Environment & Nature

Supervisor Frank Petrone shows off the rain barrel that Huntington resident Claudia Liu painted, which one resident will win this Saturday at Family Earth Day Expo. Photo from A.J. Carter

Huntington is getting ready to go green.

This Saturday, April 23, between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m., Huntington Town will host its annual Family Earth Day Expo at Town Hall, an event that helps residents learn about the many programs and businesses on the North Shore that are working to reduce their environmental footprint, as well as how the community members themselves can play a part.

“Each year the town tries to highlight how residents can help preserve the environment while saving themselves money,” Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) said in a statement. “Whether it’s … bringing e-waste for recycling or dropping off unneeded and unwanted medicines, residents will find a variety of ways they can get into the Earth Day spirit.”

One issue that will be highlighted at the expo is the risk pharmaceutical drugs have on the local water supply and marine life, such as when medications are flushed down the toilet or are present in human waste.

In a joint effort with the advocacy organization Citizens Campaign for the Environment, residents will be able to turn in medication they no longer need to the Suffolk County Police Department, which will dispose of it in an environmentally safe manner.

According to the World Health Organization, there is some discharge of pharmaceuticals into water sources, and Citizens Campaign said, “pharmaceutical drug contamination has been proven to adversely impact fish and aquatic life.”

According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, male fish have developed eggs when exposed to female hormones in birth control pills. Anti-depressants and beta-blockers reduce fertility or affect certain aquatic organisms’ reproductive systems.

Staying on the theme of safe ways to dispose of materials, the town will also, in sponsorship with Covanta, a global corporation that works on sustainable solutions to waste-management challenges, give residents the opportunity to properly dispose of electronic goods with a recycling event.

Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) said it’s a day not only for adults to learn but also for kids to enjoy as well.

“Children and parents alike will definitely have the opportunity for a lot of hands-on fun at this event,” he said in a statement. “It is equally important to be able to show families across Huntington how easy it is to protect kids from harmful chemicals and pesticides, how to make homes and cars more energy efficient and how to save money in the process.”

There will be residential solar energy and organic garden demonstrations, as well as lessons for kids on how compost is made and how to plant a seed in a recycled pot.

Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk, a nonprofit community education agency, will also provide a variety of sea specimens that kids are welcome to touch, to demonstrate the importance of protecting the marine environment.

There will be a raffle to win a custom-painted rain barrel, painted by former Huntington resident Claudia Liu. The 50-gallon barrel is both a decorative item and a utilitarian one, to be placed in a yard to capture and store rainwater for use with gardening, which helps conserve water. The winner will be announced at the expo.

Family Day Earth Expo will take place in the parking lot of Town Hall on Main Street, at Jackson Avenue, in Huntington.

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn is among the lawmakers hoping to use the #MeToo moment not only to change culture, but to change laws. File photo

One North Shore lawmaker is cleaning up the language of Suffolk County’s dry cleaners.

Dry cleaning businesses will no longer be allowed to advertise their services as organic when describing the solvents or methods used in production, thanks to recently approved legislation from Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket). And if they get caught, business owners could face fines of $500 on the first offense to $1,000 on the second, the legislator said.

“A consumer chooses an ‘organic’ cleaning method with the belief that this option is better for his or her health and our environment,” Hahn said in a statement. “Without a universally accepted definition of what constitutes organic services, consumers go through the wringer when making their decisions based upon subjective standards that, in some cases, can be completely contrary to their intentions.”

Under Majority Leader Hahn’s bill, no professional garment cleaning establishment operating in the county will be allowed to describe its services as “organic” in advertising or signage. In a statement, Hahn said the term organic is found in many industries, including dry cleaning, and has come under increased public scrutiny as regulators have not established clear criteria governing the word’s usage in consumer goods and services.

“It is very important that customers understand terms used in dry cleaning advertisements,” said Beth Fiteni, owner of Green Inside and Out Consulting, an advocacy organization committed to empowering the public to find healthier alternatives to common toxins, also in a recent statement. “Organic in this context is a technical term, and does not mean chemical-free. This legislation in Suffolk County helps address possible confusion.”

In her legislation, Hahn said one of the most harmful chemicals used in the dry cleaning industry, perchloroethylene — also known as perc — contains carbon molecules. Carbon is a naturally occurring element and perc is sometimes advertised as being organic, despite its detriment to the environment.

“In some instances there is a significant disconnect between the term organic that has become part of the vernacular and the scientific definition used by industry,” Hahn said. “I want to ensure that Suffolk consumers are making decisions based on intention rather than semantics.”

The state Department of Environmental Conservation has already approved several alternatives to perc for use in non-vented, closed-loop dry cleaning machines that are equipped with a refrigerated condenser, conform to local fire codes and meet the additional specifications required by the alternative solvent manufacturer.

Suffolk’s bill would be nullified should a standard be adopted by state or federal regulatory agencies.

The only thing preventing the bill from becoming official is the absence of a signature from County Executive Steve Bellone (D). Once signed, cleaners would have approximately 60 days to come into compliance.

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Once the weather is warm enough, plant your gift plants outside. Stock photo

By Ellen Barcel

Spring is the time when plants in full bloom become popular gifts — there’s Easter and Mother’s Day in particular. I remember my father always bringing a plant to his mother on Mother’s Day. Sometimes events, such as showers, use potted, blooming plants as table decorations. But, the question becomes, how does one care for these gift plants, especially after the flowers have faded?

◆ First, keep the plant indoors, especially if it’s still cold, as long as it has flowers. Keep it out of drafts and in a bright location. If specific instructions come with the plant, then do follow them.

While some plants can eventually be moved to your garden as the weather warms, not all will be cold hardy. Again, read the instructions that come with the plant.

◆ It is important to keep the leaves growing on forced bulbs, so don’t cut them down when the flowers have faded. Those leaves are producing food for the bulbs for next year.

◆ Water the gift plant as needed. Many times stores don’t always water them enough, either to keep them light weight for sale or because they just don’t think to do it. I recently received a gorgeous hyacinth plant but the soil was bone dry. The first thing I did was water it when I got it home.

Select an appropriate location in your garden and, when it’s warm enough, transplant the gift into the soil, if appropriate.

Forced tulips make great gift plants. When they have finished blooming, move them out to the garden, but remember the squirrels just love tulip bulbs. A friend of mine noted that she stopped trying to plant tulips in her garden, saying, “I might as well just hand the bulbs to the squirrels.” If you have found a way around this problem, move them into the soil so next year you’ll have a lovely display. Once the leaves have died down, usually mid-summer, they can be removed, but not before.

Daffodils are also very popular as forced gift plants. They have the advantage of being distasteful to squirrels. I have a small clump of miniature daffodils that were given to me in a pot many years ago by a friend for my birthday. I planted them outside and year after year they come back, earlier than any other daffodils, beautiful and sunny. One way of trying to keep squirrels away from your tulips is to ring the tulips with daffodils, sort of hiding the tulips from the hungry rodents.

Hyacinths are known for being among the earliest to bloom in spring and with having a beautiful, sweet scent. As with daffodils, keep the leaves growing and, once the flowers have died back, move the plant to a sunny place in the garden.

Once the weather is warm enough, plant your gift plants outside. Stock photo
Once the weather is warm enough, plant your gift plants outside. Stock photo

Hydrangeas are another popular gift plant. Check the tag that comes with the plant carefully, as not all hydrangeas are cold hardy in our area. I saw an absolutely gorgeous intense, blue-flowered one a number of years ago, and almost bought it, only to notice that it was cold hardy in zones 8 and above. It would not have survived our winters. However, if it’s not cold hardy, it can be used as an annual. Hydrangeas, in general, don’t like an extremely sunny location, or drought, so when you move them outside, take this into consideration.

Easter lilies
Easter lilies are generally cold hardy in zones 7 and up (i.e., warmer climates), so you can try to move your Easter lilies outside into the garden. But, while this is in theory, in practice, I’ve never had them overwinter outside, so I generally treat them as annuals.

Azaleas are beautiful gift plants with some added benefits. In general, they are cold hardy on Long Island, so this is a really great gift for the avid gardener. If year after year you give Mom another azalea, in just a few years, her garden will be filled with beautiful, spring-flowering shrubs. Another advantage of azaleas is that some varieties are evergreens so that they make nice foundation plantings, growing larger and filled with more flowers each year.

The sweet scent of a gardenia plant draws many to it as a gift plant. Most gardenias are hardy in zones 8 to 11 (Long Island is zone 7), meaning that you can grow them outside only in the mild weather. Come autumn you must bring the plant indoors and grow it as a houseplant. This means you need to keep it potted, rather than planted in the soil. There are some varieties, ‘Kleim’s Hardy,’ for example, that claim to be hardy into zone 7, but as with Easter lilies, you’re taking a chance that they will survive our winters. I’d rather keep a beautiful gardenia as a houseplant.

So, enjoy those gift plants, but follow through appropriately.

Ellen Barcel is a freelance writer and master gardener. Send your gardening questions to [email protected] To reach Cornell Cooperative Extension and its Master Gardener program, call 631-727-7850.

Kids will have fun learning about the Long Island Sound this Sunday. Photo from Whaling Museum

Environmental conservation is an important, daily issue across the country. Long Island is no exception.

On Sunday, April 17, The Whaling Museum & Education Center in Cold Spring Harbor will try to do its part in spreading knowledge and awareness about humanity’s impact on the Long Island Sound. The museum is hosting SOUNDoff, a brand new event that will feature activities for marine enthusiasts of all ages including science experiments, water monitoring, art exhibits and a touch tank featuring oysters, sea stars, horseshoe crabs and hermit crabs.

Nomi Dayan, the executive director of the Whaling Museum, said that the goal of the event is to be fun and interactive for kids, while also being informative.

“SOUNDoff is [being held] basically [because] we want visitors to understand how to protect the waters around us,” Dayan said in a phone interview. “These are our neighbors that inhabit the waters.”

A press release from the museum highlighted the importance of appreciation and preservation for the large body of water that neighbors the North Shore.

“The Long Island Sound is an amazing natural resource providing economic and recreational benefits to millions of people while also providing habitat for more than 1,200 invertebrates, 170 species of fish and dozens of species of migratory birds,” the release said.

Representatives from the Cornell Cooperative Extension, Seatuck Environmental Association and The Waterfront Center will all be on hand at the event to host workshops, conduct experiments and educate visitors about the importance of keeping that water clean. They will lead mock water sample tests with kids, give a presentation on marine debris and another on storm water management presentation to name a few of the various activities in store for attendees.

“There are a lot of pressures and threats against the Sound today, so it’s really up to us to keep it clean,” Dayan said. “It is a growing problem every year, especially on Long Island. Whatever we put in the water really will come back to haunt us.”

Dayan mentioned the types of fertilizers used on lawns, avoiding facial moisturizers containing micro beads and picking up after pets as some of the every day adjustments that Long Islanders can make to improve the overall health of the Sound.

According to the release, the event was partially funded by a grant from Long Island Sound Futures Fund, which pools funds from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“This event is poised to have an impact through the rest of the summer months as Long Islanders get ready to hit the beaches, spend time on boats and fertilize their lawns,” Dayan said in the release about the lasting impact she hopes the event will have on those who attend.

Admission to the event, which runs from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., is free. The Whaling Museum is located at 301 Main Street in Cold Spring Harbor. For more information, call 631-367-3418.

Councilwoman Susan Berland supports a limit of gas-powered leaf blowers. File photo by Victoria Espinoza

The fight against gas-powered leaf blowers continues in Huntington.

Councilwoman Susan Berland (D) launched an initiative to educate Huntington residents on the environmental and health effects of specific leaf blowers this past week. Berland posted a video on her page within the town website that shows a presentation with Quiet Communities and the American Green Zone Alliance, both organizations that work toward protecting the health, environment and quality of life from the use of industrial outdoor maintenance equipment.

“The pollution generated by gas-powered leaf blowers is completely avoidable, as is the high-frequency noise generated by these blowers, which carries through entire neighborhoods and has been associated with permanent hearing damage,” Berland said in the video.

She highlights a lithium battery-powered leaf blower as a preferable alternative to gas-powered blowers.

“Lithium battery-powered leaf blowers give off zero toxic emissions and generate 50 percent less noise than gas-powered equipment,” Berland said. “There is no soil or water pollution and the price is comparable to other types of lawn maintenance equipment.”

Quiet Communities Executive Director Jamie Banks talked in the video about the public health and environmental effects of gas-powered blowers.

“If you think about what it takes to maintain a gas-powered engine, there are a lot of solid and toxic chemicals,” Banks said. “They come usually in cans or nonrecyclable plastic containers with residue. These can be thrown into landfills; the chemicals themselves can be spilled into the soil and eventually reach water supplies and marine systems.”

She also highlighted the health risks that come with using or being around the usage area of a gas-powered leaf blower.

Gas-powered leaf blowers have raised some concerns with Huntington residents.
Gas-powered leaf blowers have raised some concerns with Huntington residents.

“Workers who have these machines on their backs, they are very close to the source of the exhaust emissions and other ground source particulates,” she said, noting that children playing nearby may also be exposed.

Both the exhaust emissions and the ground source particulates can negatively affect health.

A 2013 assessment by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer said, “Outdoor air pollution is carcinogenic to humans, with the particulate matter component of air pollution most closely associated with increased cancer incidence, especially cancer of the lung. An association also has been observed between outdoor air pollution and increase in cancer of the urinary tract/bladder.”

The American Lung Association also said in its 2014 State of the Air, “Short-term exposure to particle pollution can kill. Particle pollution does not just make people die a few days earlier than they might otherwise — these are deaths that would not have occurred if the air were cleaner.”

The noise effect of leaf blowers was also mentioned in Berland’s presentation.

According to public advocacy group Dangerous Decibels, once a sound reaches 85 decibels or higher, it can cause permanent damage to your hearing. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration said noise from leaf blowers can reach at least 90 decibels.

According to the Center for Hearing and Communication, rainfall measures about 50 decibels, normal conversation is about 60 decibels and freeway traffic or a vacuum cleaner could reach about 70 decibels.

“The health risks posed by gas-powered landscaping equipment need to be addressed,” Berland said.

She is also encouraging residents and landscaping companies in the Huntington area who only use electric-powered equipment, as opposed to gas-powered equipment, to take a “green pledge” and add themselves to a list that will be featured on the town’s website.

Berland has been working on legislation that would limit use of gas-powered leaf blowers in summer months, as residents have voiced their concerns about the blowers at town board meetings and have asked for Heckscher State Park to be designated the town’s first green zone — an area maintained with zero-emission lawn care equipment.

At previous town board meetings, Berland’s proposal has not picked up much steam with other board members.

By Ellen Barcel

Most Long Islanders know that there are certain fruits that grow well here. Come spring, the strawberries are ripe for the picking. As the summer progresses, blueberries, which love our acidic soil, are ripening. Later in the season, both grapes and apples are ripe. However, consider trying at least one unusual fruit in your garden this year.

1 — As you look through your gardening catalogues or other research material, read the descriptions carefully. Especially note the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s hardiness zones in which the plants will grow. For example, I’ve seen some really unique fruit available in catalogues, but they only grow in warmer climates. Long Island is hardiness zone 7. Fruit that is only hardly is zones 8 and above, will not survive our winters. Note that plants that do well in zones 2 or 3 to 6 usually will not do well here since either they don’t do well in our summer heat or they require a really cold winter to thrive.

2 — Check out whether the plant is self-fertile or needs more than one to pollinate it. Some need a second of its same variety while others need a different variety.

3 — Check the soil pH in which the plant will thrive. If your soil is too acidic you need to add lime. If yours is to alkaline, you need to add something like Miracid or Holly Tone to make it more acidic. Once you begin changing the soil’s pH, you need to do this ever after, or the soil will revert to what it would be naturally. Read the package and test your soil.

4 — Note the size of the plants. A row of eight-foot-tall blueberries can make a lovely living screen while a dwarf variety (like ‘Dwarf Tophat’) can be grown in a container on the patio for a tiny garden. If you are making a living screen, remember that since virtually all of the fruiting plants are deciduous, you’ll only get the benefits of the screen in warm weather when the plant is growing.

figwNow, for some unusual fruits to look into:

  • Gogi berries (Lycium barbarum) are considered to be a superfood because they are very high in antioxidants. The plants grow in zones 5 through 9 and will reach eight to 10 feet tall. They do well in full sun and partial shade. The plants produce white, lilac and purple flowers before the berries themselves form in July. The plant continues to flower and fruit until heavy frost. The plant has no known pest or disease problems and is self-fertile. The berries, which are slightly tart, can be eaten right off the plant or used to make juice, wine and even dried to be used as a snack in trail mix.
  • Honeyberries (Lonicera caerulea) do well in zones 3 to 8 and produce blueberry-like flavored fruit, also high in antioxidants. The fruit can be eaten fresh or used to make preserves. The plants can live up to 50 years. Honeyberries need another plant to pollinate it; so when you select plants note which other varieties are good choices. ‘Berry Blue’ reaches just four to five feet tall and blooms in spring followed by the fruit.
  • Figs are traditionally associated with warm climates, but a number of varieties have been developed that are hardy in our area. ‘Chicago Hardy’ grows in zones 5 to 10 and ‘Brown Turkey’ is zones 5 to 9. Both are self-pollinating. Figs are great to eat right off the trees, can be dried or used to make preserves. These are not the old fig trees you’ve seen wrapped up in winter, but cold hardy. However, just to make sure, I keep mine small, growing them in large pots and bringing them into an unheated garage in winter.
  • Pawpaw (Asimina triloba) is a small specimen tree with large leaves. It grows in zones 5 to 9 bearing fruit in late summer. So, here’s one that adds to the landscape besides giving you tasty fruit. Since it grows well in a soil pH of 5.5 to 7, it’s unlikely that you’ll need to adjust your soil pH for the tree to thrive.
  • Native plum (Prunus americanus) does well in zones 3 to 8 but requires two plants for pollination. This is a tall shrub, eight to 10 feet at maturity; so it can be used as a specimen or use a few to make a living screen. It does form thickets, so this can be a factor in your choice. On the other hand, it produces food not only for you but for wildlife as well.
  • Dwarf citrus trees  such as Dwarf Meyer Lemon, Dwarf Key Lime and Dwarf Calamondin Orange are tender in our area, growing in hardiness zones 9 to 10. But, if you don’t have a greenhouse, you can grow any of these as houseplants in the winter in large pots, bringing them outdoors in the summer. Although the plants are dwarf, they produce edible fruit. Citrus trees do best in an acidic soil, 5.5 to 6.5.

Whatever you select, do try at least one unusual fruiting plant this summer in your garden.

Ellen Barcel is a freelance writer and master gardener.

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Photo from All-America Selections

By Ellen Barcel

Yes, it’s been a comparatively mild winter (just that one blizzard in January) and much of February and March has been milder than usual. My periwinkle were blooming in early March; spring bulbs were blooming by mid-March and on Easter Sunday, March 27, I saw not only forsythia in full bloom but  magnolia trees as well. Yes, it’s time to get out into the garden. But, remember to be careful with what you put outside. As generally mild as it has been, we have had a few really cold days, with a coating of snow just a few weeks or so ago. Watch the weather forecasts and use a cold frame if appropriate for your new little plants.

Photo from All-America Selections
Photo from All-America Selections

If you can’t wait to have those fresh, homegrown veggies, there are a number that can take the cold and even prefer it. So, in early April, you can get out in the garden and get started with some of the following. As with most crops, it’s best to rotate your veggies every two or three years. This will help prevent the spread of disease and will help to fend off insects.

Traditionally peas are planted on St. Patrick’s Day or soon thereafter. So, now is ideal. Pea plants can even tolerate a light frost. Peas prefer a sandy soil. Select a location where the pea plants can climb, either a fence, trellis or other support. Don’t let the soil dry out. Make sure you add compost to the soil. Select a variety that is disease resistant and that’s about it. You’ll soon have a tasty crop that should be harvested before the heat of summer arrives. If you decide to have a second crop, you’ll have to nurse the baby plants through late summer’s heat.
There are several general types of peas: garden peas (English peas), which need to be shelled to be eaten (put the shells in your compost pile); sugar snap peas (nice and plump, with an edible pod); and snow peas, which can be used in stir fry recipes, whole. Peas mature in 55 to 85 days depending on variety.

Photo from All-America Selections
Photo from All-America Selections

While lettuce prefers a cool climate it can be kept growing all season long. Plant a new crop every two weeks. For the plants that will mature in the heat of summer, plant in a lightly shaded area. Like peas, lettuce can tolerate a light frost. There are many different varieties including head lettuce, leaf lettuce and loose head lettuce; so plant whatever you prefer. I particularly like Romaine lettuce.
Lettuce prefers a sandy but fertile soil, so add compost as needed. Using a mulch will keep down weeds and keep the soil moist and cool. For leaf lettuce, you can leave the plant growing, and just pick a few outside leaves as needed.

Photo from All-America Selections
Photo from All-America Selections

Radishes grow quickly, so you can have a number of crops, planting a new row every couple of weeks. Radishes mature in 25 to 40 days depending on variety. As with most root crops, it’s best to sow seeds directly into the soil. If you try to transplant them, you’ll get some strange looking produce. Since radishes need sun, select a sunny location, and thin to about two inches apart once the seeds germinate. Radishes can be grown in pots since they are so small and can also be grown indoors year round, since you don’t want root crops to go to seed. Radishes are ideal for children just starting to garden, since they mature so quickly.

Cruciferous veggies
Cruciferous veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi) mature quickly. You can get two crops, if you plant one in spring and a second in mid-summer to mature in fall. You’ll get broccoli in 55 to 60 days, cauliflower in 55 to 80 days and kohlrabi 55 to 70 days. Broccoli needs full sun, as most veggies do, and can be planted two to three weeks before the last spring frost date (mid-April). It likes fertile, moist soil. Since broccoli (and other cruciferous veggies) tend to get large, you need to space your plants 12 to 24 inches apart. While some varieties are heat tolerant, all need moist soil.

Photo from All-America Selections
Photo from All-America Selections

Other cool weather crops include parsley and spinach (which matures in 45 to 60 days). Always read the seed package directions for maturity date, special growing instructions etc. as the above are generalities.

Ellen Barcel is a freelance writer and master gardener. Send your gardening questions to [email protected] To reach Cornell Cooperative Extension and its Master Gardener program, call 631-727-7850.

Sills Gully Beach scattered with litter. File photo

Federal dollars are giving Sills Gully Beach and Gully Landing face-lifts.

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) announced that Brookhaven Town will receive $2,275,000 in federal funding to repair Sills Gully Beach in Shoreham and the town’s Gully Landing Road drainage facility in Miller Place, which were severely damaged due to high winds, heavy rains and the tidal surge during both Hurricane Irene in 2011 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

“Working closely with the Brookhaven Town finance department, Brookhaven highway department, Federal Emergency Management Agency and the New York State department of homeland security, my staff and I were able to successfully expedite the necessary federal funding to make critical repairs to Sills Gully Beach and Gully Landing Drainage Facility,” said Zeldin, who is a member of the House of Representatives’ transportation and infrastructure committee, in a press release. “As a result, Brookhaven Town will now be able to make renovations to protect, restore and strengthen the beach, so that Long Islanders can enjoy its beauty for generations to come.”

The funding will be used to repair and reinforce the bluffs by installing a bulkhead. According to town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), the drainage systems and shoreline protection at the locations had been so severely damaged that it was no longer serving its primary function.

Hurricane Sandy “was not only a South Shore event — our North Shore communities were affected as well, and Sills Gully Beach and Gully Landing Road were particularly hit hard,” he said. “I thank Congressman Zeldin for securing the funds so we can finally begin work to repair the damage so residents can once again safely enjoy this popular recreation spot.”

The funding will also be used to upgrade the existing stormwater drainage system.

“We were able to finally cut through the bureaucratic red tape after years of inaction and allocate the necessary federal funding to modernize our stormwater infrastructure and repair badly eroded bluffs, protecting the endangered surface waters of the Long Island Sound,” town Highway Superintendent Dan Losquadro (R) said. “Shoreline protection projects such as these are critical in our efforts to maintain our shoreline and ensure its resilience.”

The federal grant was secured through FEMA. The funding is being provided under authority of Section 406 of the Robert T. Stafford Act and will be granted directly to New York State.

“I appreciate the hard work of Congressman Zeldin, the Town of Brookhaven, the highway department and Councilwoman Jane Bonner [R] have done for our community to get this project approved,” said Marc Mazza, a board member of the Miller Place Park Homeowners Association. “I offer my heartfelt thanks.”

Community clubs and organizations were just excited to see the beach restored for local enjoyment.

“We are very, very grateful,” said Jennifer Juengst, a board member of the Shoreham Shore Club. “The funding obtained with Congressman Zeldin’s efforts are a lifeline for the health of this North Shore beach and will ensure that future generations of beachgoers will enjoy safe summers for years to come.”

This version replaces an incorrect photo.

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Daffodil leaves need fertilizer during the growing season so as to build up the bulbs for the following season’s flowers. Photo by Ellen Barcel

By Ellen Barcel

Many years ago, someone in a class I was teaching on hydrangeas asked me, “You mean, you have to feed your plants?” besides controlling the soil pH. I was surprised. Yes, I told her. You have to put nutrients into the soil if you want most plants to grow and thrive. This is particularly important with Long Island’s sandy soil, which has little in the way of nutrients in it especially if you have little or no nutrient-rich topsoil.

So, how do you do this? Well, one of the easiest is to keep a compost pile and to apply compost liberally to your plants. Another is to use a fertilizer available in garden centers, some are organic and some are chemical. But, what exactly are you adding to your soil and therefore plants?

There are three main nutrients plants need: nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K). All three are needed for photosynthesis, that is, turning solar energy into plant matter.

Nitrogen helps with plant growth, encouraging leaf and stem growth. Too much nitrogen and plants will produce lots of leaves but little fruit. Legumes are nitrogen fixing plants, that is, they get their nitrogen from the air. Nitrogen fixing plants include peanuts, peas, bush beans, wisteria and clover. Note that many people try to get rid of clover in their lawns, but clover puts nitrogen into the soil naturally. Besides they have pretty little flowers.

Phosphorus encourages rapid growth, blooming and root growth while potassium helps in the fruit quality and reduction of plant diseases as well as overall plant vigor and pest resistance.

Feed and water your hydrangeas well to get a beautiful array of flowers. Photo by Ellen Barcel
Feed and water your hydrangeas well to get a beautiful array of flowers. Photo by Ellen Barcel

You may see on chemical fertilizer packages numbers like 5-10-5. This means that the fertilizer contains 5 percent nitrogen, 10 percent phosphorus and 5 percent potassium. The rest is other nutrients and fillers. A package that says 10-20-10 is therefore 10 percent nitrogen, 20 percent phosphorus and 10 percent potassium. A complete fertilizer will have all three of these nutrients.

But there are also secondary nutrients that plants need including calcium, magnesium (part of chlorophyll in green plants), sulfur (improves root growth and seed production) as well as micronutrients. Lack of enough iron, for example, and the plant’s leaves will turn yellow.

A well-balanced commercial fertilizer will have all of these nutrients and micronutrients. If you are concerned that your soil, even amended with compost and/or fertilizer has the proper nutrients, there are test kits available in garden centers that will tell you how well your soil is doing. Or you could bring samples to Cornell Cooperative Extension, which will test for a wide variety of nutrients.

Soil pH is not a nutrient but a measure of how acidic or how alkaline soil is. Different plants need different soil pH levels to grow to their best potential. Normally, fertilizer will not contain any chemicals to change the soil pH, unless they specifically say so. For example, Miracid is a fertilizer that contains a chemical that will lower the soil pH. It should not be used on plants that require a neutral or alkaline soil, but on plants like rhodies, blueberries, pines etc., which thrive in an acidic soil.

If you are using potting soil for container gardens, read the package carefully. It will indicate whether it has any fertilizer in the soil and, if so, what and how much. It should also indicate how long the nutrients will last. Some even have watering crystals that hold excess water to be released when the soil itself dries out. Watering crystals will not last forever and may need to be replaced. Again, read the label.

The directions with chemical fertilizers will sometimes talk about foliar feeding, that is, mixing up liquid fertilizer and spraying it directly on the leaves of plants. First, chemical fertilizers in general can burn plants if applied too liberally. Always follow the package directions to avoid this. Second, it’s been my experience that foliar feeding can sometimes burn the leaves of the plants, killing them.

As a result, I never spray liquid fertilizer on plant leaves. If you decide to use slow-release plant food (sticks, granules etc.), note how much is to be applied to a given area, pot size etc. If you overdo it, you can kill your plants. If a little is good, a lot is definitely not better. This is one reason why I prefer to use compost, since it’s virtually impossible to burn plants with compost. I’ve even seen volunteers growing directly in compost piles.

Ellen Barcel is a freelance writer and master gardener. Send your gardening questions to [email protected]

A satellite view of the Steck-Philbin Landfill site that the County plans to repurpose in cooperation with the Suffolk County Landbank. Image from Suffolk County Landbank Corp.

A North Shore-based group has answered the county’s calls to revitalize the site of a former landfill in Kings Park.

The Suffolk County Landbank Corp., which is a not-for-profit entity that works with the county to redevelop tax-delinquent properties, put out a request for proposals to completely rejuvenate eight brownfield spots across Suffolk, including the former Steck-Philbin Landfill on Old Northport Road in Kings Park. This week, Stony Brook’s Ecological Engineering of Long Island answered with a proposal to build Long Island’s first community-owned solar farm.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said the county wanted to team up with the private sector to revitalize the various brownfield sites and described them as blights on their respective communities. Shawn Nuzzo, president of Ecological Engineering of Long Island, said his group’s plan had the potential to pump renewable energy into the Island’s power grid almost immediately.

In a statement, Nuzzo described the 6-megawatt solar farm proposal as the largest landfill-to-solar project in New York state that could generate nearly 8 million kilowatt hours of solar electricity in its first year.

“Unlike other recent utility solar projects on Long Island – where large developers have proposed to clear-cut forests, raze golf courses and blanket farmable lands – our proposal takes a dangerous, long-blighted and otherwise useless parcel and revives it as a community-owned solar farm,” Nuzzo said. “The Kings Park Community Solar Farm will be a quiet, low-intensity land use generating nearly no automobile traffic after installation. As equally important, we will return proper ecosystem services to the site through the ecological restoration technique of phytoremediation — using native, low-light, low-lying and drought tolerant plants known for their long-term soil restorative properties.”

Related: Former landfill in Kings Park to be repurposed

A property is classified as a brownfield if there are complications in expansion or redevelopment based on the possible presence of pollutants or hazardous materials, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

The site on Old Northport Road is still owned by Richard and Roslyn Steck, according to the Suffolk County Landbank Corporation Request for Proposals, though penalties and interest bring the total owed in property tax on the roughly 25 acres of land to nearly $1.5 million. The property has been tax delinquent since the Richard Steck, Gerald Philbin Development Co. was found to be using the site to dispose of waste that it did not have a permit for in 1986. It is located less than a half mile east of the Sunken Meadow Parkway and about a half mile west of Indian Head Road.

The former Steck-Philbin Landfill on Old Northport Road in Kings Park is one of the eight blighted brownfields that the Suffolk County Landbank requested proposals for repurposing. Image from Suffolk County Landbank Corp.
The former Steck-Philbin Landfill on Old Northport Road in Kings Park is one of the eight blighted brownfields that the Suffolk County Landbank requested proposals for repurposing. Image from Suffolk County Landbank Corp.

The property is next to the future location of a multisport complex being developed by Prospect Sports Partners LLC. The $33 million plan for the 44-acre site was approved in July 2015.

“This has been a long time coming and creating policies and procedures for the Landbank has been an arduous task, but I’m beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel,” Suffolk County Legislator Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore) said earlier this year when the county sought private sector support to revitalize the site. Cilmi is a member of the board of the Landbank. “Hopefully, soon we’ll see the remediation of this and other properties, which benefits our environment. We’ll put the properties back on the tax rolls, which means millions of dollars of savings for taxpayers.”

Nuzzo said Ecological Engineering of Long Island would finance, build and operate the solar farm through a crowdfunding campaign seeking small investments from everyday Suffolk County residents. The plan, he said, would be to sell 25,000 “solar shares” in the farm at $500 a piece.

“We calculate that the Kings Park Community Solar Farm will generate more than $24 million in gross revenue over a typical 20-year power purchase agreement. We will offer our investors a guaranteed 150 percent return on investment with annual payments deposited over the 20-year lifetime of the agreement,” he said. “Through design efficiencies we will maximize photovoltaic energy output to not only increase profit for our investors but also to decrease our reliance on fossil fuels, which today — despite many residential and commercial PV installs — still represents the majority of Long Island’s energy production.”

The plan has already received support from various North Shore elected officials, including state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), who threw support behind Nuzzo in a letter to the Suffolk County Landbank Corp.

“I am always happy to see younger members of our community active in civics, so it was especially heartening to this vibrant young man at the helm of my local civic association,” he said. “Mr. Nuzzo has also worked with the Setauket Harbor Task Force and was responsible for securing the donation of the use of a ‘solar trailer’ from a local solar installer to power our Setauket Harbor Day Festival last September with renewable solar energy.”

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) described Nuzzo as a “knowledgeable leader on environmental issues” who was “well versed in many modern environmental technologies and practices, including solar projects, LEED process and green technology.”

The Suffolk County Landbank was established in 2013 after its application was approved by the New York State Empire State Development Corporation. Some of the other brownfields included in the request for proposals include Hubbard Power and Light and a gas station on Brentwood Road in Bay Shore, Lawrence Junkyard in Islip and Liberty Industrial Finishing in Brentwood, among others. Cumulatively, the eight properties owe more than $11 million in delinquent taxes as of August 2015.