our lids needed some serious work. But with a great many hands, we knocked out one task after the other despite the rainy afternoon, and ended up with two completely finished rafts. They truly are fantastic pieces of work! We’re anxious for the clam seed to arrive so that we can fill our trays with sand and clams, beginning the summer’s study of clam growth and maintenance.

We’re becoming absolute experts at installing these bird and butterfly gardens full of native plants, and we’re just delighted to have such experiences! The ecological importance of native plants is so huge, so spending an afternoon prepping an area, planting beautiful natives, mulching, and watering is wonderfully gratifying. Inevitably, a few birds and butterflies buzzed the garden just as we were finishing; they just couldn’t wait to check out their new habitat and food sources. As they say, build it and they will come! We hope to help native gardens spread all throughout Long Island over the coming years.

After the cancellation of an invasive species removal event due to years of efforts’ success, we turned our efforts towards two projects here at Avalon. First, we disassembled our greenhouse for the year, storing it until late next winter when we start our 2013 crops. Once that was done, our volunteers spent an hour and a half clearing a stand of Japanese Knotweed (or Mexican Bamboo), getting up as much root as possible, leveling the area, raking away all the debris, and planting three flats worth of switchgrass plugs. I would almost swear that they’re growing at a rate of an inch per day! They’ll grow tall and proud next to Avalon’s barn gate. Thank you again to our friends at the Long Island Native Plant Initiative for passing these flats along to us!

With school’s end so near, the buzz around the garden was about summer plans, both afar and within Arcadia. After working hard to clear weeds and plant late-summer crops, volunteers were delighted with a harvest of sweet strawberries and snap peas alongside kale and onions.

To kick off our summer event series, volunteers came together to take the first active step in launching a STATE project: Truck Farm. Inspired by the original documentary, STATE volunteers bustled around all afternoon, layering the truck with drainage mats, peat, and soils, creating a layer cake of gardeny goodness. To finish the day, we planted our first Truck Farm crops, just in time to drive it out into the rain for its first watering. The truck will be taken to various community centers and events throughout the growing seasons in hopes of inspiring the public to take even just a small patch of their own land and turn it into a little garden. (Of course, we hope that they become addicted to gardening and expand until they simply can’t expand any more!)

We finally made it over to Sweetbriar to install our ‘garbage gravestones’: a cemetery installation that educates folks on how long it takes different materials to break down (such as disposable diapers– 450 years each!) and advice on the use of these items (reduce, reuse, and/or recycle). With the installation complete, we headed over to the gardens to help our volunteer friends clear an area for a cut flower planting, saving the perennials and pulling up all the rest.

Three determined volunteers marched into one of Seatuck’s shallow ponds donning waders and armed with shovels and saws. They had one mission: remove the invasive, aggressive yellow flag iris. These young ladies pulled and cut and hauled and piled for hours, finishing with a mountain of yellow flag iris and roots. By the end of our day, we were all exhausted, but it was fantastic to see the cleared area in the pond, knowing that though we’d just begun a big task, we were already making a big difference.

With so many hands in the garden, it’s easy to accomplish so, so much! We weeded every bed in record time, and the moved on to more progressive tasks. The guys opted to plant our ‘three sisters’ area, adding bean and squash seeds to our corn crops. Meanwhile, the ladies tied up the tomato plants to support them in their fruit-growing phase. Finally, we harvested our goodies for the day and everyone went home with nice full bushels of fresh produce.

July 2012

Since we had so much fun helping with this cause in 2011, we were excited to jump back in for a few rounds in 2012. Volunteers had a crash-course in spotting turtles, their nest test-holes, and predated nests, then set out to see what they could see. We were lucky and found a turtle right away; everyone helped measure, record, mark, and weigh the turtle before letting her go. Unfortunately, we didn’t see her lay her eggs, but we did find plenty of other exciting traces of turtles throughout the study area. Volunteers also got to spread cayenne pepper to deter predators from digging up existing turtle nests.

After putting days of work into our mariculture rafts, we finally got the green light to fill them with seed and sand and get them in the water. Volunteers and members of the Yacht Club worked together to sift sand into the rafts, then float them into place and tie them to adjacent docks. Once the rafts were secured, the teens took their first set of data before joining the rest of the day’s work crew for a celebratory soda. We are excited to check on the clams every other week through this October, when we’ll spread them into the sound and patiently await next year’s batch!

We kicked off another long-term project this week: beginning a year-round survey of the flora and fauna found within the arboretum. A large group of volunteers split up into teams, each working with a different category of wildlife. Between flowering plants, ferns, insects, birds, shrubs, and trees, we spent a solid three hours figuring out what was there. By returning throughout the seasons, we’ll discover what species enjoy this land throughout the year.

There’s never a lack of excitement and discovery at the garden! We found the meanest plant in the garden— the hard way— along with bird’s nest fungus, which none of us had ever seen before. After the usual maintenance, and removing our tired snap pea plants to make room for cucumbers, we harvested a great pile of goodies to send home with each volunteer.

As the summer rolls on, our harvests continue to be more and more bountiful! As long as we keep on the weeds and the watering, and plant more root crops nearly each time we visit, we’ll be sure to have such full bags upon leaving. This day, we planted more beets and turnips, thinned existing root veggies, weeded every bed, and searched around the bean and cucumber plants for their hidden gems. It’s amazing how easily one can overlook a foot-long cucumber among its vines!

A big shout out to the volunteers and parents who came to help pull Lugwigia from the Peconic Lake and River! The P.L.E.C.O. and D.E.C. organizers asked if we’d be up for another day, and I said “Of course!” so we’ll be returning on August 2nd for another shot. Next time, we’ll plan for more efficient bag emptying, and we’ll be strongly suggesting dish washing gloves to put some space between you and the creepy-crawlies living in the plants. What an ecosystem we discovered there! The tire-sized snapping turtle was my favorite find of the day. The more plant matter we pull, the less there is to grow and spread, so every volunteer-hour is a HUGE help. It was awesome having 9 STATE volunteers there helping this cause! Your efforts have been featured in articles by Newsday (Friday the 13th’s) and the Riverhead Patch.

While we didn’t see any turtles this time out, we found many predated nests with empty egg shells strewn about. It’s amazing how many eggs one turtle can lay— over 20 sometimes! Volunteers spotted a few test holes as well, proving that the turtles were still actively laying eggs. We hope to help in the egg excavations next month!

As is often the case, something long awaited is most exciting to finally receive. This was the case with our garlic: we planted it last fall, and finally were able to harvest, each taking home many heads of garlic. We immediately planted more seeds– carrots– in their place, then went on to bustle around the rest of the garden, weeding, harvesting, and planting.

August 2012

There’s never a shortage of work to do in Arcadia! Our volunteers came together to help take care of long-season beds that had been neglected for a while, pulling out piles of weeds and giving those crops the breathing room they need. We were finally able to harvest a patch of bright, beautiful orange carrots, along with our usual piles of kale, unbelievable amounts of cucumber, and handfuls of basil. This is what summer tastes like!

After getting a taste of the gratification we felt after our first Ludwigia pull, we wanted more, so we returned for a second go at this invasive plant. This time, we worked out the kinks in our attack plan and ended up filling an entire truck bed with our efforts! Every bit of plant we pull is that much less that gets to mature and spread between now and next summer, so looking at that mass of greenery felt wonderful. It’s dirty work, but that’s half of the reason it’s so fun!

We started this day of stewardship at the arboretum by tackling two areas simultaneously: half of our crew worked on ridding a native bird and butterfly garden of invaders such as mugwort and porcelain berry, while the other half of us got down and dirty in the pond, removing the invasive yellowflag iris plants before they became a real problem. With the hard labor behind us, we joined forces again to stroll around the arboretum in search of species we’d missed on our previous surveying day. We turned over logs, squinted at ground cover, and came up with long additions to our initial list, including some very interesting mushrooms!

Back at the lovely gardens found in the fields of Sweetbriar, a big team of us set to work on a great number of projects. First, we worked together to tackle an area of very weedy path. Once that was under our belts, we split up, some of us working to clear threatening vines and other unwanted plants from flower beds, while others cleared areas under hedges and cleared off brick borders. Everyone agreed that our three hours of hard work made a day’s worth of impact on the gardens!

What a gathering of organizations this afternoon! STATE representatives worked side by side with folks from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Suffolk County offices, and LINPI volunteers, all of us affirming what an important, wonderful mission LINPI is working on, and how glad we were to be lending our hands to it. We meticulously separated little seedlings from one another and put them into their own cells, where they’ll grow throughout the winter and into the spring, when they’ll be sold and planted in gardens all throughout the island.

Though it’s still the middle of August, signs of the season’s end are already beginning to show. We spent some time collecting seeds from broccoli, poppy, and bok choy plants in order to plant in the fall or next spring. We also tended to our tomato plants, whose leaves have been troubled by a bacteria, making them black and withered. There is no perfect garden, but we do our best, and the harvests tell the tale of our successes!

This was our first big day of changes in the garden, removing tired summer plants and preparing for the autumn crops. We started in Arcadia, pulling some string bean plants and sowing spinach seeds, but then moved on to what will be a wonderful 2013 project: Truck Farm. We’re just testing it out the second half of the year, but it is such a novel joy to pop seeds into the bed of a pickup truck. We can’t wait to work on TF this winter, and then launch it full force next year!

We were sad to finish our final summer Tuesday at Sweetbriar, but having started the day knowing that this was the last go, we knew we’d make the most out of it. Assigned to one of the front beds, we took our three hours completely transforming it. As we pulled out the morning glories and other weeds, the bed’s original look began to emerge, encouraging us to keep working harder to recover the entire area. Once we cleared it out of its invaders, we planted more bulbs and transplants, giving us something to look forward to in the spring!

We returned for one last time this summer to help transplant crowded trays of sprouted natives, and accomplished a great deal. It’s incredible to learn so much about these plants while working around a great soil-filled table with so many knowledgeable folks. We’re looking forward to seeing these leggy little plants in the spring, when they’re sure to be thicker, happier, and ready to go out and support our island’s native ecosystems!

The autumn transitions continued on this day, retiring our cucumber plants which produced more cucumbers than any of us could believe. We cleared any crops that signaled to us their fatigue, and prepped the beds for a great planting at the following Arcadia event. While doing our clearing, we found many little creatures, including an enormous wolf spider with her egg sack. It’s amazing how much life goes on under those vines and leaves!

Oh, how bittersweet it is to feel the first hint of autumn. On this, our last Arcadia of the summer, a cool breeze accompanied us in the garden, reminding us that school was just around the corner. But this didn’t discourage us from pulling up our tired plants and going right ahead in planting more autumn veggies, such as cauliflower, kale, collard greens, lettuce, carrots, swiss chard, and much more. There’s always something to look forward to, but even better than that, there’s always something to enjoy in the present!

Throughout the summer, we’ve been checking in on our clam seedlings, measuring their growth, taking note of surrounding factors such as temperature and water salinity, and cleaning off their rafts so that waterflow— and in that, food supply— is optimal. They’ve been steadily growing all summer, and we’ll continue to care for them, with the help of folks at the Stony Brook Yacht Club, until they are ready for release in early November.

September 2012

After a two-week vacation from all STATE activities, we returned to the garden to find it full of delicious veggies just begging to be picked. The tomatillos were plentiful, as were the peppers, but nothing compared to the beans that we harvested! After tending to both Arcadia and Truck Farm, we sat down to split our one watermelon of the season while feasting our eyes on the beautiful garden we’ve created.

A few times a year, we like to visit our friends in Poquott to help battle the invasive species in their local nature preserve. This time, we focused mainly on vines. Our original plan was to attack the English ivy, but it soon became apparent that the wild grape was a bigger issue, and fortunately for us, more fun to pull! We tugged huge mats of the vine off of treetops and felt high and mighty with our dumpster half full of the threatening plants.

The crops just keep rolling in! We are impressed with just how productive our bean plants are— so much so that we’ve been having major brainstorm sessions over how to cook them all. Our carrots are coming along beautifully, too, though there are always the few that you pull and wonder if early harvesting is how baby carrots are made. Truck farm has been incredibly successful, too, producing the only healthy winter squash plants of any of this year’s efforts. Who would’ve thought that a truck could grow such gorgeous butternuts?

October 2012

There’s never a lack of adventure and discovery in the garden. While we were harvesting our leeks, we found many black swallowtail caterpillars happily munching away, and we agreed that instead of kicking them out, we would share our food with these lovely creatures. Then, while picking our tomatillos, we found a very large, very happy tobacco hornworm caterpillar munching away. It was a day for adorable, many-legged creatures! Even with our generosity towards these insects, we still took home a big loot, making all beings in the garden very happy for the day.

I believe that this is the most ridiculously fun event that we are involved in each year. Volunteers spend a long day painting countless faces, applying temporary tattoos, selling pumpkins for decoration, and making so many little kids (and their parents) very, very happy! The hours always fly by, and with breaks here and there to walk around the festival, enjoying the sights, tastes, and smells, there’s no better way to spend Columbus Day weekend. We were so pleased that the festival switched from acrylic paints to markers this year for pumpkin decorating; I still had stains on my shirt from last year’s festivities!

Though there were only three of us tackling this task, we kicked that invasive where it hurts— in the root! We pulled every last bit of it that we could find, including a sea of vines back behind a bramble of bamboo and multiflora rose. Our volunteers don’t back down! We will keep a close eye on the areas where we pulled the Mile-a-Minute in hopes of keeping it out of the park and adjoining properties for good.

What an adventure! We broke in Avalon’s new kayaks by paddling across the waterway and onto the secluded Youngs Island, a bird sanctuary closed to visitors year round. STATE-ees were granted permission to paddle over and spend the afternoon picking up trash that had blown or washed onto the island. While keeping the land pristine for all creatures of the island, we had our own fun in finding so many interesting objects: bones, skulls, curious trash, birds’ nests, and much more. We hope to make this a bi-annual event!

On this beautiful autumn day, we joined forces with volunteers from other groups (Audubon Society, State Parks, Kings Park high school) in order to do a mass planting of native, bird-butterfly-and-bug-beneficial annuals, perennials, shrubs, and trees. We even got a bluebird box put together and installed! It was an amazing effort by all, and in the span of a few short hours, we had a habitat that was already attracting birds for a meal. It will be wonderful to see the garden next spring when all of these plants have their roots set and are blooming happily, providing food and shelter for our critter friends.

It’s always a pleasure to help out our friends at Sweetbriar’s volunteer gardens. We enjoyed taking on a few big tasks on this afternoon, as it left us feeling especially accomplished by the day’s end. First, we helped close down the vegetable garden, and then used its soil- along with mulch- to prepare pots for transplants from the sensory garden. Digging up large clumps of crowded plants, we broke them into small chunks and introduced them to their new winter homes in the pots, then nestled them all in the garden beds to keep warm over the cold season. These will be sold at Sweetbriar’s annual fundraiser yard sale. Finally, we began to tackle the invasive and overbearing plants around the gardens. We pulled many, many meters of porcelain berry vine off of suffering shrubs and trees, giving them a new hope for a happier spring. Until next year, take care, Sweetbriar gardens!

November 2012

Once most of us had power in our homes again and enough communication to receive an email dispatching the volunteers, we were gathered on a Sunday afternoon for a solid three hours of trail maintenance. The response was overwhelming, and we were able to break into two teams to walk all of the trails within the Nature Conservancy portion of Avalon, at the very least making them passable, but in some cases, clearing huge limbs or moving the trail itself. We all felt incredibly accomplished after our day, and Avalon couldn’t be more grateful for its volunteers!

What a delightful first time out we had at this new location! The day started with a tour of this functioning farm, complete with pigs, sheep, chickens, a horse, and a wonderful farm dog. Then we got to work clearing the tractor paths so that the chicken coops and other equipment can easily be moved all throughout the farm. The Asian bittersweet vine caught our eyes and before we knew it, we were sawing away. One was so large that it contained an entire colony of ants! Sorry for the draft, guys. We then helped recover old fence rails from within bramble and overgrowth before heading to the chicken coops to collect warm eggs. After a hot cocoa and PB&J break, we were back out to move the pony’s electric fence, then clear a historic fence and a struggling tree of the aggressive porcelain berry vines. All in all, a very productive, full day! We are already looking forward to our next visit.

After a wildly successful first year of mariculture efforts, STATE volunteers and members of the Stony Brook Yacht Club came together to complete the season. First, the group worked together during high tide to pull the rafts across from the docks, over to the shore where the rafts could be opened and the clams could be most easily accessed. The crew split into teams, some extracting the clams from the rafts and sifting them from the sand. Others counted the clams to determine how many can fit in a bucket to give us a unit of measurement. Once all of the clams were out of the rafts, accounted for, and put into onion bags, everyone grabbed a bag and spread out around the area, tossing handfuls of our little friends into their new homes. The STATE volunteers all boarded a boat provided by a generous yacht club member and distributed many of the clams in waters where clamming is uncommon or impossible with the hopes of creating a larger breeding population. After each and ever clam was thrown overboard, and everyone’s fingers were thoroughly frozen, we headed inside for a celebratory lunch. What an amazing first year! We are already looking forward to expanding and improving our project next spring.

Our friends at Frank Melville Memorial Park told me about a long-forgotten azalea walk, so we went to check it out, and I knew it was a perfect project for STATE volunteers to tackle. Beautiful, unique azaleas and rhododendrons lined a path down into the woods and out the other side, but it was all covered in English Ivy, honey suckle, porcelain berry, and other viney invasive species. In our first three hours working on this project, we made an enormous difference; the path is actually identifiable as a path now! We were successful in freeing most of the azaleas from the choking vines, and in doing so, created a mountain of brush. Completing this project will take another day or two of work, but none of us doubt that it will be well worth it, especially when we walk the path in the spring and see the azaleas thriving.

The last Arcadia visit of the season is always bittersweet. First, we harvested some great late-season crops, like leeks, carrots, Swiss chard, kale, and collard greens. Then we went around and pulled out any plants that were decidedly finished for the season, and let the beds begin their winter rest. Surely, as we gain gardening experience and build our healthy soil, next year will be even more of a success than this year, as this year was more than the one before!

Who says that you need to deck the halls with store-bought, often disposable goods? This year, STATE volunteers got together to exercise their eco-consciousness through holiday crafting. Volunteers learned how to make wreaths from spare evergreen branches, curtains out of pine cones, mini trees out of wine corks, festive lights out of empty wine bottles and tomato cages, and much more. Everyone delighted in the evening, going about their crafting alongside hot cocoa and homemade cookies. What better to make the season bright?

After the destruction of Hurricane Sandy, our friends in Poquott needed a few extra hands to haul out fallen debris so that it did not become a fire hazard or block up the paths so badly. A small group of three worked for two hours and filled up an entire dumpster with logs, branches, and vines. The forest floor looked much less hazardous after our work, and the preserve managers were overjoyed with our filling of yet another dumpster!

December 2012

After our first attack on the English ivy along this path, we knew that day two would be just as successful. That goes to show that one can’t know everything: our second afternoon of efforts were MORE successful than our first. With extra sets of hands, an incredible amount of energy, and plenty of good humor to ward away the drizzling clouds, we hauled out mounds of ivy and wood, uncovering all path-side azalea bushes, and reaching the end of the area of the path where the ivy once reigned. The rest was as easy as pie! We raked away pine needles and twigs, clearing the path all the way through, and thus restoring one of Frank Melville Memorial Park’s most beautiful features. Everyone is looking forward to a most beauteous spring along the walk!

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