March 2011

We kicked off our new and exciting Avalon program on the 20th of March by planning and constructing seedling boxes for Arcadia, our volunteer-run garden. We first broke-up into groups and discussed the types of plants each volunteer deemed necessary and desirable for a balanced garden. After coming to a conclusion as a group and creating a list of seeds needed for the project, we picked up some hammers and nails and constructed the boxes that, in the next program of this series, we’ll be filling with fertile soil and seeds to start up Arcadia’s plants. On a following brisk early-spring afternoon, five eagle-eyed STATE-ees searched for praying mantis egg cases in the wild flower fields at Avalon before the annual field mowing. At first, the task seemed impossible, as the light brown, papery cases blend in so well with their landscape of fall leaves and dried reeds, but our volunteers took the mission, finding 77 egg cases in just over two hours! Each case has the potential to hatch between 100 and 400 individual mantis, so they saved between 7,700 and 30,800 lives!

April 2011

What a productive month! Right off, our volunteers worked together to construct their greenhouse, knocking out the task in just 20 minutes! After an out-of-the-movies scene where the greenhouse took off, blowing and rolling away with ten volunteers sprinting behind it, we secured its base and began creating wire seed spacers. Next, we filled our seedling boxes with seed starter soil, soaked it, and let it settle while staking out raised bed placement in the new garden space. Finally, we mustered up every last bit of concentration to distrubute seeds into the boxed soil, already building anticipation for heirloom tomatoes, varieties of basil, hot peppers, and so much more! Next, on one of the loveliest, warm spring days of the year, we met up at Sweetbriar Nature Center to rake, pull, and clip last year’s growth away to make room for the greens that are just beginning to set up camp for 2011. It’s incredible what a difference we made in the hours that we were there! While turnout was low to our path rennovation program, perhaps because wood chip relocation seems daunting, the valiant volunteers and one parent who showed up sure had a great time! We took turns using the tractor to haul the chips to and fro, working on our driving skills, and, in between, working on our muscles with those forks, rakes, and barrows. We accomplished a truly phenomenal amount of work in one afternoon! The Garden Club couldn’t stop thanking us, and so I pass that onto my resilient volunteers: thank you, thank you, thank you! Everyone at the park is already enjoying the beautiful path we made, and you know those second graders will be grateful when they’re not losing shoes in the mud! We then had a really awesome Sunday by the sea at Historic Old Field Farm! First, Luci from Four Harbors Audubon Society taught us all about the birds that we were going to create nesting boxes for that afternoon. We reinforced our knowledge of how different these avian species can be when we began assembling the different boxes: barn owl, blue bird, barn swallow, osprey, and though they’re not birds, bat boxes, too! All afternoon, we read directions, hammered, painted, caulked, and worked together to make these piles of wood into beautiful bird boxes. Thank goodness for a more-than-delicious lunch of soup and sandwiches from our host, Sally, which gave us the pep we needed to finish our day’s work. Totaling ten boxes for the afternoon, we concluded by mixing up cement, mounting one of our bluebird boxes to a 20-foot pole, raising it up, and securing it in the ground. We can’t wait to go back in the coming seasons and watch for activity in the 10 new homes we built for the winged critters at Old Field Farm! Another spring-break afternoon, we trekked into the wild and wonderful bamboo forest of Setauket at the Three Village Garden Club Arboretum with a mission: harvest some dead bamboo. While helping to clear and beautify the trails and areas within the walls of bamboo, we collected the tall, strong stalks– watching to be sure that no one lost an eye– and dragged them into the field for cleaning. Once all the small branches were removed, we cut 12-foot sections and stacked them in the truck, ready to be brought back to Avalon for the following program. We also collected thinner stalks to bring back to Avalon to create trellises for Arcadia! As the month wound down, we tackled not one but TWO types of fences! First, we learned how to put up a sturdy, straight split-rail fence, and built four sections to block off an area of Avalon trails to give our soon-to-be baby quails more privacy. Next, we took the bamboo from the previous day’s program, attached it to the split-rail fence around Arcadia, and strung fishing line around the perimeter in hopes of spooking and deterring any hungry deer. The volunteers did a stand-up job! To finish the month, it was another lovely sunny spring day at Sweetbriar Nature Center! We headed back to the gardens to tackle some more weeds, clear some paths, and conquer the army of dandelions. During lunch, we got to meet one of Sweetbriar’s resident falcons, and after our day’s work, we took a walk to the animal barn to hang out with the goats, bunnies, and birds of prey— all in separate cages, of course! All in all, another wonderful day full of fresh air, good company, and helping our nature center neighbors!

May 2011

We all spent our first Sunday afternoon aligning boards and supports, holding them still, drilling them together, and as they were completed, filling them—wheel barrow after wheel barrow— with soil and compost. This might not sound so rough, but our bulging arm muscles speak for themselves: we rocked it. Our garden is now looking like, well, a garden! The raised beds are just begging for some plants, and we won’t make them wait long. Spring has sprung, and STATE is ready to make ideas into reality. Next, we had yet another first for the S.T.A.T.E. volunteers’ garden: getting some seeds into its soil. We planted the seeds that wanted to go right into the ground: radishes, carrots, peas, lettuce, arugula, watermelon, and sunflowers. With the last part of the afternoon, we transplanted three types of strawberry plants into our fabulous three-tier strawberry box. Harvest time can’t come soon enough! For our next trick, in only three hours, the students assembled four huge raised beds, filled two of them, dug one into the ground, planted cucumbers, watered sprouting seeds, and investigated the very large root that they found while digging! It was a fun afternoon bouncing between this, that, and the other thing. As summer approaches, we’ll see this program held more often, as there are always projects to be tackled in a garden. Arcadia is looking most superb so far, and I know it’s only going to get better and better! On another afternoon, team of six knocked out projects one after another, beginning with filling the largest raised bed and planting our young blueberry bushes. After that, we divvied up the praying mantis egg cases that our volunteers had gathered back in March and redistributed them throughout the fields so that they’ll have plenty of room to roam when they hatch. Returning to the garden, we filled the FINAL raised bed (woo-hoo!) and planted it with two types of zucchini, cantaloupe, and nasturtium. After giving everything a good soak, we gathered stones to place around our sunflower mounds, making them more beautiful and less apt to erode. Rock on, volunteers! On a mid-month Saturday morning, we arrived to find a skeleton of a barn, and by 3:30 PM, we were looking at a fully functional six-stall horse barn. It was no cakewalk, but with the help of another team of volunteers, we cleared debris, filled stall floors with sand and stamped it down, painted doors and walls, and with a few finishing touches— and a delicious lunch in the middle of all that— we had ourselves a barn! It was our pleasure to put in a day of work to help Historic Old Field Farm get back to its original state of beauty and functionality. We’re already excited to go back in June to do some fence work! The next day, we raced the rain! The seedlings weren’t going to stand one more day in those little seedling boxes— they were ready to root deeper, grow taller, and start producing veggies, herbs, and flowers. With the forecast predicting 5 days of rain, we knew the time was now, so we swapped the afternoon program to the morning and our heartiest volunteers dodged a few raindrops while carefully transplanting our seedlings. And oh, did we get our hands dirty! Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, basils, poppies, marigolds, and spinach are just a few of the many sprouts we put into the boxes today. Just as we were wrapping up, the rain began to move in on the garden to give the new residents a good soaking. There was another sunny seaside adventure for our STATE volunteers as we walked along the shores of Flax Pond and the Long Island Sound picking up whatever wasn’t naturally occurring. We found scores of little pieces of plastic, deflated balloons with their ribbons, and fishing equipment, along with some other stuff that I’d really just rather not list. Marine clean-ups are never dull days! Of course, we found time to unwind and skip rocks, as well as adding all the buoys we found to the rare and exotic Buoy Tree there beside Flax Pond. Brilliant work, all! Our super-productive day at Hobbs Farm included (but is not limited to): prepping the soil, planting potatoes, and placing a tire around them for future filling; digging holes and installing posts, along with a cord, to finish the child’s play area fence; building and tidying two new compost areas; edging a few beds; mowing the pathways; and moving some hay. Bravo, bravo! Aside from basking in the glory of so many jobs well done, we rewarded ourselves with the sweet tastes of broccoli flowers and tasty clove petals— right off the plants. Talk about fresh! For the first time, the volunteers swept all the tasks off of the to-do list before time ran out— impressive! First, we thinned a few of our crops, like arugula, lettuce, and radishes. Then we moved on to construct the may pole trellises that will soon be engulfed by pole beans and peas; they were already grabbing on before we were done stringing the twine! After taking a little recreational hike around the park, we returned to transplant a few new arrivals, water all of the beds, and then spray a garlic/onion/hot pepper/dish soap tea (yummy!) on our nightshade plants– eggplant, tomato, radish— because the flea beetles have been threatening to leave us eggplant-less. Lets hope it keeps those buggers away! Lastly, we puttered around, weeding the beds and counting the days until summer break. Nine more, I believe? These volunteers will never look at a patch of plants the same way again! We started the event thinking that all greens were equal, but a knowledgeable member of the Three Village Garden Club quickly taught us the evils of garlic mustard, English ivy, Asian honeysuckle, devil’s walking stick, multiflora rose, and other villains. Once educated, the volunteers couldn’t resist their urge to help those poor native plants by ridding the arboretum of these life-sucking, rapidly-spreading invasive aliens. The battle ended with nearly a dozen bags full of non-native plants, and we could hear the natives cheering as we left the arboretum.

June 2011

Talk about a gratifying AND enjoyable invasive species removal project! After a quick profile of our targets, we teamed up and paddled out to the farm end of Mill Pond in Oyster Bay to start pulling water chestnuts from the water’s surface. Despite the cloudy weather, we had a blast in the canoes! All in all, we gathered 32 full laundry baskets of the villainous plant, opening more surface area for the sunlight to shine through for the inhabitants at the bottom of the pond. We also felt wonderful about taking away the unfair competitors so that the natives can thrive on their resources in peace! There was plenty to be done, even after we finished our five-hour attack, so we’re looking forward to another ambush in July! After a spell without enough attention, the garden was so happy to have six pairs of hands working away to bring all of its inhabitants up to speed. First, we thinned a few crops— like carrots and lettuce— before heading over to the potatoes to start building them up into cages. That got our constructive juices flowing, so the group created a fabulous cucumber trellis, solving design issues and ending up with a beautiful, functional structure for the cucumbers to climb. All the while, we were prepping nematodes— “microscopic warriors”— to introduce to some of our beds in hopes of lessening the flea beetle population come their second hatching of the year. As a bit of spring rain began to fall, we tied the sunflowers to the fence for support and called it a day. Back at Historic Old Field Farm, we teamed up with a group of volunteers from New York City again to take on another huge project: rebuilding a large section of fence. When we arrived, we found rotten boards struggling to hold onto posts covered in faded paint. After ripping off all of the rails and cleaning the posts, we began nailing on the new boards, post by post. In the blink of an eye, moments after a section of fencing was installed, our team of painters were all over it, leaving it positively radiant in the afternoon sun. With paint-splattered shoes, we looked back on our day’s work with great pride, knowing that the new fence would stand strong and beautiful for years and years to come. At Arcadia, the plants they are a’growing! We all shared excitement today over our first little green tomatoes, signs of little snap peas, and zucchini flowers beginning to travel away from the vine, pushed by little zucchinis. Harvest season is just weeks away! To ensure a continual beet and carrot harvest, we threw more of those seeds in the ground, and plan to put more in again after a couple of weeks. We also worked on our potato cages, traveling into the woods with a pair of wheelbarrows to gather leaf compost to continue filling the cages in order to keep up with our very ambitious potato plants. After staking up our tomatoes, we traveled around from bed to bed, pulling out the unwelcome plants. Finally, we harvested two batches of chamomile flowers to dry for tea! Another exciting, productive day at Arcadia! A garden is only as healthy as its soil, and one of the best organic ways to create nutrient-rich soil for a garden is by composting. We have taken our first steps toward establishing a big, beautiful compost bin next to the garden, and plan to finish its construction and begin the composting as soon as possible! Our work so far on this project has been quite tiring: clearing the area of weeds, shrubs, and small trees; cutting boards down to the proper sizes; assembling a large frame; digging holes for the frame’s posts to sit in; and stabilizing the bin’s skeleton. As sweaty and ready for a nap as we all were afterward, we were already talking about how excited we are for part two of this program so that we can finish construction and have a lesson in optimum compost creation! Next, we had a lovely, quiet morning in the Sweetbriar Nature Center gardens. We spent a great deal of time liberating a cut-flower garden from the jungle of unwelcome plants that had grown in around the natives there. Once those beds looked happy, healthy, and neat, we moved on to help out with Sweetbriar’s small vegetable patch. There was a bit of weeding and mulching to be done there, and we delighted in watching a covey of quail skirt around the fence of the produce garden, eying the sugar snap peas and lettuce beds and wishing they could join us in our mission to free up some space in the garden! I think we should do more programs from 10:00pm until midnight! Our excited group of four students and their parents met up at West Meadow Beach to partake in some nighttime citizen science. As soon as the study’s site coordinator showed up and showed us the ropes on drilling and tagging the horseshoe crabs, measuring them, and taking notes on our findings, we were off on the star-lit beach, combing the surf for single or mating crabs. While the surf was rough, preventing us from witnessing mobs of mating horseshoe crabs, we all got a chance to get our hands on the critters, and thoroughly enjoyed the excitement of being out on the warm, breezy nighttime beach. Our only regret is not signing up for more of these research evenings, but come next year, at the start of mating season, we’re sure to be out there as often as possible, drilling, tagging, measuring, and hopefully not disrupting the crabs’ romantic evenings TOO much. Many of us returned to West Meadow Beach after the horseshoe crab research the night before, wiping the sleep from our eyes so that they’d be sharp in spotting evidence of Terrapin turtles. Happy to take part in another citizen science effort, we split up into groups, searching for test-holes made by turtles looking for the right spot to lay their eggs, nests that have been predated by raccoons, or the turtles themselves. Moving down the beach, we marked each hole with a flag and recorded its location on a GPS, its state of being, and details about the area surrounding the site. While we didn’t get to see any turtles out and about on the beach, we took a walk to the marshland across the road to estimate how many heads we saw bobbing in the water. The only thing that can make a person feel better about helping record important environmental data is doing so at the beach on such a gorgeous day! We’re excited to return to help with this project again.

July 2011

Back at the Three Village Garden Club arboretum, we learned yet another new set of skills, including map-making and tree-identification. Sue, a wonderful TVGC member, taught us the best way to create a to-scale map of a large area, positioning all of the living and non-living landmarks in the area. Once we got the hang of it, we were measuring fools, wheeling and taping all over the arboretum and recording our finds. When we found a tree that we’d yet to come across that morning, we would turn to the identification book and figure out who was who before putting it on the map. We completed a few sections of the map, but look forward to returning for another day of map-making later this month! The next was a hot, humid, buggy morning in the bamboo forest, but we sure got a lot done! First, we focused on cleaning up the mess that destructive folks made while aimlessly breaking and tearing down bamboo stalks. Once we were satisfied with our housekeeping, we began to harvest dead, dry bamboo stalks to use in our garden for trellising. After pulling the 10+ foot stalks out of the forest, we determined what was worth taking home, cleaned the branches and leaves off of it, and piled it up for transfer back to Avalon. We’re excited to use this bamboo in the garden instead of metal, plastic, or other unsustainable materials, and we’re sure the tomatoes are excited about it, too! After another hot day out behind the garden, we have completed our three-bin, four-by-four-by-twelve foot compost bin! It took a lot of skill, patience, and effort from our volunteers, but they now have something to be VERY proud of. With more secure posts, slat holders, stabilizers, wire mesh siding, and a lid, the compost bin is ready for use. As time goes on, all of our volunteers will practice using the compost bin, and come next spring, our beds will rejoice in the deliciously nutritious soil made from our kitchen scraps and spare foliage. Ohhh goody—our first day of harvest! First, we worked swiftly to trellis the tomatoes, weaving twine around bamboo and plants to support the fertile plants. Then, there was a bit of weeding to be done, and the potatoes cages needed another layer of soil and compost built up around the shoots to keep those plants growing skyward. Finally, we searched through the leaves of the bean plants to find handful after handful of purple string beans. In addition, we took home a bounty of snap peas, basil, and the thinned romaine lettuce. All six of us left with a goody-bag and big smiles, excited for the rest of our plants to start producing their veggies! There’s never a shortage of tasks at Sweetbriar Nature Center! As soon as we arrived, we were put to work mulching a rose bed, shaking good soil from deceased potted plants, and tackling some more invasive species. After the first half of the morning, we met in the gazebo around bottles of water and the cool of the shade before heading out together to clear out the areas under rows of hedges. As always, we left feeling satisfied and pleased about helping to maintain those beautiful gardens. A garden, especially the size of ours, is always in need of some pruning, training, planting, pulling, and picking. Now that the veggies are rolling in, we’re having the greatest time searching through vines and leaves for ripe and ready candidates for the kitchen. Cucumbers have started growing like wild, and the purple beans just keep coming! We added some support for the tomatoes, and planted a new area of carrots and beets. After clearing out the snap pea and arugula plants— who were past their prime— we chatted about what to plant in their places while beginning the first area of our compost bin. The full afternoon finished with the first picking of the cucumbers and excited conversation about the weeks to come! We are a lucky group! On our second time out with the citizen scientists tracking the breeding habits and activity of Terrapin turtles at West Meadow Beach, we spotted a soon-to-be mama Terrapin searching for a place to lay her eggs. It was fantastic to finally meet one of the creatures whose test-nesting-holes we’d been looking for and recording all morning. She was a bit nippy, understandably, so we let her go after taking her weight and size and filing a small notch in her shell to signify that we’d studied her, should we run into her again. All in all, a successful, warm, breezy, sunny day at the beach! In map-making, attention to detail, clarity, and accuracy are all very important. Thank goodness for patient volunteers who step up to such challenges! We made a great deal of progress toward a finished map of the Three Village Garden Club arboretum, and are excited to keep chipping away at it. Before long, we’ll have a lovely, useful finished product to share with the community! Most unfortunately, our garden was visited by creatures called ‘vine-borers’ which, without fail, decimate a garden’s entire squash crop within a matter of 48 hours. Most fortunately, we have upbeat, hard-working volunteers to pull out the infected plants, bag them, work the soil, and get some new seeds in the soil in hopes of having a strong squash crop in September, followed by an equally bountiful bunch of wonderful winter squash. Another circle of pole beans was planted, more bush beans were harvested, herbs were gathered, cucumbers cut, and the gals left with bundles of delicious produce. Thank you, ladies, for sticking it out in this heat! When Avalon was approached by a landscape architecture graduate student who wished to acquire data about the park’s daily usage and its patrons’ opinions of the park, STATE volunteers stepped up without a question. Well, actually, we were full of questions during our three surveying days: “How many times have you visited Avalon?”, “What features do you enjoy most?”, and “Are there any features that you would add to Avalon?”, among others. With many volunteers returning day after day to assist in this great effort, we collected the necessary information efficiently and as enjoyably as possible despite the stifling heat. The researchers, who are comparing our data to the same type of data sets collected at other parks across the country, congratulated us on our efforts and couldn’t be more grateful for our STATE volunteers! Perhaps we will continue this sociological survey of Avalon throughout the seasons to have a better idea of park usage throughout the year.

August 2011

Sweetbriar is always full of surprises! Our morning started out fairly typical: transplanting beautiful grasses; clearing stone paths of ambitious plants; chatting and laughing about this and that. As the morning went on, a very friendly bird came nearer and nearer to us until finally, it took up residency on my head! The unexpected visitor was a fun surprise, but didn’t keep us from accomplishing great things at the nature center. We hope to see our friend again when we return next week! Well, there’s no time like harvest time! To prevent the deer from beating us to the harvest, we first created and installed our homemade deer-fencing on the garden’s gates to send our four-legged friends a hint: keep out! Then, it was time to take down the greenhouse for the year, so we packaged it up until late winter when we’ll pull it out again and set it up to start all over again. Finally, we were set loose on the veggies: purple beans, carnival carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, beets, basil, lemon balm, mint, thyme, parsley, oregano… it was ALMOST too much. (Almost.) We just couldn’t wait to get home before we ate, so we sliced up some fresh-off-the-vine tomato and cucumber with basil, olive oil, and balsamic, and had ourselves a home-grown snack! After layering up the compost pile and a bit of weeding, we divided the day’s loot and went home with sacks full of goodies to munch on at home. What a day at Arcadia! The gardens at Sweetbriar are just about at their prime this time of year, and we’re delighted to be spending some time there helping to maintain the beauty, and even expand upon it! Our major project this morning was to finish clearing an area near the back of the gardens that had become a bit unruly, then plant four new trees, cut a nice clean edge for the border, and spread plenty of mulch. That sure was a step-back-and-say-“wow” moment when we were all done! As if that wasn’t fulfilling enough, we also trimmed the hedges in the rose gardens, exposed some very hidden brick, and did our usual Sweetbriar communing with nature, pausing just long enough for some winged creature to rest a while on one of our volunteers. This might have been our best Arcadia gardening program yet! With an enthusiastic group of volunteers, we first set to taking care of our tomato plants, trimming away tired leaflets to allow the plants to concentrate on producing their delicious fruits. Next, we set to clearing out areas of the garden that had exhausted the efforts for the season, pulling up the last of the carrots, some more beets, a section of herbs, and our box of poppies. No inch goes to waste in our beds, so those spots were immediately filled with our fall crops: root vegetables, lettuces, bok choy, Swiss chard, and spinach. Next, we attacked the basil bushes, proceeding to take a bunch of it downstairs for a quick pesto-making lesson and snack break! The day finished off with the building of a new bean pole and the construction of slat sets for our compost bin, keeping our volunteers around a bit later than they’d anticipated, but leaving me so proud of them for happily sticking around to complete the tasks at hand. Bravo, STATE-ees! We couldn’t have picked a more beautiful morning to spend at Old Field Farm! With the weather feeling nothing like August, but rather like early October, we didn’t mind hustling around the show fields, loading and unloading pieces of jumps, riding on the back of the Gator, and setting up courses for Sunday’s horse show. We learned about the differences between the ‘Hunter,’ ‘Jumper,’ and ‘Pony’ groups of horses and how the jumps and courses vary from class to class. While we didn’t get to put the bells and whistles (and flowers) on the jumps, we certainly got a taste of what it takes to set up such an elaborate show. During our unloading, we found a baby mouse in its nest, and placed it— with our best wishes— back in the area where the nest had come from, hoping that the mama mouse would come find it again. It seems that our volunteers attract interesting animal encounters! Just because the summer is starting to come to a close doesn’t mean that we’re ready to wind down at Arcadia! Our string beans are still producing, our tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants are just starting to roll in, and we still can’t pick the basil fast enough. We cleared out some past-their-prime plants to make room for winter crops like kale and collard greens, hoping that they take off and establish themselves before the frost starts setting in. After gathering up all of our veggies and herbs for the day, we headed over to the kitchen for an Eggplant Casale cooking lesson so that we’ll know what to do with our eggplant once they’re ready for the picking. Another fun, tasty day at the garden! They knew that this was their last Tuesday of the summer with some of the best volunteers this side of the county line, so the ladies at Sweetbriar served us up a sizable task to tackle. We were introduced to an overgrown area that is slated to be a cut-flower garden next year, but was full of weeds, bulb-rooted plants, annuals, and vines. After careful instructions, we sifted through the low jungle, pulling, sparing, and transplanting plants left and right. After two hours of diligent work, we had that area as ready as it could be at this point in the season, and it sure looked good! We’re excited to continue our work at Sweetbriar on weekends throughout the year, and then again next summer. Until the next time, we’ll miss the lovely resident volunteers and the endless gardens at the nature center! Bayard Cutting Arboretum has asked us to complete a most enjoyable task: create four scarecrows to represent the iconic characters from The Wizard of Oz. Using kits of ‘scarecrow skeletons’ provided by a scarecrow enthusiast at Bayard, we built ourselves four structures on which to drape, stuff, and construct bodies made of recycled plastic goods and thrift store finds. In our hours of work, we completed a great deal of the task, but we will return to it in September to put on the finishing touches. After all, ‘Dorothy’ can’t be without her ruby slippers! These ‘crows will be displayed at the Arboretum’s Fall Garden and Harvest festival, where STATE volunteers will also be helping out with various activities. Well, Hurricane Irene wasn’t easy on any of us, but thank goodness she chose to spare Arcadia! Much of the garden stayed in tact, but that’s not to say that there wasn’t a bit of cleanup work to be done after the storm. Our sunflowers took their final bows and went home with volunteers to live out their final days as table centerpieces. We needed to rebuild our deer-proof fencing so that hungry visitors didn’t get the idea that we’d changed our ‘Got hooves? No service’ policy. Once we were done with storm damage, we took a look around and realized that some of the plants were past their prime and were ready to restart the cycle of life in the compost pile. Where we pulled up old plants, we sowed new seeds for the next season. The rest of the afternoon was spent harvesting so many delicious goodies from our happy-to-be-alive plants. Volunteers went home with bags full of eggplant, tomatoes, string beans, onions, beets, basil, and herbs. Isn’t it nice when hard work pays off?

September 2011

After a long time without your loving care, Arcadia was happy to have its volunteers back! We picked the last of the purple bush beans, which have been filling our bellies for months, but finally raised their white flags. In their place, we planted a few more fall crop seeds– likely our last of the season. Seeing as the cool weather settled in early this year, we should be putting our beds to bed sooner than later. Until then, we’ll keep enjoying the copious peppers, tomatoes, beets, carrots, leeks, potatoes, and whatever else our generous plants are willing to give before calling it a year. Get ready for cover-crops, STATE-ees! But don’t be sad: we’ll be planning for next year’s garden before you know it. A gardener never rests! The season may be slowing down, but Arcadia is still producing plenty of goodies for us to bring home every week. This time around, we harvested the larger leeks, more tomatoes, radishes, and beans. We also collected most of the herbs with the intent of drying them at home so that we will have home-grown herbs to use in recipes all winter long. We all can’t believe that it has been over half a year since we planted our first seedlings. How time flies! While we aimed to finish this project today, creating recognizable, functional Wizard of Oz scarecrows proved harder than we’d imagined! After another four hours laboring over these heartless, brainless, courageless creatures, we were much further along than we’d started, but still had many finishing touches to apply. Still, we found ourselves in stitches while sewing stitches, laughing over the absurdity of using screws to affix shoes to Dorothy’s ‘feet’, how much the scarecrow looked like a kidnap victim while seated on a chair in the corner of the barn, and at each other as we took turns wearing the top of a child’s lion costume as a hat. After a bit more rummaging for rubies, paint, and hair, I think we’ll knock these guys (and girl) out of the park next week!

October 2011

Sometimes you’re really not sure if something is going to come together until the last moment, and these scarecrows gave us just that sensation. We had teams working all over the barn, assembling heads, torsos, hands, and tails, glancing at each others’ projects now and then to be sure that we were all on the same page. But once all body parts were cut, sewed, stapled, stuffed, and painted, they all fit together as if made by the same set of hands, leaving us with a most cowardly looking lion, a jovial tin-man, a silly scarecrow, and a lovely Dorothy— with Toto, too! The ‘crows were whisked away that very afternoon and set up at the Bayard Cutting Arboretum for their Fall Garden and Harvest festival, where they received innumerable compliments and served as the backdrop for hundreds of family photos. Three days’ work truly paid off, volunteers! The great folks down at the Bayard Cutting Arboretum invited us to come and create a kid-friendly area for the younger festival-goers to enjoy. Our volunteers did just that, and then some!, as we seemed to have as much fun as the youngsters. Some of us discovered our hidden talents through hours of face-painting, while others perfected the fine art of temporary tattooing. Not a single STATE shirt came away without a splatter of acrylic paint from the messy pumpkin-painting area, but what’s an afternoon of fun without a bit of mess? We had an excellent three days outdoors in the lovely October weather, bringing smiles to children’s faces and exercising our artistic abilities. One of our most gratifying programs, invasive species removal lets volunteers see immediate results throughout their afternoon of labor. With most of the day’s work devoted to beating back the prickly, bushy multi-flora rose plants, we found ourselves working slowly and carefully, ducking down under spiky tendrils to reach the bases of the monstrous growths and snip them where they started. Before we knew it, there was a 4-foot-high, 10-foot-long pile of conquered vines, and a much clearer area for native trees and plants to spread their limbs and reclaim the ground. Once we’d had enough of the plants that fought back, we headed over to a wisteria patch and began tugging at the maze of vines, bagging great coils of the plant before calling it a day. Here is a story of the great success of 5 STATE volunteers in Crown Heights, Brooklyn: This event was opened to students who have volunteered a certain number of hours with STATE. We took on extreme backyard makeover at a wonderful Brooklyn nonprofit called Sue Rock Originals. This organization supports women who have suffered through domestic violence situations. SRO donates handcrafted clothing to the women and holds classes where the women can learn to sew, knit, crochet, and create garments for themselves and other survivors. As the photos will show, the backyard was in complete disarray when we arrived, but soggy bags of textile pieces, pieces of broken furniture, unruly bushes, a half-fallen fence, and low tree branches couldn’t keep us from our vision. After only 5 hours of work, and a whole lot of effort!, the backyard was transformed into a lovely, welcoming space! Nonprofit directors Sue and Jerome Rock, our five volunteers, and I all could not believe our eyes when presented with the new yard. This space will be utilized as a beautiful sanctuary for women to gather and begin to rebuild their sense of confidence, hope, and joy— one stitch at a time. With this in mind, the greatness of our volunteers’ actions will extend far beyond their day’s work; the peace brought to this urban outdoor oasis will touch the lives of a countless number of women, their families, and their friends. Bravo, volunteers! May we continue to build upon our successes, making this world of ours a healthier, happier place. During many discussions with STATE volunteers about what they would like to experience through the program, a common request was a lesson on tree identification and familiarization with local species of trees. Lucky for us, Paul of Avalon Park’s phenomenal tree company— Treewise Organics— joined us on this autumn afternoon, armed with over a dozen tree clippings and an incredible amount of knowledge. Over the course of two hours, Paul discussed the unique characteristics of various species, passing the branches around for us to closely examine, feel, and smell the differences. Concluding with a short walk, hot cocoa, and any questions, we all left the event much more tree-wise ourselves! Thank you, Paul! We were a small crew of five, but what a difference we made on this up-and-coming Peconic Land Trust agricultural center! Near completion, Charnews Farm had but one area left to conquer, and we were called in to tackle the task. First, we prepped an area tucked away at the back of the property, laying down tarp and stacking crates. The rest of our afternoon was spent at an old farmer’s junk pile where we found all sorts of interesting artifacts! We could only guess at the functions of old chunks of metal, and are still scratching our heads over the “Danger: Explosives” wooden box lids. Once all of the rubbish was thrown away, and all of the reusable material loaded onto a trailer, we enjoyed the ride back to our tarped-out area and neatly unloaded the crates, cages, and wood. It was a fun day full of hard work in the lovely October sun. Charnews is incredibly grateful for our efforts, and hopes that we’ll come back soon to enjoy the farm and help out again! There’s always work to be done at Sweetbriar, and so the regular volunteers there are always so very excited to have our youthful, energetic volunteers around to lend their strong, able hands. On this day, we were helping to prepare transplants for the winter. The afternoon was full of hole digging, plant moving, weed pulling, and deseeding. In the end, as always, our hours of work were obvious in the transformations throughout the garden. We can’t wait for next spring to jump right back in with the Sweetbriar volunteers!

November 2011

While the temperatures have been flirting with freezing point, no November chill can keep our volunteers out of their garden. We had a lovely two hours pulling up tired plants and depositing them in the compost to become next year’s soil, or, in the case of our radishes, carrots, onions, leeks, and peanuts— Yes!, peanuts!– we piled up the loot and split it fair and square before heading home. Our afternoon also had us covering the strawberry bed with straw to keep the plants warm and cozy all winter long. To tuck the empty beds in for the season, we tilled up the soil and planted Winter Rye and Hairy Vetch as cover crops so that our soil enjoyed a season of pampering after it did such a fantastic job producing our goodies all spring, summer, and autumn long. We’re already excited to get next year’s crops going! Only a few months… We’re getting ready for winter, and what better way than to plant some winterberry? Okay, there are much more important winter-prep procedures, but this helped lift our cold-season spirits! After planting a bit of Echinacea, we swiftly dug holes, planted circles of winterberry suckers, making sure to have one male for every grouping of females, and tucked their roots into their new homes. Following up with a drink of pond water— for the plants, of course– we excited ourselves with thoughts of large, beautiful, berry-filled bushes in just a few years. On this blustery Veteran’s Day, the volunteers joined together to march out into our local woodlands to clear up a series of trails. By ‘clear up,’ we mean two things: some of us concentrated on debris and growth that was or would soon be obstructing the foot path; and simultaneously, a small group kept an eye on trail markers (or the lack there of) and hammered in new blazes where ever they thought the trail could use them for easier navigation. After 3 miles and 4 hours of work, we emerged from the woods feeling fantastic about all of the clipping, moving, and marking we’d done, because even as we worked, hikers stopped to thank us for helping to make their experience in the forest more enjoyable. We knew this was going to be a long afternoon of work, but our volunteers didn’t show a moment of fatigue until they took off their gloves for the day. Coached by landscape architect and TVGC member Sue Avery, we surveyed the pond and the area around it, identifying species and taking measurements for our future planning tasks. Next, we noted the location of all the invasive species surrounding the pond and got to work removing them. Figuring that the English Ivy would be easy enough to remove in the spring, we attacked the multi-flora rose towers, ending up with a gargantuan pile of thorny vines. At the end of the day, we loaded up the truck with the very obstinate rose plants and a great deal of bamboo and wood pulled from the pond itself, leaving us a beautiful, clear, clean pallet to plan for and plant natives in come springtime. As one of our volunteers said, “This was a great day to come to Arcadia!” With an afternoon full of digging, clipping, and pulling, everyone went home with bags full of herbs, greens, and potatoes. While we’re glad that we weren’t relying on the potato crop to keep us from starvation all winter, we are proud of what our plants produced, and excited about trying new methods of growing next year. We harvested the last of the herbs and leeks, too, sending everyone home with plenty to dry and keep throughout the cold season. After planting our fall garlic along with more covercrop, we said goodbye to Arcadia, knowing very well that the next few months would fly by, and our discussions of spring planning would start up before we noticed any passage of time. We LOVE new volunteer locations, and Quogue Wildlife Refuge did not fail to capture our eyes, hearts, and enthusiasm right away! The wonderful Marisa took us on a tour of the outdoor facilities, introduced us to Quogue’s eagle, falcon, owl, bobcat, and— er— dragon friends. Once we were oriented and excited, we took to the trails, clearing out large pieces of debris that had fallen to the forest floor. At first it seemed silly to be ‘cleaning up’ a forest floor, but Marisa explained to us that, in the sandy pine barren habitat, material breakdown is slow and, in an area that doesn’t allow fires to burn through and clean off the forest floor, debris would gather and choke out shrubs. So, armed with that knowledge, we began hauling sticks, branches, and dead bushes out of the brush so that the low-growing plants could thrive and feed the local critters. How lucky we were, too, to be roaming around such gorgeous trails! We are all already looking forward to our next day at Quogue. This was quite a mysterious Sunday! Our large crew of volunteers gathered at the entrance to Brookhaven State Park and began a lovely hike down to the ponds in question. Once we arrived, we gathered equipment from the truck, suited up in waders, and began to practice our seining. The funny part was: we weren’t catching any fish. During our efforts, an elderly gentleman approached us and said that he’s been watching the pond for years, and it had been teeming with frogs, turtles, and fish up until the last storm. Now there was little to nothing to speak of, aside from larvae of sorts, and a strange jelly substance. While the volunteers became disheartened about the lack of fish in our nets, state park representatives assured us that this discovery itself was very important to have made; they planned to begin an investigation on what had happened at the pond. The second part of our afternoon found us in the adjacent pond, snipping off Phragmites seed pods and scooping up invasive snails. We gathered a great deal of data that day, and the park couldn’t have been more grateful!

December 2011

We set out to decimate the ivy, and that we did! In three quick hours, we attacked the English ivy that was slowly but surely creeping up to take over the surrounding bushes and trees. Coming from every side, crawling down into the thick of it, tearing, pulling, clipping, and rolling out the bunches of vines, our volunteers simply wouldn’t quit. As the plants were tossed out from under their bushy covering, we shoved it all into bags, ending up with one dozen bags stuffed full of ivy vines. While we planned for the ivy removal, we hadn’t foreseen the removal of two bags worth of glass and cans that had mysteriously ended up in those bushes. Between our harvest of the invasive ivy and recyclable material, we made a great difference at the entrance of the park and can’t wait to get back to conquer other areas! It’s only December, and we’re already prepping for the springtime! Our first task at this event was to assemble four homes in hopes of attracting Eastern Bluebirds to ideal habitat owned by the Sisters of St. Joseph’s convent in Brentwood. Once four perfectly sound, lovely boxes were hammered together, we headed up to our garden boxes to take care of one last task: winterizing the asparagus. Gathering leaves from the area to use as mulch, we covered the remaining stalks with a layer of dried matter, and then another of straw to hold it all down. The afternoon flew by, and as usual, we were impressed with all of the work we squeezed into the event. Both the bluebirds and the asparagus will be very happy come the springtime! Who knew that STATE volunteers are top-notch researchers, too? When given the task of brainstorming questions about recyclables and recycling, from start to finish to restart, this group of students came up with a fantastic list of topics to investigate. Once they were each delegated to the various inquiries, the volunteers were typing like lightening, daring Google to keep up with them! By the end of three hours, we had a solid document full of recycling information, from where raw materials come from to which materials are most easily recycled. Our last task of the day was to begin to brainstorm how we can best present this information to young grade-school children to teach them about recyclables and recycling. We’re very excited to jump on the next phases: designing signage, constructing the recycling center, and putting it all to work at Sweetbriar! There’s nothing like getting outside when temperatures are in the low-40s, the wind is calm, and the sun is shining. We set out on the trail armed with saws, loppers, and gloves, and in no time, we were leaving behind us a wide open trail where once thorns, branches, and brush covered hikers’ ways. It seems that we can’t get away from the multiflora rose: the invasive that fights back. Undoubtedly, our little cuts and rips were worthwhile, taking out huge bushes of the ecologically and anthropologically dangerous plant. The Russian Olive trees weren’t as vicious, and actually proved to be a fun feat as we sawed or snapped off huge branches with fairly minimal effort. Needless to say, we were physically exhausted by the end of the day! Our unexpected treat came upon our return to the parking lot as we passed the pheasant cages; we were able to watch the DEC field biologists rounding up the birds for transport to local properties— a slow but amusing process. To keep our plans rolling for Sweetbriar Nature Center’s recycling center, our ever-growing think-tank gathered again to scheme up a design for the bin. Proving that brainstorming truly is the best way to begin the creative process, we landed on a fantastic, ergonomic structure to send along for review by the folks at Sweetbriar. After drawing up our plan, we broke into two groups and began working on graphic design for the bin as well as what type of information we might display in the nearby kiosk. We’ll continue pushing through, experiencing every step of the process, and looking forward to our final product!

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