January 2014

We’ve been spoiled over the past few years by nearly snowless winters and January days with highs averaging around 40 degrees. We tried for a few outdoor events, but each was snowed or frozen out. Still, we were able to kick off our very exciting Eel Grass Restoration effort in conjunction with the Cornell Cooperative, learning about the process and cutting a great many burlap ‘tortillas’ as a part of step 1. We also hit the shop and constructed 8 ‘Xbox’ bluebird boxes, which are brilliantly designed for our state bird to make a home in, and wonderfully fun to build. Now we’ll have to sit tight and wait for the warm weather to come back so that we can get those boxes out into the landscape!

February 2014

The cold and snow can’t stop these volunteers from getting out and doing good! We camped out at the barn for most events, though we did start the month in the Long Island Native Plant Initiative’s greenhouse, helping them to remove seed from the native grasses they harvested in the fall and dried over the winter. These seeds will be planted for seedlings in the spring and sold to Long Island homeowners and landscapers to help restore Long Island’s native ecosystems. We then focused on our own garden, kicking off the season with a planning session. Our mouths were watering by the time we left, thinking of all the organic, homegrown goodies we’ll have to cook! Our next event had our hands back into bags of native seeds, this time planting them in flats to be put outside and grown in a semi-natural way. This time, the seedlings are destined for local native gardens installed by Four Harbors Audubon Society. The following two get-togethers involved our eel grass restoration interns. We gathered to watch movies and punch out hundreds of ‘burlap tortillas.’ We were even treated to quesadillas during one session! To wrap up the month, hiked around the fields at Avalon removing the old bird boxes, which had many holes and mice in them, and replaced them with weather-proofed bluebird boxes in hopes of attracting more of our lovely state bird this spring. Fingers crossed!

March 2014

With a hint of warmth here or there, the volunteers readied themselves for the spring ahead. Our first weekend had us back to the burlap, working towards our goal of 1,000 ‘tortilla’ to hand off to our friends at the Cornell Cooperative who will use them for eel grass restoration. We’d said ‘tortillas’ so many times that we had to make some quesadillas as a mid-session snack! Then, we assembled another set of bird boxes, as our first round had been all used up before the snow had a chance to melt! After another ‘tortilla’ session, we surpassed our goal, reaching over 1,100 burlap rounds in which eel grass will be planted, creating instant habitat around Long Island shores. As usual, we set up our greenhouse right around St. Patrick’s Day, and started our seedlings in boxes to be placed in the greenhouse as soon as their little green heads pop up. Our month ended with an incredibly successful beach cleanup in Port Jefferson, followed by our annual praying mantis egg hunt at Avalon. It feels good to be outside again!

April 2014

Our month started out strong with an awesome group of volunteers at Nissequogue River State Park. Everyone pulled, slashed, untangled, and piled up over a decade worth of vines and brush that had grown on the beautiful old fence surrounding a showcase waterfowl pond. No one was satisfied until an entire length of the fence was entirely cleared, and we laughed as the day finished with everyone swinging on stubborn vines like suburban Tarzans and Janes. We then hit Arcadia to keep the season rolling, planting our first seeds of 2014. Our next event kicked off our Spring Break series in a most fantastic way: a morning at the Smithtown Historical Society to built a new fence to house more sheep at their homestead farm. Volunteers got a workout banging in new posts and rolling wire fencing before tediously tying on the material. Feeling ambitious, we took on another task that blustery afternoon, measuring the plot of our newest native garden project at Sand Street Beach. Our next Spring Break event was at Sweetbriar Nature Center, helping to brush out the beds and awaken all of their beautiful plants and wildlife. The week finished with an afternoon at the Three Village Garden Club Arboretum where we hacked away at the fallen bamboo, making the paths clear and safe for spring visitors. Towards the end of the month, we helped Quogue Wildlife Refuge celebrate Earth Day with its patrons. Volunteers made buttons, bird feeders, and other crafts with visiting children. They snuck in some extra fun by taking turns kayaking around the beautiful wetlands on the property. To wrap up the month, we planted our second round of seeds for the year, anxiously awaiting truly warm weather.

May 2014

With hints of summer, volunteers came out in hoards to soak up the sun and engage with the sprouting greenery. Our first event was assisting with activities at the Smithtown Historical Society’s Come Alive Outside festival. Volunteers helped children enjoy the simpler pleasures of days gone, such as bubble making, fence-painting, and playing in the sand. Others helped to install 2014’s Grow-to-Give garden. STATE’s next engagement was at Avalon Park and Preserve, doing our best to get rid of the pesky garlic mustard. Of course, the biggest draw to this invasive species pull is the edible nature of these plants: we take a break to go inside and make garlic mustard pesto, which goes on fresh pasta and fuels another round of pulling. May is often our festival month, and this year was no exception, as we next headed out to Hallockville Museum Farm to help run their activities at the Fleece and Fiber Fair. With frequent breaks to enjoy presentations such as shearing and sheepdog sporting, it is an annual favorite for volunteers. We slipped in our first horseshoe crab tagging on Memorial Day evening, which is never a let-down. The month wrapped up with our great seedling transplant at Arcadia: those little plants know better than us that summer is very near, and we all agree that it’s the time of the season for both plants and volunteers to get their roots growing deep and wide in the warm soil.

June 2014

With another school year nearly over, volunteers helped manage their final exam stresses by coming out to a wide variety of STATE events. The month started with a splash out east on the Peconic River with our first Ludwigia pull of the year. These wet, dirty events keep us laughing while keeping the invasive water primrose to a minimum in the river and lake. June is a popular month for native habitat installations, and indeed, we put in three: a beach habitat near the Gamecock Cottage at West Meadow Beach, a bird and butterfly habitat at the Smithtown Library, and a salt-tolerant near-shore habitat alongside the pathway near Sand Street Beach. Each of these gardens will help provide food and shelter for our beloved native creatures, and beauty for passers-by. Toward the beginning of the month, we stopped by the Three Village Garden Club Arboretum to clear vines off of a few struggling trees and spread a bit more mulch on the newer paths. Arcadia visits became weekly, as weeds grow even faster than our intentional plantings this time of the year, and volunteers gladly pulled away, enjoying the progress of each little bean and stalk. In the last week of June, we returned to a few summer favorites, beginning our bi-weekly events at Sweetbriar Nature Center to help keep up with their gardens, tagging horseshoe crabs at midnight, and collecting data on Terrapin turtle nesting habits.

July 2014

We began July with a visit to our own Arcadia, where we were starting to reap the fruits (or vegetables) of our labor. Volunteers returned to Arcadia every week to weed, harvest, and plant, making 2014 one of our best years yet at the garden. STATE was then introduced to a new challenge: pulling invasive Pepperweed plants at West Meadow Beach. If left unchecked, like most invasives, they would crowd out ecologically important native plants and entirely take over the landscape. Volunteers came in groups of 10-20 at a time throughout the month and left no above-ground trace of the plants. Pepperweed spreads by root, so volunteers were given a challenge to pull the longest length of root. I kept track of candidates for longest root, and the winners each day were awarded ice cream for their exemplary work. Twice we returned to the Peconic River to pull Ludwigia, and thank goodness we did, as there was more and more present on the river each time we arrived. Other excitement in July included a visit to our friends at the Long Island Native Plant Initiative to pot up their amazing little seedlings, a hazardous afternoon of trail maintenance at Nissequogue River State Park alongside some unfriendly bees and a beautiful pond, and a morning spent maintaining our new Sand Street native habitat garden, which is coming along most splendidly.

August 2014

August was an unusually mild month, but we weren’t complaining. On the first day of the month, and twice again over the following weeks, STATE volunteers singlehandedly took on a frightening infestation of mile-a-minute weed at the Three Village Garden Club Arboretum. Over the course of the three events, over 25 different volunteers came out to show the awful plant what we’re made of, and by the end of the third day, we couldn’t find a single plant in the entire arboretum, all before the plants had a chance to produce berries and spread. This goes down in history as one of our greatest accomplishments, as the problem had been growing for years, and next year, it will be much less massive and more easily eradicated.  Twice, we headed over to Sweetbriar Nature Center to have fun in their gardens, completing a new path through a particularly large flowerbed so that children (and adults) can feel like they are in a magical little hideaway amongst the 5+ foot tall grasses and flowers. Of course, we tended to our own garden throughout the month, taking home a multitude of vegetables and herbs. For the first time, we participated in the Long Island Farm Bureau’s Made on Long Island Day; volunteers handed out maps, took surveys, and helped patrons enjoy the festival while they enjoyed the festival themselves. We took one more good shot at the Ludwigia problem on the Peconic River, wading in and pulling hundreds of pounds of the plant off the water’s surface and into row boats, then laboriously unloading them and doing it again, and again, and again. One thing is for certain: we have some seriously determined volunteers! The Pepperweed had one more visit from our volunteers, as well, and we were happy to find only pathetic little sprouts. Towards the end of the month, we took an afternoon to pot up our homegrown native seedlings along with some tree and shrub whips in serious need of some room to grow. To finish up the month, our six most dedicated volunteers throughout the summer were rewarded with a long day up in New Paltz. First, we all shared a great deal of laughter as everyone tried their best to conquer the cliffs while rock climbing. After learning how to repel— or dangle, at time— we had lunch and took off for a beautiful hike. The day ended with a celebratory dinner where we toasted to everyone’s hard work and told stories of the fun we shared over the previous months.

September 2014

Between everyone heading back to school and an Avalon Park and Preserve sponsored trip to Yellowstone National Park, September was a light month, but that’s not to say that we didn’t accomplish a few great things. Our first and biggest feat was installing a huge native garden at the Commack Library. Volunteers dug in hundreds of plants to create instant habitat: birds and butterflies were already fluttering around by the time we were packing up! We spent another September day finishing our work to put our little native seedlings into bigger containers so that their roots will expand and grow hardier plants in the spring. The rest of our work during the month was in Arcadia, still planting final crops and harvesting plenty of goodies.  

October 2014

October is one of our favorite months, as the summer heat has mellowed out, and the changing of nature’s pallet is remarkably beautiful. On a rainy Saturday, we began the month indoors with our friends from the Cornell University Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County. All of our burlap cutting through the winter months finally paid off as we wove live eelgrass through the holes to create the discs that would soon become instant marine habitat. We then returned to our Sand Street garden project to spruce it up one more time before saying goodbye for the year. The volunteers (and myself) are rightfully proud of what we accomplished there over the past few months. As Arcadia slowly wound down, we visited it twice, harvesting, pruning, and beginning to pull out tired plants. On Columbus Day, we visited the Three Village Garden Club Arboretum to clean up a few areas before their Afternoon Tea fundraiser. Our most esteemed event of the month was STATE’s participation in the A Day in the Life of the Nissequogue River project. Many different student groups did the same series of tests along the river on the same day, creating a snapshot of a previously under-studied river. STATE volunteers tested chemical characteristics of the water, netted critters out of the river to identify, and documented their area of the shore, amongst many other forms of data collection. We then helped our friends at the Sweetbriar Nature Center to wrap up their gardens for the season. To finish the month, we met back at the Nissequogue River State Park to remove invasive mugwort from a native meadow. Though the weather cancelled a few events, we still had a wonderfully productive October!

November 2014

With November as our final month of STATE-conducted stewardship for the year, we packed it full of exciting projects. To begin the end of 2014, we gathered at Avalon Park and Preserve to collect a wide variety of native grass and flower seeds with the intent of spreading them across other native meadows in the coming spring to introduce new species and genetic diversity. As a little year-end celebration, we gathered on a cold late-autumn night for an owl prowl. While it was too windy to summon any of Avalon’s beautiful owls, the s’mores were still just as delicious, and the company as enjoyable. Mid-month, a few volunteers trekked out east to help our friends at Hallockville Museum Farm prepare to build a new fence around their community garden by deconstructing the old one— and when I say old, it was nearly a century old! The crew kept going strong as we head down to the south shore to beat back some miscanthus at Seatuck Nature Association. The following weekend had us tackling the trash on two local beaches: Young’s Island, which is a bird sanctuary that is closed to the public year-round, and Pirate’s Cove alongside McAllister County Park. With a collective 50+ bags of garbage, we all felt enormously accomplished, if not a bit chilly. Finally, our year ended at Arcadia with a swarm of volunteers pulling out plants, laying straw, and saying thank you to the earth for our most productive year yet.

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