Environment & Nature

Flowering quince, once established, is somewhat drought tolerant and has lovely red flowers in the spring. By planting drought-tolerant plants, you’re less likely to have to spend your time irrigating your garden. Photo by Ellen Barcel

By Ellen Barcel

The last two years have been interesting weatherwise on Long Island. The Old Farmer’s Almanac, which predicted a cold and snowy winter for 2013-14, and yes it was, also predicted a hot and rainy summer. As far as the hot part is concerned, it was one of the coolest summers in many years. So much for the hot part!

The wet part, well that’s a different story, kind of. Through early August we were below average. The average rain at Brookhaven National Lab in Upton for June, July, August and September hovered around four inches each of those months — a little above, a little below. June’s actual rainfall was just a little over two inches and July’s was about two and a half — definitely below average. Last fall and early winter, however, gave us plenty of rain. Last winter (2014-15) was incredibly cold and snowy. While the meteorologists didn’t talk “polar vortex” as they had the winter before, the almanac did predict a very cold winter, and yes, it was. But spring, so far has been relatively cool and dry.

Because rainfall on Long Island can vary so much from not only year to year but week to week, gardeners needed to keep an eye on it so that their gardens thrive. On average, it rains once every three or four days, but we can go for weeks in the summer with little or no rain or have it rain every day for a solid week or more.

Place a rain gauge strategically in your garden so you can see how much rain you’re getting each week and adjust your irrigation schedule accordingly. Above, the gauge shows that approximately four inches of rain/irrigation were received at that spot in the garden in just a few days. Photo by Ellen Barcel
Place a rain gauge strategically in your garden so you can see how much rain you’re getting each week and adjust your irrigation schedule accordingly. Above, the gauge shows that approximately four inches of rain/irrigation were received at that spot in the garden in just a few days. Photo by Ellen Barcel

Not only does rainfall vary timewise but geographically as well. August 13’s, 2014, record 13 plus inches of rain in southwestern Suffolk County (the Islip area in particular) flooded roads that tied up traffic, but the North and South forks got less than an inch of rain from that storm. So eastern Suffolk gardeners were watering their plants while western and central Suffolk gardeners were pumping out flooded basements.

So, place a rain gauge in your garden where it can accurately measure how much rain your garden has received. Make sure that the gauge is not under bushes, for example, which can cover the gauge’s opening. Check your gauge periodically. You can then adjust your added watering accordingly.

Most of us have very sandy soil. We need to be particularly concerned with weeks and weeks of no or little rain during the summer. We need to supplement what Mother Nature provides, particularly with plants such as tomatoes or hydrangeas, both of which need a steady supply of water. Tomato plants that dry out can result in blossom end rot. Grass should receive about an inch a week. Remember that since most of us have very sandy soil, even torrential rain, say two or more inches at once, drains quickly into the soil, and a few days later you may need to water. Also, containers dry out more quickly than plants in the ground.

Some of us have clay soil or live in an area where the water table is very high. For those gardeners, it’s not a question of getting enough rain; it can be controlling too much water or finding plants that do well in very wet soil.

If you have an area where lots of water drains into the soil, say from your roof top, you might want to consider a rain garden. This basically consists of a depressed area, frequently with a berm around it, which acts like a recharge basis (a sump) for the island’s water table. If you have an area where water virtually never drains, you might consider a bog garden. Plants that  enjoy “wet feet” do well here.

Using native plants is an option and will make it easier for the gardener. Native plants are adapted to Long Island’s periods of rain and drought and need little tending.

More on native plants, rain gardens and bog gardens in future weeks.

Ellen Barcel is a freelance writer and master gardener. To reach Cornell Cooperative Extension and its Master Gardener program, call 631-727-7850.

Village historian shares story of walk through nature, delivers tips on how to navigate Old Post Road terrain

The Sherwood-Jayne Farm’s nature trails offer an abundance of scenic North Shore spots. Photo from Beverly Tyler

by Beverly C. Tyler

Walking the nature trails at the 80-acre Sherwood-Jayne Farm on Old Post Road in East Setauket is a delight.

My wife, Barbara, and I walked the three trails this past Friday about 10 a.m. It had rained Thursday night, however the trails were completely dry and the soft covering of well-trodden leaves made the walk easy and pleasant underfoot.

A kiosk marks the start of the trails and identifies the route and color markings of each trail. The start of the walk is slightly uphill and slightly narrower than the rest of the trails. Stay to the left throughout and you will go from the white trail to the blue trail and then the red trail.

The morning of our walk the sun was shining through the trees and the birds were singing their various calls.

There are red-tailed hawks and great horned owls nesting in the trees.

We saw them earlier in the spring but on this day the tree cover was sufficient to hide their nests and the circling of the hawks. The singing of the birds and the rat-a-tat-tat of the woodpeckers continued throughout our walk.

The mid point is also the low point of the walk and ferns dominate. We were at the closest part to Route 25A but we couldn’t hear any traffic noise, just the wind through the tops of the trees and the birds.

The walk descended gently from a height of 125 feet to the low point of 70 feet above sea level. It curves through the area behind Sherwood-Jayne House. It took us about 45 minutes to complete the walk on all three trails, arriving back where we started.

This Sunday, May 31, come and enjoy a family day at the farm, from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. The occasion is the Third Annual Sheep Shearing Festival at Sherwood-Jayne Farm, 55 Old Post Road, East Setauket. Admission is $5 per person or $20 per family, and car parking is free.

At 1 p.m., take a walk on the nature trails with the Seatuck Environmental Association, the group that designed and built the trails. At 2 p.m., watch Tabbethia Haubold of the Long Island Livestock Co. shear the sheep and talk about the secrets of wool gathering.

Beverly Tyler is the Three Village Historical Society historian.

Young horseshoe crabs at West Meadow Beach, Stony Brook. File photo

Local fishermen came out to Brookhaven Town Hall last Thursday to let officials know they oppose Supervisor Ed Romaine’s push to limit horseshoe crab harvesting.

Earlier that week, Romaine (R) announced he and the town board would consider urging the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, which regulates the industry, to ban horseshoe crab harvesting within 500 feet of town-owned property in an effort to protect the crab population and allow them a safe place to mate.

Romaine moved to table the idea after hearing the baymen’s concerns.

The 450-million-year-old species are used for bait and in the biomedical and pharmaceutical industries, as their blue blood is used to detect bacterial contamination in products. At a May 19 press conference, officials said if the crab population shrinks, other species — like those that eat the crabs’ eggs — could be negatively affected.

Stony Brook’s West Meadow Beach and Mount Sinai Harbor already have harvesting plans in place, and a ban would broaden the restriction area.

However, the fishermen said the restriction was not based on any facts and the horseshoe crab population is not declining. In addition, they said further regulation would affect their livelihoods.

Ron Bellucci Jr., of Sound Beach, said horseshoe crab harvesting is a vital part of his income. He added that he knows the crabs are important to the larger ecosystem, which he is a part of as well.

“I’m just a man, but I’m a vital part of the food chain and I think I’m at the top,” he said.

According to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, a partnership between East Coast states to protect fisheries, a 2013 assessment of the horsecrab population showed a decrease in the New York and New England regions, while crabs have increased in the southern states — North Carolina through Florida — and remained stable from New Jersey through coastal Virginia.

David Klopfenstein, of the North Shore Baymen’s Association, urged the board to speak with the DEC before supporting a ban. He said there was a lot of misinformation regarding a very complex issue that is already being controlled.

“It’s also the most well-managed fisheries that we have up and down the East Coast,” he said.

The DEC did not immediately comment on the issue.

State funds should help bolster the Stephen D. Matthews Nature Preserve. Photo from Three Village Community Trust

The North Shore region is cashing in on its green pastures thanks to $6,000 in grant funding, the Three Village Community Trust said this week.

Three Village was one of three Long Island trusts to be awarded the money through the state’s Conservation Partnership Program, administered under the Land Trust Alliance, and will utilize the money to bulk up its conservation management of the roughly 10-acre Stephen D. Matthews Nature Preserve, Trust President Cynthia Barnes said.

“The grant will help tighten up the way we look after the preserve and will provide for more targeted control of the invasive species that threaten its native flora and fauna,” she said. “This grant represents an investment of $8,000 in the Stephen D. Matthews Nature Preserve.”

Barnes said the money would help enhance monitoring and management protocols at the preserve while also establishing a volunteer training and stewardship program. The end result, she said, should make for a more volunteer-friendly atmosphere to attract residents in the nearby communities of Poquott and beyond.

Louise Harrison, a conservation biologist and principal of the consulting firm known as Conservation and Natural Areas Planning, said interest in the area has been at an all-time high among Poquott natives.

“Poquott’s citizens turned out in large numbers for the local civic association meeting last month, primarily to hear about the preserve,” she said. “They had plenty of questions for me. We’re looking to recruit volunteer stewards who want to help monitor and manage the preserve and also to study it. We’ll be offering new and expanded programs to connect directly with the community that the Trust serves.”

Barnes said the wooded strip that is the Stephen D. Matthews Nature Preserve traverses land that is bordering communities in Port Jefferson and Poquott and includes several coastal forest types. It acts as a buffer between Poquott and Port Jefferson’s power generation station and is particularly vulnerable to invasive species because of its narrow configuration with long boundaries.

State Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) heralded the grant funding as a necessary step in the North Shore’s environmental health.

“It is crucial that our state continue to fund and assist local organizations like the Three Village Community Trust to safeguard our environment. This funding, along with community involvement, will help protect this valuable property, ensure its preservation for years to come and that will benefit our entire regions,” Flanagan said.

The major portion of the preserve, bounced by two sides on Washington Street and Chestnut Avenue, consists of many native plant species. Yet, an especially narrow portion that runs just along Washington Avenue and meets Route 25A has been thickly invaded by exotic species of vines and damaged by tree-fall from storms, Barnes said.

“This nature preserve is an important buffer between the Port Jefferson Power Plant and the residential village of Poquott,” said Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), chair of the Assembly’s Environmental Conservation Committee. “With this new grant in hand, the Three Village Community Trust will be able to work with village residents to restore and improve the ecological resiliency of this lovely woodland.”

The funding stemmed from a total $1.8 million that Gov. Andrew Cuomo allocated in 2015 Conservation Partnership Program grants for 55 nonprofit land trusts throughout the state. Three Village was announced as one of the recipients at a ceremony kicking off Earth Day at the end of April, along with two others on Long Island — the Peconic Land Trust in Southampton and the North Shore Land Alliance in Westbury.

A horseshoe crab no more than 4 years old. Photo by Erika Karp

With its horseshoe crab population dwindling, Town of Brookhaven officials are calling on the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to ban harvesting within 500 feet of town property.

At the Mount Sinai Stewardship Center at Cedar Beach on Tuesday, Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) announced the Brookhaven Town Board is poised to approve a message in support of the ban at Thursday night’s board meeting.

A horseshoe crab no more than 4 years old is the center of attention at a press conference on Tuesday. Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine is calling on the state to ban the harvesting of the crabs within 500 feet of town property. Photo by Erika Karp
A horseshoe crab no more than 4 years old is the center of attention at a press conference on Tuesday. Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine is calling on the state to ban the harvesting of the crabs within 500 feet of town property. Photo by Erika Karp

Horseshoe crabs are harvested for bait and medicinal purposes, as their blue blood, which is worth an estimated $15,000 a quart, is used in the biomedical and pharmaceutical industries to detect bacterial contamination in drugs and medical supplies, due to its special properties.

While there is already a harvesting ban in place for Mount Sinai Harbor, Romaine is seeking to expand the restriction across the north and south shores so the crabs have a safe place to mate.

The crabs take about nine years to reach sexual maturity.

“We think it is time not to stop or prohibit the harvesting of horseshoe crabs … but instead to say, ‘Not within town properties,’” Romaine stated.

Brookhaven’s Chief Environmental Analyst Anthony Graves and clean water advocacy group Defend H20’s Founder and President Kevin McAllister joined Romaine at the Tuesday morning press conference.

Graves said the ban would help preserve the 450-million-year-old species’ population.

Preserving the species affects more than just the crabs: If the population continues to shrink, other species — like the red knot bird, which eat the crab eggs — will suffer.

“They are in some ways an ecological keystone species,” Graves said. “That means that they serve a function beyond their individual existence.”

East Coast waterways are the epicenter for the crabs and, according to McAllister, states like New Jersey, Delaware and Virginia have already enacted harvesting limits. The crabs’ nesting season starts in mid-May and lasts until the end of June. Officials said the crabs are oftentimes harvested at night and illegally.

Romaine said he has asked all of the town’s waterfront villages to support the measure. If the DEC moves forward with the ban, Romaine said the town could help the department with enforcement by establishing an intermunicipal agreement.

A DEC representative did not immediately return a request for comment.

Pinecones on a Colorado blue spruce add color to a drab winter garden. Photo by Ellen Barcel

By Ellen Barcel

You’re probably wondering why I’m writing a column on winter interest in the garden in May, especially after the brutally cold and snowy winter we’ve just gone through. Shouldn’t I be touting spring?

Well, yes and no. If you looked at your garden this past winter and were disappointed in the overall effect, you need to think about what you are planting now to be able to look out your windows next winter and love what you see.

To create winter interest in the garden, think color, shape and texture. Let’s start with color. So much of the garden in winter is brown, so, look for plants that are not brown. That immediately brings to mind evergreens, whether you’re thinking of trees like pines, spruce, cedars etc. or shrubs like euonymous. Each of these brings beautiful green color. To make this even more spectacular, consider interspersing some evergreens with those that are tinged with gold. Now, not only do you have these beautiful green and gold colors in the garden, but, when it snows, you have a lacy, Christmas-card scene. Don’t forget holly since it holds its deep green leaves and much of its red berries throughout the snowy season.

But, there are other color possibilities. Recently, driving out on the East End, amid all the brown, bare tree trunks was a beautiful red specimen. It was a red twig dogwood, and the color stood out from blocks away.

By the way, there’s also yellow twig dogwood. Red twig dogwood has white flowers in spring, it’s drought tolerant as well as heat tolerant, so, should do well in unusually cold winters or hot summers. Yes, you can cut some of the red twigs for winter decorations in the house. The more sun, the brighter the colors will be, but it does grow in partial shade.

So, now we have green, yellow, gold and red. What about blue? Well, you could plant some Colorado blue spruce. One of its added bits of winter interest is the beautiful pinecones these, as well as other conifers, have.

For texture, look at tree bark. Sycamore trees have whitish bark that peels, creating an interesting pattern on the trunk. Oak leaf hydrangeas also have exfoliating bark as does paperbark maple. Note that the beautiful white birch (paper birch) doesn’t do too well on Long Island. A native of North America it is rated for hardiness zones 3 through 6 (Long Island is warmer at zone 7). While you will occasionally see one growing well here, it is the exception rather than the rule.

Unusual or twisted vines on a trellis or something like the twisted Harry Lauder’s walking stick create beautiful designs in the garden, especially when snow melts and refreezes, creating really cool icicles on them.

Shape is another way of bringing winter interest into the garden. Consider pruning some of your small evergreens into topiaries. They really stand out that way.

Ornamental grasses are beautiful in winter. They blow in the winter wind and become covered with not only snow but ice in the colder months.

So, as you enjoy the warm gardening days ahead, think about what will make your garden stunning next January.

Ellen Barcel is a freelance writer and master gardener. To reach Cornell Cooperative Extension and its Master Gardener program, call 631-727-7850.

Port Jefferson is fighting to keep property tax revenue flowing from the power plant and to prevent restrictions from being lifted on peaker unit output. File photo by Lee Lutz

A clerical item on the Brookhaven Town Board’s agenda regarding Caithness Long Island II, a proposed Yaphank power plant, caused a stir among some Port Jefferson residents on Thursday, as they questioned what exactly the board was voting on.

Earlier in the week, Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) predicted the issue at a Monday work session meeting. The item — accepting documentation about covenants and restrictions at the project site — was included under the board’s Communication Consensus agenda. Romaine said the town received correspondence that the information was filed with the Suffolk County Clerk’s Office, and the board had to vote to accept it. He added that the Town Board was not trying to sneak anything by residents.

“We have to list correspondence that we receive,” he said Monday.

Last July, the Town Board granted Caithness Long Island II a special permit for its proposed 752-megawatt power plant. Romaine and Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) remained in the minority and voted against the permit.

Some Port Jefferson residents adamantly oppose the project, as they fear it could negatively impact the chances of the Port Jefferson power plant being upgraded. Critics allege the Caithness project’s environmental impact statement was flawed and didn’t adequately address impacts on the surrounding communities and species living near the property, which is adjacent to an existing 350-megawatt Caithness power plant.

At Thursday’s meeting, standing together in the minority as they did on the special permit vote, Cartright and Romaine voted against accepting the Caithness communication. Cartright said the project should be re-evaluated, as PSEG Long Island has stated there will be sufficient local energy capacity until about 2020, and thus there is no need for Caithness II.

“In light of that fact, it appears to me that the [environmental review] process was based on an erroneous premise, as the original … findings for this project were in part based on an additional need of power,” she said.

During public comment, Port Jefferson Village Trustee Bruce Miller expressed his frustration with the Town Board granting the special use permit and with how backup documents, which officials said are available at the town and county clerk’s offices, weren’t provided with Thursday’s agenda.

Miller said he sympathized with Medford residents, some of whom attended the same meeting to advocate against a proposed casino in their neighborhood.

“Only two people on this board are voted for by the people from Port Jefferson,” he said, referring to the supervisor and the councilwoman, “and yet the rest of the board members can vote with impunity against us and against our interests.”

The town is offering free mulch and compost, above, to town residents as supplies last. Photo from Brookhaven Town

Brookhaven Town has started giving away free mulch and compost to residents as part of a push to get some more green around town.

The mulch and compost will be distributed, upon submitting proof of residency, as supplies last. The material is not bagged, so people must provide their own containers and load the mulch and compst into their vehicles themselves.

Local distribution sites are open at Brookhaven Town Hall in Farmingville, on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.; Percy Raynor Park on Route 347 in South Setauket, on weekdays from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. and on weekends from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.; and the Rose Caracappa Center on Route 25A in Mount Sinai, on weekdays from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. and on weekends from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

The material is also available at the Holtsville Ecology Center off Buckley Road from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday; at the town landfill on Horseblock Road in Brookhaven hamlet on weekdays from 7 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. and on Saturday from 7 a.m. to noon; and at the town compost facility on Papermill Road in Manorville on weekdays from 7 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 1 to 3 p.m.

All six sites are open to residents, but commercial vehicles may only pick up mulch and compost at the landfill and the compost facility, where there will be a fee of $12 per yard.

For more information about the mulch and compost distribution program, call Brookhaven Town at 631-451-TOWN.

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn file photo

A North Shore lawmaker is calling on Suffolk County to give green a chance.

Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) is pushing a pilot program that, if enacted, would inject green roof construction principles into roof repair or replacement plans for one county-owned building on a trial basis.

A “green roof” uses a garden or plantings to increase energy efficiency by insulating the building in the winter and reducing solar absorption in the summer, to decrease the need for heating and air conditioning, according to the not-for-profit Green Roofs for Healthy Cities organization. Green roofs can also attract various pollinating insect species, which would serve as an environmental benefit to the surrounding region.

“Structures that employ green roof concepts report increased energy efficiency,” Hahn said. “In the municipalities that have already installed these roofs, officials have discovered that being green is saving green.”

If enacted in Suffolk County, the pilot project would take root atop one county-owned building, Hahn spokesman Seth Squicciarino said. The county’s Department of Public Works would monitor the green roof to measure the benefits.

If successful, similar roof renovations could sprout up throughout the county.

Hahn said the DPW would select which building in Suffolk should get the roof repair or replacement project, select a vendor for the work and provide periodic reports on its progress as the seasons pass.

The plan was first put onto the table March 3 and the county Legislature’s Public Works, Transportation and Energy Committee mulled over the proposal at its April 20 meeting.

Hahn said municipalities throughout the country were already looking into similar projects and, in some cases, requiring new construction projects to include green roof principles. As for Long Island, green roofs are already in full bloom on the SUNY Old Westbury campus and on the East End’s southern fork.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recognized green roof projects as an effective management practice that, if implemented on a large scale, would reduce the volume of stormwater entering local waterways and lower water temperatures to enhance water quality. New York City has already enacted a $5.23 rebate for each square foot of many green roof projects, and the city of Syracuse has allocated nearly $4 million toward 37 different green roof projects to date.

This state Department of Environmental Conservation map hilights special groundwater protection property in yellow, which includes a lot in the center on which a North Shore developer hopes to build.

A Setauket-based civic group is drawing a line in the sand as a North Shore developer looks to build three houses on an environmentally sensitive area.

Brookhaven is home to two of Long Island’s nine special groundwater protection areas, designated by the state Department of Environmental Conservation, and Charles Krohn of Windwood Homes, Inc. has applied for variances to divide his land within one of them — in East Setauket near Franklin Avenue and John Adams Street —  into three separate plots. But Shawn Nuzzo, president of the Civic Association of the Setaukets and Stony Brook, argued the town should adhere to existing zoning laws there to protect the area’s aquifer.

The DEC’s special groundwater protection area in question is a large, oddly shaped chunk of land on the North Shore that includes Stony Brook University, St. Georges Golf and Country Club, Ward Melville High School, wooded properties on the southern part of Setauket, pieces of Lake Grove and more.

“[This area] is critical to ensuring the future potability of our underground water supply,” Nuzzo said in a statement read aloud at the April 22 Brookhaven Town Board of Zoning Appeals meeting. “Granting variances to allow for these substandard lots would serve to undermine not only the state environmental conservation law, but also … Brookhaven’s own adopted comprehensive land use plan.”

The civic president said the town granted the area special protection in its 1996 land use plan — the most recently adopted plan to date — because of its environmental significance. In his testimony, Nuzzo asked the town to deny the requested variances solely to protect the environmental standards already in place, adding he was not opposed to development all together.

“If the applicant wishes to develop this property, we recommend they adhere to the town’s existing zoning ordinances,” he said.

Krohn, who lives in East Setauket, purchased the land from the town in September 2014 and said he was looking to build three homes between 3,000 and 3,500 square feet in the same community where Windwood Homes has already been developing for years.

“The houses might, in fact, be smaller than this footprint,” he said at last month’s Board of Zoning Appeals meeting. “These are not sold right now.”

Diane Moje of D&I Expediting Services in Farmingville represented Krohn at the hearing and said the goal was to make three equal lots for development.

East Setauket resident Thomas Cardno has lived near Franklin Avenue for nearly a decade and said he worries that overdevelopment would create a safety risk for young children, referring to the variance proposals as “jamming three homes on there” as a means to maximize profits at the expense of the families in the area.

The cul-de-sacs in the area are too crammed already, he said. “Just put two homes in there and call it a day, at this point.”

Moje, however, said the town has already granted similar variances for other homes in the surrounding area, making the current proposal nothing out of the ordinary.

“This is not out of character and not something this board hasn’t addressed previously, and granted,” she said.

Christopher Wrede of the Brookhaven Town Planning Department reviewed the proposal and said the variances posed no significant environmental impact. The Board of Zoning Appeals held the public hearing open, to get additional information in the coming months.

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