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Gardening

Chris Hasbrouck shows off a recently picked cucumber from his garden at St. Johnland Nursing Center in Kings Park. Photo from St. Johnland
A hobby turns into a passion

St. Johnland resident Chris Hasbrouck has put his free time into gardening with bountiful results. Sunflowers, eggplant, tomatoes, green beans, cucumbers and strawberries fill the raised garden beds outside of Lawrence Hall where Chris resides.

A former stockbroker, Hasbrouck, who is 55, suffered a stroke that left him in need of round-the-clock care. “My father had a vegetable garden, so when I was looking for a hobby, it just seemed like a natural choice,” he said.

Originally from Centerport, Hasbrouck started his gardening obsession 4 years ago and today has a crop of vegetables he shares with nurses and therapists at St. Johnland.

Elderberry produces flat-topped berry clusters relished by birds.
Make your home a haven for wild things

By John L. Turner

One of the basic axioms in ecology is that no living thing exists in isolation, that each species in an ecosystem is varyingly affected by others species and, in turn, has an effect upon them. John Muir, the famous naturalist and founder of the Sierra Club, understood this more than a century ago when he observed: “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” As it relates to  humans, this idea was made famous by John Donne’s famous quote: “No man is an island entire of itself,” that each of us is affected by those around us upon whom we also have an effect. 

In ecosystems these effects are numerous and varied, and can be both easy and hard to quantify. Competition for light, water, and nutrients between species is well known but as Suzanne Simard’s recent revelatory book Finding the Mother Tree  documents, a surprising amount of cooperation exists between trees in a forest, involving both individuals of the same species and between tree species.

Among animals there’s cooperation too. Parents nourish offspring (with older offspring of scrub jays helping parents feed newborn offspring), and dolphins, whales and pelicans hunting together. But there’s also competition among animals — witness the interaction between ospreys and the resurging bald eagle population on Long Island. In all ecosystems there are predators sustained by an even larger base of prey, there’s host — parasite relationships, and, importantly decomposers and recyclers who prevent dead organic matter from accumulating by recycling nutrients and energy back into the system.

These relationships can conveniently (and simplistically) fit into one of three categories — positive, neutral, or negative for the species involved, or often and more typically, positive for one and negative for the other (think: Osprey catching and eating a fish). But the relationship can be positive for both as is the case with a pollinating bee and a wildflower — the bee secures nectar, pollen or both for itself and its young and the plant produces new progeny, in the form of seeds, through the pollination process.  

Non-native species, like the overwhelming number of wildflowers, shrubs, and trees in most homeowners’ yards, turn this axiom on its head and that creates a big problem.  Many non-native plants routinely planted by homeowners in some ways live in isolation — they produce little to no nectar or pollen so they do nothing to sustain pollinating insects and their leaves are fed upon by few if any insects. They do not have an effect upon other species and aren’t “hitched” to other species as Muir would undoubtedly have noted. 

It doesn’t have to be this way and many homeowners, with more joining each day, are “going native,” planting plants in their yards that are indigenous to Long Island, that  upon planting, become part of the local food web.  These owners are embracing the above axiom by installing plants that positively affect the insect, bird, and mammal populations around them.     

 It’s easy to join this burgeoning movement as native plants are much more available as organizations, individuals, and nurseries outlets respond to consumer interest.  One not-for-profit environmental organization, the Long Island Native Plant Initiative (LINPI), has, as its mission, the propagation and sale of native plants. They have dozens of species available at their facility located in the St. Joseph’s Convent in Brentwood and is worth your support.    

There are four main foods produced by plants that sustain wildlife — nectar, pollen, leaves and fruits (berries, nuts, and acorns) — that you need to think about when planting native species. Various insects depend upon the first three, while birds and mammals typically focus on fruits (and nectar in the case of hummingbirds).  

Shrubs

Highbush Blueberry

There are, of course,  some plants which provide more than one type of food that sustains wildlife.  

A great example is the woody shrub Highbush Blueberry, a common species growing in freshwater wetlands throughout Long Island. Its bell-shape flowers produce nectar consumed by many species of bees and butterflies; its pollen is eaten by some bees and other insects; the tasty berries are eaten by a variety of birds and small mammals (and, of course, a large mammal with two legs with whom you may be familiar if you like blueberry muffins or pies); and the leaves sustain caterpillars of many moths and butterflies including a wonderful group of small butterflies which includes the hairstreaks and elfins).  So Highbush Blueberry is a “go-to” plant in moving your yard from paucity to productivity. 

Another woody shrub to consider is elderberry which produces flat-topped berry clusters relished by birds. I enjoy watching the mockingbirds and catbirds each summer visit the ripened berry clusters of several elderberry bushes I’ve planted in the backyard.  

Others shrubs to think about (and there are still others) include Spicebush, which is used by the beautiful Spicebush swallowtail butterfly as a food source while a caterpillar;  and shadbush and chokeberry, both of which produce berries eaten by quite a few bird and small mammal species. If your property has moister soils think about planting Sweet Pepperbush, also known as Summersweet due to the strong and distinctive odors the plant gives off in summer. Many insects are attracted to these odiferous blossoms.  Lastly, two other native “woodies” you might to consider for wetter soils are Steeplebush, also known as Spirea and Swamp Rose.   

Trees

Speaking of woody plants, a number of tree species provide benefits to wildlife. Oaks, willows, hickories, cherries, beech, birch, dogwood, and sassafras are all especially valuable. Oak leaves, for example, are known to support hundreds of different kinds of caterpillars which are eaten by dozens of bird species. And bright red sassafras berries are consumed by a host of birds including cedar waxwings, catbirds, and several thrush species.   

Wildflowers and grasses

Goldenrod

You can also affect positive change with non-woody plants such as wildflowers and grasses. Two excellent groups of plants that pollinators love are goldenrods and asters. Goldenrods (what a wonderful and evocative common name!) produce copious amounts of nectar that many bees, beetles, and butterflies consume as well as the plants’ pollen. (By the way — it’s not goldenrod pollen that causes hay fever — their pollen grains are too big — but rather ragweed, blooming at the same time, which has much smaller pollen grains since they are wind pollinated.) 

Standing on the edge of a thick stand of goldenrod in bloom in late summer is to visit the busiest insect airport imaginable — dozens of bees, wasps, flies, beetles, and butterflies probing the countless flowers for nectar and pollen. Many moth and butterflies, as caterpillars, feed on goldenrod leaves. Several dozen goldenrod species are native to Long Island so there’s a lot of variety to choose from.  Why not plant some “sunshine concentrate” in your flower beds?

Asters, too, are important wildflowers for wildlife providing nectar. Like goldenrods, they are beautiful, adding bright splashes of color to your yard such as the stunning purple rays of New England Aster. Several aster species are available for sale. 

Milkweeds

Many other native species can become part of your local ecosystem. Milkweeds are another group, perhaps most well-known because Common Milkweed is the common host plant for the Monarch Butterfly, a species that’s the focus of a great deal of conservation concern due to their declining numbers (although in 2021 there appears to be a slight uptick in their numbers). 

Besides Common Milkweed you should think about planting Swamp Milkweed if you have wetter, richer soils and Butterflyweed, a bright orange member of the milkweed family. Many species of insects are attracted to the nectar produced by these species and Monarch caterpillars can successfully grow eating Butterfly Weed leaves as the five caterpillars that came from a small flower garden by my back door can attest. 

Other native wildflowers that sustain wildlife include, but are not limited to, Joe-pye weed, Boneset, Thoroughwort, Northern Blazing Stars, Bush Clovers, Mountain Mint, and Beggars Ticks.  

To attract Ruby-throated Hummingbirds you need to plant red flowers — three good ones are Cardinal Flower (a stunner)!, Wild Bergamot (also known as Oswego Tea) and  Trumpet Vine.  

There’s value in planting a number of the same plants together, forming clumps rather than single plants. Some beetles don’t fly as well as other insects so its worth clumping together some natives to assist them. And odors and chemicals given off by groups of the same species are much stronger than scents given by individual plants so more is better!  

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If want to do more to make your yard wildlife friendly here’s a few other ideas:  

A great project with the kids is to make a bee hotel.

 

Build bee hotels. Many bees, wasps, and other pollinating insects can benefit from “bee hotels” placed around your property. A great project is to engage your children in researching, constructing and installing small bee hotels suitable to your property. These hotels will help some of the several hundred native bee species like mason bees which, unlike the European honeybee, nest solitarily. There’s many different designs you can find on-line such as drilling holes of various diameters into a several foot long segment of a “4 by 4”. Tying together a bunch of hollow bamboo stalks into a wood frame that hangs is an alternative design. 

Can your Spray Can! It is tempting to turn to the easy fix of chemicals to control garden pests. The problem is these chemicals work too well; remember pesticides, herbicides, and other “cides” are all poisons, some of which have broad and deadly impacts to a large number of species. Research other, more benign options for controlling unwanted species — by doing so you allow the wanted species to flourish.  Turn away from poisons. 

Leave the Leaves and Save the Stubble! Layers of fallen leaves and standing stem stubble in your garden beds and throughout your yard sustain many species, especially insects that overwinter under leaves and in hollow stems. 

Frog Logs to the Rescue! If you have an in-ground pool you may want to buy frog logs or ramps to allow animals like chipmunks a chance to escape. The “logs” are semi-circle floats in which a fabric ramp connects the float with the anchor portion filled with sand.   

If you put away the poisons, invest in some frog logs if needed, retain leaves in flower beds and in the corners of your yard and, most importantly, plant native species to nourish pollinators and many other species of wildlife, your yard will become part of the living fabric of the larger world surrounding you. It’s axiomatic! 

A resident of Setauket, author John Turner is conservation chair of the Four Harbors Audubon Society, author of “Exploring the Other Island: A Seasonal Nature Guide to Long Island” and president of Alula Birding & Natural History Tours and pens a monthly column for TBR News Media titled Nature Matters.

*This article originally appeared in TBR News Media’s Summer Times supplement on June 24.

METRO photo

Poinsettias and their rich red, white or variegated color schemes are the ideal backdrop for Christmas celebrations. In fact, poinsettias are among the most popular decorative flowers during the holiday season. According to the 2013 USDA Floriculture Statistics report, poinsettias accounted for about one-quarter (23 percent) of all flowering potted plant sales that year. Roughly 34 million poinsettia plants are sold in a given season.

Indigenous to Central America, the plant was introduced to North America in the 1820s when Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first United States Minister to Mexico, brought the red-and-green plant back with him from a trip abroad. While millions of poinsettias will be purchased for the holiday season, many mistakenly think their utility ends once New Year’s Day has come and gone. But with proper care poinsettia plants can continue to thrive and bring warmth and beauty to a home long after the holiday decorations have been tucked away.

• Choose a hearty plant. Experts with the University of Vermont Extension Department of Plant and Soil Science say that many people mistake the plant’s leaves for its flowers. The red, white or pink bracts are actually modified leaves. The flowers of the plant are the yellow clustered buds in the center called “cyathia.” Choose poinsettia plants that have buds which are, ideally, not yet open.

• Keep the temperature consistent. Poinsettias prefer a room temperature between 60 and 68 F during the day and 10 degrees cooler at night. Humidity levels between 20 and 50 percent are ideal. Group plants on water-filled trays full of pebbles to help increase humidity levels.

• Place near sunlight. The United Kingdom-based Perrywood floral company advises placing poinsettia plants near a bright windowsill but not in direct sunlight. Do not let a poinsettia touch cold window panes. • Avoid drafts. The plants are sensitive to drafts and changes in temperature. So it’s best to keep poinsettias away from drafty doors, windows, radiators, or fireplaces.

• Don’t drown the roots. Wait until the surface of the compost dries out before watering the plant anew. Also, the decorative foil wrapper that covers pots can trap water and lead to root rot. Remove it or poke holes in the bottom to allow for drainage.

• Cut back plants. Come mid-March, cut back the plant by half to encourage new shoots, suggests the University of Illinois Extension. The plants also can be placed outside in the spring after the risk of frost has passed. Bring poinsettias back in around mid-September to early October to force them to bloom again.

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Photo from Rebecca Kassay

To maintain and keep Port Jefferson village’s pollinator gardens, Trustee Rebecca Kassay has implemented a new program and is looking for volunteers to help. 

According to Kassay, the village is home to several gardens that attract bees, butterflies, insects and some birds that help keep plants and flowers growing. These gardens full of plants naturally attract, feed and provide habitat for different wildlife. 

Starting this week, Kassay is looking for the community to come together and learn about these different gardens. On Friday, Sept. 10 from 2 p.m. until 5 p.m., interested gardeners can meet with like-minded people at Harborfront Park Gardens, to focus on the border along the traffic circle by the Village Center. 

“Whether you’re an avid gardener, or this is your first time working with pollinator plants, we encourage you to join for these hands-on working and learning sessions,” Kassay wrote in the Port Jeff community garden newsletter. 

The program is open to volunteers ages 10 and up. 

“Volunteers will learn about pollinator and native gardens, and their ecological importance, as well as getting to know specific pollinator plants,” she added. “How to care for them, where to source them and more — all while pruning, weeding, digging  and making the village’s pollinator garden’s look as attractive to humans as they look to wildlife.”

There will be two more meet-ups, one on Sunday, Sept. 26 at Harborfront Park and another on Oct. 17 from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the triangle garden at High Street and Spring Street. 

Those interested can email Kassay at [email protected]

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METRO photo

Summer is a season to relax and enjoy the warm weather. Basking in the summer sun is a great way to relax, but only when the temperatures are safe. Summer heat waves can compromise the health of human beings as well as their pets. Gardening enthusiasts also may need to go the extra mile to keep their plants and gardens from wilting under harsh summer sun.

Extreme heat stress can be very harmful to plants. The online gardening resource Gardening Know How notes that some plants can withstand summer heat waves better than others. For example, succulents conserve water in their leaves, helping them to withstand heat waves when the dog days of summer arrive. But succulents are unique, and many plants will require a little extra help to withstand a heat wave.

· Take a proactive approach with mulch. Gardeners need not wait until the heat arrives to protect their plants from searing summer heat. The sustainable living experts at Eartheasy recommend utilizing light-colored mulch during heat waves. Such mulch will reflect the sunlight and help to maintain cooler surface soil conditions. Eartheasy even notes that grass clippings, once they’ve turned from green to light brown, can make for the perfect mulch to protect plants from the heat. Clippings also are free, making them a cost-effective solution.

· Water wisely. The horticultural experts at Yates Gardening note that water only helps plants withstand heat waves if it’s applied effectively. If water is only applied in short bursts and not long enough so it can penetrate all the way to the root zone, roots will then stay near the surface. In such instances, roots will dry out during a heat wave and plants won’t make it through the season. Timing also is essential when watering. Eartheasy recommends watering in the morning to avoid heat scald and also ensure as little water is lost to evaporation as possible. When watering during a heat wave, do so by hand rather than through a sprinkler. Hand watering allows gardeners to direct all of the water onto the plants that need it most during a heat wave.

· Let your plants pitch in. When planting new plants, it’s important that gardeners recognize it takes time for these plants to establish their roots so they’re strong enough to withstand heat waves. In the meantime, strategic planting can help them make it through their first heat waves unscathed. Eartheasy notes that planting by taller, more established plants can provide new plants with shade that can help them survive heat waves. Just make sure new plants can still get the sun they need to thrive.

Heat waves are inevitable and potentially harmful to gardens. Gardeners can help their plants beat the heat in various ways.

Pixabay photo

The Village of Port Jefferson seeks volunteers ages 13 and up for a Community Garden Build at Beach Street Parkland (150 Beach St.) in the village on Saturday, May 22. Choose a session (9 a.m. to noon, noon to 3 p.m. or 3 to 6 p.m.) to help assemble garden bed kits, fill beds with topsoil, dig post-holes and install fence posts and staple up deer fencing. Snacks and gloves will be provided. Masks are mandatory. To RSVP, email [email protected]

Black-throated Blue Warbler. Photo by Luke Ormand

By John L. Turner

I have always wanted to have a vegetable garden with fruit trees and bushes to grow food for my family, but the Nassau County house we lived in for 35 years, unfortunately, just didn’t have the yard space. In that small space my effort at growing veggies and herbs was restricted to pots of tomatoes and basil on a wooded back deck and I simply had no room for bushes or trees.

But moving to Setauket, on a property with a long back yard, gave ample opportunity to construct a large garden, and construct I did. Surfing the Internet in general, and Pinterest specifically, I scrutinized dozens of different designs, layouts, and materials before finally settling on the idea of two raised, double concrete block beds, one in the shape of the letter “S”, the other its mirror image and one more rectangular bed in the front (I’ve since expanded the garden about 50% by adding on two wings).

I liked the idea of the concrete blocks because it meant not having to spend so much time with 65-year-old knees on the ground, concrete because it will never rot out and need to be replaced, and because I could plant herbs in the hollows of the blocks. The S-letter configuration would allow easy access to any part of the two beds. I planted twenty blueberry and twelve raspberry and blackberry bushes along with a very young fig tree around the garden’s perimeter. A peach and Italian Plum tree are on order.

I had several motivations for the garden. I have long wanted to live more sustainably and one way to do that is to eat healthy, pesticide- and fertilizer-free foods close to where they’re produced. Well, I never use pesticides or fertilizers and I couldn’t get much closer than the 200-foot distance between the garden and kitchen. And given the omnipresence of the COVID pandemic and its regular and depressing drumbeat of death filling the world with despair, I needed to participate in something that was life affirming and enriching. I had embraced the saying: “When the world wearies and society fails to satisfy, there is always the garden.”

There is another garden saying: “There are no gardening mistakes, only experiments.” Well, I conducted my first “experiment” when I planted too many plants too close together, ensuring a vegetable jungle in the weeks and months ahead. The beans didn’t behave themselves despite my effort to “grow them vertical,” climbing on everything around them and their viny web and the tomato tangles made it a wee bit difficult to get some of the beans and cherry tomatoes once ripe.

Despite the tangle creating more shade than is preferable, all was good though and the eggplants (graffiti, Japanese, American) tomatoes (Beefsteak, heirloom, and two types of cherry), squash (Spaghetti, Butternut, zucchini), cucumbers, artichokes, strawberries, broccoli romanesco, one lonely artichoke bought on a whim, collard greens, beets, kale, swiss chard, corn, many types of melons, numerous pepper varieties, leeks, and basil filled the beds. Herbs I diligently planted in the hollows of the blocks included parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme (an ode to Simon and Garfunkel), dill, mint, chocolate mint, lavender, cilantro, and oregano.

Watching countless YouTube videos about vegetable gardening I soon learned the value in “going vertical” as a means to incorporate more veggies. So to add vertical dimension to the garden I arched cattle panels — four foot wide, sixteen foot long meshed metal fences — over the paths, connecting to the beds. The panels provided a surface for the squash, beans, and tomatoes to grow on, thereby using space more efficiently and allowing me to plant more veggies in the beds.

All was good until the local deer paid a visit. The first night they were surreptitious, revealing their presence with only a scattered hoof prints in the beds and a few nipped peppers. And here I made a true mistake. Applying human and clearly non-deer logic, I assumed the deer discovered the garden, explored it, and made the decision that given their very modest amount of damage, that it generally wasn’t to their liking. Well, the next night they returned and “liked” it a lot more, in fact I might use the word love — they devastated the peppers and beets, and ate all of the broccoli and the swiss chard but one. With the help of my son Travis, a Rube Goldberg style, yet effective eight foot high deer fence was soon installed and has worked like a charm since.

One unexpected result in the garden were the appearance of mystery veggies and fruits I never planted, springing up in places where I didn’t plant them. Indicating the presence of seeds in the eight yards of topsoil/compost mix I used to fill the beds were some cantaloupes, melons, and tomato varieties I hadn’t bought. At first I was confused and then it dawned on me — unless screened very well there are a lot of seeds in soil, as evidenced by how quickly neglected dirt piles at construction sites start to sprout growth.

There was enormous satisfaction for starting something and then letting nature go at it. I marveled at the rapid growth of the plants, their strength and vitality, as they prospered due to the simple combination of adequate water, ample sunlight, and rich soil. Within a month eggplants, two inch high plants when planted, had grown to three feet and started blossoming in multitudes, their beautiful purple petals the texture of tissue paper contrasting with the bright yellow pistils. Tomatoes grew six to eight feet in two months and squash, adorned with brilliant flowers, rested atop the archways. Melons and cucumbers splayed this way and that. By late summer life was riotous in the garden.

And the scents and smells — basil, thyme and rosemary, in full sunlight, effervescing aromas into the air around them, the addictive smell of the good earth when trowel intrudes the surface to make room for planting a small pepper plant filled with so much promise. And the taste of vine-ripe tomatoes, so tomatoey (is that a word?) filling both palate and nose with the unique smell of this ubiquitous member of the nightshade family.

Birds were omnipresent throughout the gardening season. A pair of red-tailed hawks, screeching overhead, gave cause to gaze skyward; this pair bred, I think, in the nearby state-owned Patriots Hollow property. Catbirds regularly “meowed” from the bushes around me and a mockingbird regaled in song on a daily basis amidst the sweet whistling song of Baltimore Orioles.

Both Carolina Wrens and Song Sparrows often perched on the panel arches, probably eyeing which tomato they were going to pierce! Speaking of perched birds on panels — as I was harvesting cherry tomatoes on an October morning Emmy, one of my Springer Spaniels, flushed a bird from the ground. It flew toward me and momentarily perched on the top of a cattle panel. Suddenly and delightfully, three feet away at eye level was a resplendent male Black-throated Blue Warbler. Eye candy in the garden.

We found great joy in harvesting the bounty of vegetables and using them in various recipes. Swiss chard with raisins and pine nuts, collard greens with turkey bacon, various eggplant dishes, sautéed peppers and leeks, roasted tomatoes and beets, and fresh blueberries were but a few of the meals the “back 40”provided. Often the veggies never made it to the house — occasionally a salt shaker would accompany me to the garden. I’m not sure there’s anything tastier than a sweetened, freshly picked cherry tomato sprinkled with a little dash of salt.

I also found joy in composting. All the veggie discards from food prep ended up in a large jar regularly brought to the compost bin. With each jar dump the product of this year’s garden was being recycled, for use as a soil supplement next year, connecting this year to the next. I felt good about this, in knowing I wasn’t adding waste to the garbage stream the town picks up at curbside which is incinerated with the ash being dumped at the town landfill, but rather was used to make soil that will nurture the growth of future plants.

After the first year, I’ve learned a lot about gardening; things done well and things done poorly, some reflecting beginner’s luck while others were gained through experience and insight. What is most clear to me is that I obtained so much more than a bounty of tasty vegetables as I too gained a bounty of lessons, experiences and memories. This reminded me of one last quote by a gardener who noted: “I like gardening. It’s a place where I find myself when I need to lose myself.”

A resident of Setauket, John Turner is conservation chair of the Four Harbors Audubon Society, author of “Exploring the Other Island: A Seasonal Nature Guide to Long Island” and president of Alula Birding & Natural History Tours.

Local non-profit pivots fundraising effort and aids local farmers, community, and economy

The Smithtown Children’s Foundation has spent the last twelve years helping local residents in need. Funds are raised primarily by large gathering events. C0VID-19 has canceled all of those events for 2020. “We had to pivot just like every other business. Unfortunately, need is at an all-time high, when our funds are at an all-time low,” said Christine Fitzgerald, President, and Co-Founder of Smithtown Children’s Foundation. “We had to get creative.”

Farm to Trunk is the brainchild of SCF board member and former Nesconset Farmer’s Market Manager, Nancy Vallarella. “COVID related social media posts revealed local residents were ordering product from distributors that were sourcing produce from all over the country. With Long Island’s harvest approaching, why not organize a minimal contact delivery system that would help Long Island farmers, the local economy, and provide the consumer with the freshest, nutrient-packed produce available?” she said.

Red Fox Organic Farms, located on the property of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Brentwood, was the first Long Island farm to join this fundraising program. Jim Adams, Red Fox’s Farm Coordinator remarked,” We are thrilled and so grateful to be working with SCF. It’s just the connection we needed to begin sharing our food with the Long Island community.”

Smithtown resident Dawn Mohrmann has purchased the Red Fox Organic produce box for the past four weeks. “The Farm to Trunk Smithtown Children’s Foundation program has been an easy decision. A great foundation paired with great local, organic, farm-fresh food! Healthy produce for our family is what we look forward to every week,” said Mohrmann.

SCF’s Farm to Trunk will be bringing Sujecki Farms (Calverton), back to Smithtown as an additional produce provider for the Farm to Trunk Fundraiser. “Sujecki Farms has a following here in Smithtown. They have been an anchor in Smithtown’s Farmers’ Market history for over a decade,” said Vallarella. “They are a family that has been farming on Long Island for over 100 years. We welcome their products and are excited to continue to support their farming effort.”

All orders are placed directly with each farm and are delivered to Watermill Caterers, 711 Smithtown Bypass/Rt.347, Smithtown. Smithtown Children’s Foundation volunteers deliver the produce boxes to the customer’s car trunk from the southwest corner of the Watermill’s parking lot every Wednesday from 5:30 to 7 p.m. There is no on-going commitment. Consumers can order week to week.

Information on the program can be found on the Farm to Trunk — Smithtown Children’s Foundation Facebook.

Order links:

Red Fox Organic Farms — https://www.redfoxfarm.farm/product-page/red-fox-box

Sujecki Farms — https://www.sujeckifarms.com/product-page/smithtown-farm-to-trunk-veggie-box

Photos from Nancy Vallarella

If Caran Markson could make the world green, cover it in manicured sets of pollinating flowers and sweet smelling herbs, she would. 

Hearing her talk about planting and gardening, the possibilities seem endless. If she had unlimited hours in the day, she would pick up every spare piece of litter on the road from Port Jeff to Montauk, she would kneel in the medians along Route 25A with cars flashing past on either side and weed the curbs of their overgrown stalks and giant vegetation. If she was the queen of gardening, there would be a pocket park on every corner of every publicly accessed street in Suffolk County, or even wider, all of New York state. If she was the monarch of the pollinating flowers, there would be a gardener for every county, town and village, and she would lead her army from the front.

PJ Village Gardener Caran Markson transplants and weeds near the Village Center June 24. Photo by Kyle Barr

To hear her speak, one may truly believe the world could be green from one end to the other, if only there were more people with mindsets like hers. 

“A gardener’s work is never done,” Markson said. “Turn around after you’ve done something, and if you don’t enjoy it or see the progress you’ve made, then you’ve got to go do something else.”

But alas, she can only control what goes on in Port Jefferson village, and there’s more than enough there to keep her occupied. Since she started six years ago, she has turned from one of two seasonal part-time village gardeners to the lone full-time caretaker of the village’s many pocket parks. She’s out nearly every day of the week, most of the time beginning the job at 6 a.m. She’s out on the weekends too. She’s out in the blazing sun and the drizzling rain. In normal times, she would open the basketball court and Rocketship Park and take out the trash. She still walks all around the village and picks up litter, every single discarded wrapper and cigarette butt. To her, strewn garbage is public enemy number 1. 

“Because I’m a nut, and I’m an absolute anal person as far as litter is concerned,” she said. “I think it’s absolutely disgraceful everyone throws everything on the ground.”

In autumn, she keeps the parks clear of debris. In the winter, she’s out shoveling snow. She has worked with the Long Island Explorium to construct three rain gardens at Village Hall, the Village Center and the Department of Public Works building, the last called the Whale’s Tail for its unique shape. She works an area of 3 square miles, from the country club to downtown and uptown to the village limits near the train station. 

At 61, with a wiry frame, Markson is like a coiled spring as she attacks green spots in the village such as the gardens next to Harborfront Park and in the center of the roundabout next to the Village Center. Three years ago, she described it as “a bunch of weeds, and a bunch of overgrown looking bushes.” The village parks department helped remove the old shrub, and Markson replanted it with many native plants like Sweet Joe-Pye weed and tall asters. Though she said some thought the plantings seemed sparse, now the area is full to bursting with color once her plants grew out. Among mistakes novice gardeners often make, the biggest are forgetting the importance of maintenance and not recognizing that plants will grow out to occupy more of the space they’re in. 

It’s been much the same for Markson as she’s grown to fit her role. Her family is from Port Jeff, and both her parents and children attended Port Jefferson School District. Her mother was the one to originally teach her about horticulture. She quit being an oral surgeon’s assistant to take care of her terminally ill mother. Once she passed, Markson came back to Port Jeff to “reinvent myself.” Her children are in their 40s, and the plants dotting the village have become her babies.

Mayor Margot Garant said the gardener has an annual budget of around $15,000, but that Markson “does magic with it,” making it stretch by accepting donations from Port Jeff and neighboring communities and by replanting from denser areas of the village to parts that need more. The village gardener and mayor also thanked Kunz Greenhouses in Port Jefferson Station for working with them to provide many of the flowers and greenery all across the village.

The family-owned Kunz Greenhouses has been around for close to 60 years and has been working with the village for nearly four decades. Carolyn Zambraski, who along with her brother is the second generation of greenhouse owners, said she often works with Markson, offering suggestions of native plants and ideas for different planting beds. Driving around the area, the greenhouse owner said the village gardener’s work has made a noticeable improvement in Port Jeff.

“It’s certainly getting better,” she said. “The anchor is a great example, as that was really an eyesore with evergreens and rocks a few years back. The village is going in the right direction.”

Port Jefferson also put up the money for Markson to go through her Master Gardener program with the Cornell Cooperative Extension. She received her certificate of completing 85 hours of training July 25.

“She cares 1,000 percent — her whole heart is in it,” Garant said of Markson. “I find her to be an exemplary employee with an old-fashioned work ethic you can’t just get anywhere.”

As much as she does, Markson isn’t stopping. She has an idea to create a children’s garden in a small patch of grass next to Rocketship Park, adding she is working with Port Jeff’s grant writer Nicole Christian to get some type of funding for such a project. She imagines it as a place where young people can walk through and learn about nature and planting. 

She also wants to work with school-aged children to create small gardens next to the downspouts at Village Hall, where she says there are erosion issues.

Beyond that, though, her ambition stretches past what might be humanly possible. She wishes there were more like her on the town, county and state level who paid as much attention to beautification, to make every stretch of road, street, parking lot, park as perfect as can be. 

“Beautification is so important,” she said. “Everything should look beautiful.”

By John L. Turner

Insight as to the value placed on a wild plant by past generations can be gained by how many common names it’s been given. Typically, a plant with the minimum of just one name has it as a means by which to recognize it and to distinguish the plant from other species. A plant with a number of names, though, suggests a species of greater significance, value, and utility, and such is the case with Shadbush, a common understory shrub or small tree which grows in Long Island’s deciduous forests.

The Shadbush blooms in late April to early May (top photo) and produces edible fruit in late spring to early summer (above). Stock photos

This attractive tree goes by a few names: Shadbush, Shadblow, Serviceberry, and Juneberry. The reference to shad stems from more ancient knowledge of recognizing patterns of nature. Many years ago shad, a species of river herring, was significantly more abundant than today and the spring shad runs up major rivers to reach their spawning grounds was an important event for many people, providing an ample supply of cheap protein. 

Perhaps it was the shad fisherman, or maybe others, but they noticed this tree blossomed at the time the shad were on the move. The five-petaled white blossoms meant migrating shad, hence the connection made permanent by the common name of Shadbush.

The white blossoms of the Shadbush in late April through early May also provided another signal — that winter was done, the ground has thawed, and the dead could receive burial service with caskets sometimes adorned with sprigs of the Serviceberry blossoms.

If the flowers are pollinated, berries form in late spring to early summer, giving rise to the last of its common names — Juneberry. The berrylike fruit is delicious and relished by numerous wildlife, including many birds. Us humans like them too and often turn the fruit into pies, jellies and jams. Technically, the fruit is known as a pome, as are apples, and this isn’t surprising since both apples and Shadbush are members of the Rose family.

The genus name Amelanchier is a french word first used to describe the species.

Four species of Shadbush occur on Long Island, with three of the species found in rich but well drained soils  and one on the eastern end located on sandier, more droughty soils. They range from being a modest multi-stemmed shrub just a few feet tall to a tree 20 to 30 feet high. In forest settings, given its smaller stature, Shadbush grows under taller oaks, black birch, and hickories and, where common, produces scattered “blossom clouds” of white beneath these taller trees. It has attractive smooth grey bark and its leaves are small and oval with toothed margins. Come autumn the foliage turn orange/red, adding a nice splash of color to the forest.

Whatever you wish to call it Shadbush has so much going for it — from its rich folklore, to pretty flowers, attractive bark, and tasty fruit — that I hope you make its acquaintance and perhaps try a berry or two.

A resident of Setauket, John Turner is conservation chair of the Four Harbors Audubon Society, author of “Exploring the Other Island: A Seasonal Nature Guide to Long Island” and president of Alula Birding & Natural History Tours.