January 2015

We are always excited to start the year together, gathering in the Avalon Park and Preserve barn for various projects. The first task of the year was to start stocking Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Marine Meadows effort with burlap ‘tortillas,’ using their templates to cut circular burlap pieces with 10 holes each to be used later in the year as a medium for weaving and planting eelgrass just off of Long Island shorelines. We switched gears for our next project, going from sea to air, helping our native pollinators by beginning our construction of a series of bee habitat boxes. Made of scrap wood, logs, and bamboo, we chopped, snipped, drilled, and assembled until we began to see little native bee homes coming into form. Our last event of the month hit the land in between, planning our organic vegetable and herb garden, Arcadia, for 2015. Volunteers sat around tables discussing their favorite foods, examining seed catalogs, considering what can be grown in our region and how it is done, and then setting a schedule for the three seasons to come.

February 2015

February began with a prestigious event, awarding 10 hard-working STATE volunteers with the Presidential Volunteer Service Award. We continued with our bee-box building efforts, delighting in their assembly, especially with a volunteer-original idea of adding a bamboo chimney to each of the houses, making them look particularly adorable for their sale a few months later at the Long Island Native Plant Initiative‘s annual plant sale. Next, we sat down and began to discuss a long-term project: creating and installing signage at the local Mill Pond to teach visitors about the wildlife and waterfowl in the pond. This workshop was very successful, teaching volunteers about the amazing local fauna and how we can help the public respect these species. A group of volunteers also met for a two days to complete a water quality campaign ad creation workshop with Friends of Flax Pond president Nancy Grant. Our month concluded with another two rounds of ‘tortilla’-cutting for CCE’s Marine Meadows, totaling over 1,200 burlap circles!

March 2015

After warming up our building skills with building housing for our native bees, we took out plans for very sophisticated homes specifically built for blue birds, as requested by the Four Harbors Audubon Society. Complete with drip-lines on each roof and a hinged door for easy cleaning each year, volunteers constructed 9 beautiful and functional blue bird houses to be installed in parks and preserves throughout Long Island in the coming year. It took us one more day to complete our bee houses, but we ended up sending 16 lovely native bee habitats, ready for install, some painted by the volunteers and others left with a natural aesthetic, to be sold for $25 each at LINPI‘s plant sale. (Update: every last box sold, raising $400 to help propagate Long Island native plants!) The winter is lingering later than usual this year, but we found a sunny (if not still snow-covered) day to clean out the bird boxes around Avalon. It became a game to guess how many field mice we’d find tucked away in each box as we opened it up! The artistry of the birds’ nests inside inspired us to research different birds’ nest patterns, leaving us in awe at the diversity and beauty we found.

April 2015

Finally, we were able to get outside, so we took some native seeds of our own and cold-flatted a number of varieties with the hopes of planting the seedlings in various native habitat restoration projects later in the year. Keeping the outdoor momentum going, we set out for our annual praying mantis egg hunt, collecting 110 nests from the fields of Avalon before the spring mow, each containing between 100 and 400 eggs. Next, we headed to Sweetbriar Nature Center to help bring their gardens to life, raking out beds and trimming back old growth, already seeing signs of spring under the autumn leaves. By mid-April, winter had finally moved on, and we were ready for the beach! Volunteers gathered at McAllister County Park to complete the first beach cleanup of the year, readying the shoreline habitat for migratory birds and wildlife in the water. This hike is so lovely that it hardly seems like work when we are there! The following day, we met at Nissequogue River State Park to fix up a walkway and a bird-blind area. The path was fully restored and the bird-blind made useful again after we cleared the non-native shrubbery, vines, and saplings between the viewing area and the pond. To celebrate Earth Day, we headed to the south shore to assist with Seatuck Environmental Association‘s Eco-Carnival. Volunteers facilitated multiple interactive stations, helping visitors of all ages enjoy the wonders of nature– from trees to bugs, with microscopes and poetry and everything in between– all day long. We ended the month by kicking off year two of our Sand Street Beach native habitat garden project. Beautiful little seedlings were already popping up, and the promise for a wonderful summer ahead was written on every little stem.

May 2015

All of our winter burlap-cutting paid off first thing in May when we hosted a workshop with Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Marine Meadows program. Volunteers helped to set up for the weaving workshop, and then we were joined by members of the public for a fascinating presentation on the history of and current efforts to restore eelgrass around Long Island. Everyone then set to weaving eelgrass transplants into the burlap ‘tortillas’ to later be planted as a meadow. The next day was “I Love My Park Day” through New York State Parks, so an impressive group of our volunteers met at Caleb Smith State Park to help other locals create a trail, plant flower beds, and generally beautify the park. Moving along, we headed to Frank Melville Memorial Park to complete our now-annual maintenance on the Azalea Walk trail, which is likely our greatest invasive species removal success story to date. We love going back to move the English Ivy back a few more feet, pull a hefty amount of garlic mustard, and having to be careful for an ever-increasing amount of trillium and ferns popping up along the path. The volunteers finally were able to get some more seeds into Arcadia, feeling that the frosts were surely over.

On a mid-month Saturday night, near to midnight, we set out on our first horseshoe crab counting and tagging outing with Cornell Cooperative Extension’s monitoring program. This event never fails to delight us as we stroll the beach chatting about these amazing creatures and the importance of studying their movement. Though it is hard to imagine an event more exciting than that, we followed it up by hosting our annual ‘Pull-and-Pesto’ at Avalon Park, where volunteers pulled many buckets full of the invasive garlic mustard plant, and during our break, we worked together to make a pesto out of the leaves, eating it on pasta and crackers. Add food to any event and it’s a hit! Fueled by the prospect of food, we headed back to Arcadia to plant our seedlings and keep our seeds growing strong so that we could soon harvest some organic vegetables. Feeling like stretching our wheels, we headed out east to the Long Island Native Plant Initiative’s greenhouse in Riverhead to help them prepare flats of plants for their annual plant sale. To end the month with a bang, we assisted with a variety of activities at Smithtown Historical Society’s Spring Farm Festival. Our favorite effort here is helping to plant their ‘Grow-to-Give’ garden each year, where all of the food grown throughout the year is given to local food pantries.

June 2015

This sunny month started with volunteers at Arcadia, harvesting some of the first crops of lettuce and snap peas, clearing out untouched beds, and continuing to plant new crops. June continues our work with Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Horseshoe Crab Monitoring program at West Meadow Beach, and volunteers set out twice this month to count and tag. On one of the evenings, we participating in a ‘tagging blitz,’ working in groups to measure, document, and tag over 900 crabs in one night. The volunteers returned to our Sand Street Beach native habitat garden to keep up with the weeds, which were growing as quickly as the natives, but once the group was finished with the afternoon, all that was left was a lovely display of native plants, either beginning to bloom or working on their foliage. We are grateful for such a public opportunity to work on a native garden because we get to educate curious folks who pass by and ask us about the plants. It is easy to point out all of the pollinators on the flowering plants! Towards the end of the month, we continued our work at Arcadia, but also headed back to West Meadow Beach, during the daylight this time, to help with Friends of Flax Pond’s Terrapin Nesting Survey. Volunteers can’t argue with a morning at the beach! To end the month, we took our kayaks out east to help the Peconic Estuary Program and Department of Environmental Conservation with our annual invasive ludwigia removal efforts. Being out on the water is always a thrill for volunteers, and the ice cream at the end of the day doesn’t hurt, either!

July 2015

With school out of session, gardens growing rapidly, and wildlife in a very active state, July is one of our busiest months. Each week, volunteers met back at Arcadia to tackle a to-do list. We often would begin by nibbling on instantly edible crops, such as snap peas or strawberries, and then go on to weeding before planting any new crops and harvesting the rest of our bounty. Each week brought a new delight.

For the first three weeks of July, we helped with the Diamondback Terrapin Nesting Survey, finding a few turtles, with a few volunteers being lucky enough to see the Terrapins digging a nest and laying eggs! We also found many “test holes” as well as predated nests, and while we mourned the loss of these could’ve-been baby turtles, we discussed the reality of the food chain, and found great interest in the “detective case” surrounding each nest as we tried to figure out “who done it” and whether or not there might be other nests around. After a couple of our Terrapin surveys, we stuck around for a couple of extra hours to help our friends from the youth volunteer corps at the Ward Melville Heritage Organization pull the invasive Pepperweed plant from the bay side of West Meadow Beach. Our “longest root competition” seems to motivate volunteers to follow those tap roots, and the results show, as this year’s Pepperweed growth was much weaker than years before!

Every other week in the summer, we head over to Sweetbriar Nature Center to lend their volunteer gardeners a few extra hands in their great efforts to beautify that lovely public space. It’s heartwarming to see folks of all ages strolling through the gardens, thanking us as we move plants, trim back overgrowth, remove invasive species, and plant native species.

One of our most exciting events in July was the opportunity to work at a not-yet-opened Department of Environmental Conservation property in Ridge. The D.E.C. was just finishing up the foot-trail loop when we were there, and is planning a horseback trail, as well. Our volunteers were some of the first people to set foot on the new trail, which is beautiful and full of wildlife. We spent the day there cleaning up rubbish left behind by the previous property owners: a plant nursery with many plastic pots, metal pieces, and other human debris. By the end of the day, we couldn’t find a single piece of garbage!

After their plant sale, our friends at the Long Island Native Plant Initiative needed help re-stocking their supplies, so volunteers went to the greenhouse to pot-up little native seedlings. Twice more, we worked on our Sand Street Beach native habitat garden, growing more fond of the project with each visit. During one of these sessions, our contact from the Stony Brook Rotary Club visited the garden and was impressed by our swift progress; the rotary club was responsible for maintaining the garden space, which was previously neglected, but the partnership has proven fruitful for the community as well as the local ecology.

Being so close to the water, mariculture efforts are always on our radar. We had the opportunity this month to make oyster cages for a group producing oysters for water quality improvement and eventual release back into the harbor. Learning about oysters as a group was eye-opening for all involved; they aren’t so much like clams, after all! Keeping on our aquatic theme, we went out east for a day on the water to partake in another ludwigia removal effort.

The end of July means the beginning of our horribly invasive mile-a-minute removal efforts at the Three Village Garden Club Arboretum. We have been keeping this new-to-the-area invasive under wraps so far, and our first shot at knocking it back was as successful as ever.

August 2015

To kick off the month, we visited our friends at Hallockville Museum Farm. They are far from home, but very much worth the visit, as it isn’t often that we get to feed our brush clippings to cows and sheep! It was a pleasure to help them clear an area that’s set for more grazing before lining up with paint brushes to white-wash a picket fence, just like in the good ol’ days! Beth’s old-timey homemade ice cream made the hot day completely worthwhile. Twice more in August, a group of volunteers joined the volunteer gardeners at Sweetbriar Nature Center to further beautify and improve their many beds of flowers and shrubs, paths and formal gardens, decorations and seating.

On the 5th morning of the month, in the hours before the light, a micro-blast hit the north shore of Long Island. Neighborhoods as well as parks and preserves were devastated as if they had been through a hurricane. We were scheduled to take a leisurely 10-mile hike through the Rocky Point Pine Barrens State Forest, but after the storm, it became an exercise of extreme back-country trail maintenance. Our crew that day was phenomenal, marching at a break-neck pace from one blocked section of trail to the next, working tirelessly with nothing but hand tools to clear each section. They cleared at least 80% of the 10-mile loop after only 5 hours, including the hiking. It was an extremely tiring day, but “accomplished” does not begin to describe our mindset upon returning to the parking lot.

The next day, and each week thereafter, we continued our work at Arcadia, finally harvesting tomatoes and other warm-weather crops. The bounty at the end of each day was wonderfully impressive. This put us in the correct state of mind for helping at the annual Grown on Long Island Day, a county-wide farmer’s market. Volunteers served as perfect greeters, handing out reusable tote bags, introducing hundreds of visitors to the event, and helping attendees put a sticker on a Long Island map to identify where they lived to see just how well represented the entire island was at the festival. It was fantastic for both the volunteers and the public to see just how many local farmers are doing amazing work in our own back yards.

August offered many new opportunities, including one on Massapequa Lake removing the invasve Water Chestnut plant. It is a lovely-looking plant, but could cover the entire lake, causing many ecological issues. Enjoying fries and milkshakes from a local burger joint made the task seem all the easier! We also gave invasive ludwigia out on the Peconic Lake and Peconic River one last shot for the year.

Also out on the eastern end of Long Island, our group spent another afternoon at the Long Island Native Plant Initiative greenhouse nurturing native seedlings, including the tiniest prickly pear cacti that we have ever seen! We visited some larger prickly pears at our own native project at the Sand Street Beach habitat garden on the last day of the month, delighting in the success of this garden, the public’s enjoyment of it, and just how many pollinators were enjoying the flowers. On the other side of the plant spectrum, we spent one more mighty morning pulling mile-a-minute weed from the Three Village Garden Club Arboretum, and it was incredibly encouraging when we could not find a single plant at the end of the event.

For the first time this year, our volunteers participated in the second half of the Diamondback Terrapin Nesting Survey research for a few days at West Meadow Beach, tracking down the protected nests, taking data on them on the days approaching their anticipated hatch date, and then uncovering them when the time was near to see if there were baby turtles awaiting their arrival into the world. Our groups did not experience this magic, but some individual volunteers joined in the efforts on other days and did get to see the newly hatched Terrapins.

September 2015

With school back in session, volunteers seemed all the more eager to get outside when given the opportunity, so our events this month were wonderfully successful. We began by revisiting our cold-flatted seedlings to put them into larger containers, along with saplings purchased by the Four Harbors Audubon Society, and make a complete list of the native plants we have for use in autumn habitat garden installation projects. Next, we headed over to Wertheim National Wildlife Refuge to help out with the 8th Annual Pine Barrens Discovery Day. Volunteers set up displays, helped with workshops, oriented visitors with the refuge, and found some time to enjoy the fun day, too!

We were re-joined by our Four Harbors Audubon Society friend Joy to install one of our most fabulous native habitat gardens yet at Sweetbriar Nature Center since it is within their I.B.A. or Important Birding Area. A tired old bed became a wealth of food and shelter of local and migrating pollinators, birds, and critters as volunteers planted seed-producing annuals, hearty perennials, and many shrubs. Later in the month, volunteers put in a few hours of maintenance work at a habitat garden that they installed many years ago at the Nesconset Branch of the Smithtown Library. It was so encouraging to see a mature garden, each and every flower beautiful flower completely covered with native pollinators.

Of course, we continued our planting and harvesting at Arcadia, with the bounty continuously rolling in, and seeds for autumn crops hitting the soil first thing, though with the summer weather holding out strong, it was hard to think about the fall at all. Mid-month, we headed to Pirate’s Cove and McAllister County Park again, this time accompanied by our friends from Coastal Steward, to clean up after a long beach season. To wrap up the month, volunteers took a field trip out to a native habitat garden at Elizabeth A. Morton National Wildlife Refuge to plant a ton of butterfly weed and fix up a fence to keep the deer from munching it right down.

October 2015

With the warmest of the year’s weather behind us, we begin to straddle projects that bring new beginnings and fulfilling conclusions. Our month started at Sweetbriar Nature Center, where we helped the volunteer gardeners complete their list of ‘to-do’s before the autumn and winter settled in. Moving plants, creating paths, and mulching beds filled our sunny afternoon. The following Friday found us by a bend of the Nissequogue River under a threatening set of clouds, but our determined group of citizen scientists donned their waders and collected all necessary data as a part of the tremendous ‘A Day in the Life’ effort up and down the river that day. Being the last group, the storm held itself back just long enough for us to finish, and as we scrambled to collect our materials, and measured water PH levels in the back of a mini-van, an impressive sheet of rain accompanied by rolling thunder and flashes of lightening fueled our excitement.

The storm passed quickly, and the next day we were working on our native habitat garden at Sand Street Beach. We were surprised and disappointed to find that town workers had made their own amendments to our project, but the group worked diligently to make up for the lost plants, moving young seedlings and setting the stage for another great season in the spring. The rest of the weekend had us at Arcadia, harvesting delicious vegetables and herbs on a gorgeous fall day, and then finishing our work at our new habitat garden installation garden at Sweetbriar Nature Center. This involved installing one of our native bee habitats, as well as building brick ‘chimneys’ for creatures to nest in.

Next, we paid a visit to one of our first native habitat garden installations at Sunken Meadow State Park, as it was doing so very well that the plants needed to be divided. To learn a new skill, we helped our friends at the Long Island Native Plant Initiative create boutineers out cuttings from native plants to prepare for their annual symposium. The following weekend, we were at our home base, Avalon Park and Preserve, conducting a water station and pointing runners in the correct direction during Head of the Harbor’s Walk for Beauty. To end the month, we were back at Arcadia, harvesting one of our final crops, and finding what turned out to be slug eggs!

November 2015

November signals the beginning of the end of our year, so we focus mostly on cleanup projects. We began the month with our last effort at our Sand Street garden project, cutting back invasive grasses to prevent seed spread and making the garden presentable for the winter months to come. We took advantage of the lingering warm weather to hike McAllister County Park, picking up rubbish and enjoying the shoreline. To keep the waterside theme going, we did our annual paddle over to Young’s Island, our local bird sanctuary. This is always a favorite adventure, as the bones, garbage, and whatever else might be on the island keep volunteers amused as we complete our task. Finally, volunteers attended the Youth Ocean Conservation Summit at Stony Brook University to brainstorm with other motivated young stewards about how they can work together to improve the future of our oceans. The summit opened with an inspiring speech by Fabien Cousteau about the importance of ocean-based stewardship efforts.

December 2015

December is always our slowest month, but that doesn’t make it our least exciting. This December, we were introduced to Patriot’s Hollow State Forest for the first time, and visited it twice to tidy up the treeline alongside the sidewalk lining 25A in Setauket. Volunteers made enormous progress, taking the neglected public space and removing the garbage, pulling away invasive vines from trees, cutting back broken limbs, and clearing brush from the ground to make it much more pleasing for the thousands of people who pass by each day. Our other effort in the early part of this month was to help tidy up the nearby Patriot’s Rock after the summer’s microblast storm. Volunteers worked with members of the Three Village Trust to return this small historic woodland area to its pre-storm state. To bring the year to an end, we had a fabulous Owl Prowl and bonfire with plenty of s’mores and laughs, delighting in memories of the many accomplishments we shared this year.

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