05/09/11 2:13pm

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Dandelions line a field on Main Road in Jamesport.

That scourge of temperate-zone gardeners — the humble dandelion — is out in force all over the North Fork, carpeting every available spot in glorious yellow. And you either love it or you don’t.

Most don’t.

Notoriously hard to permanently eradicate, the dandelion just doesn’t give up without a fight. For those who like the manicured garden, it poses a real problem.

If you are uncomfortable with pesticides, you have to weed.  But weeding dandelions means constant weeding. as the plant selflessly volunteers itself to spread all over your lawn and flowerbeds. And it’s not easy weeding either, as the taproot can be up to 10 inches long and is easily fractured. Any portion of the root left in the ground can regenerate the weed, so you might want to invest in a special dandelion weeding tool, stocked by your local Agway. Even then they’ll come back.

So here’s a novel suggestion. Why not embrace your inner dandelion and develop a whole new attitude towards the pesky interlopers?

K.K. Haspel, for one, can’t say enough good things about the weed. “It attracts cosmic forces to the soil,” said Ms. Haspel,  a biodynamic farmer in Southold.

And those cosmic forces are evidently especially attracted by dandelion compost. Ms Haspel suggests taking a look at the powerful compost composed of dried dandelion flowers produced by the Josephine Porter Institute for Applied Bio-Dynamics in Woolwine, Va.

“They break up your soil,” said Ms. Haspel. “This is nature trying to help you.” (The institute will purchase your dandelion flowers at $25 a dried pound.)

Ms. Haspel also points out that the dandelion is hugely useful in medicine. “It can ease digestion and alleviate warts,” she said. “It’s also very nutritious, roots, leaves and flowers.”

Nutritionally, the dandelion can be consumed as food or drink. With a warning to avoid plants from areas that may have been sprayed with pesticides, Ms. Haspel recommends eating young dandelion leaves raw in a salad or sautéing them with garlic and spinach and perhaps some onions and ginger and Asian greens. “But just wilt them. Don’t overcook,” she said.

Dandelion flowers can also be steeped in water to make tea. “Steep them for about fifteen minutes,” said Ms. Haspel. “Some people also put them in smoothies.” Dandelion roots too can be finely ground to form the basis for a coffee substitute.

Dandelions can also be useful in other ways.

Ms. Haspel says that leaving dandelions to grow wild really helps bees. “Bees have a very hard time in spring with few flowers from which to gather pollen,” she said. (For beekeepers, the bonus is that dandelion honey is one of the first honey crops of the year.)

And then of course there’s dandelion wine. According to  wikihow.com, right now is the optimum time to harvest whole dandelion flowers for winemaking, although (perhaps as something of a salutary warning) the article counsels that “just the petals can make for a less bitter tasting wine.”

Full on dandelion fans might even consider fermenting dandelion honey to make an ancient alcoholic concoction called mead, and then combining it with an infusion of dandelion petals to form dandelion metheglin, which is the generic name for mead combined with herbs —  homebrewtalk.com has lots of advice on brewing meads and metheglins.

So could dandelion wines form a hot new trend on the North Fork?

Donnell Brown, executive director of the Long Island Merlot Alliance, confesses she does occasionally indulge in nonmerlot wines (and has even been seen with a beer once in a while.) How about dandelion wine?

“I’d give it a go,” she said.

Adam Suprenant, winemaker at Osprey’s Dominion vineyard in Peconic says he doesn’t plan to start making dandelion wine any time soon, in spite of the abundance of raw material currently inundating the Northeast.

“I’ve never tasted it. My understanding is that it’s kind of an old country thing,” he said. “However, even if you gave it a try, I am certain you could not make a regionally specific dandelion wine so I’m not too worried about competition.

“North Fork winemakers are not going to be shaking in their shoes!”

04/29/11 12:01am

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | Richard Cifarelli's 19th-century barn, immediately recognizable by its 60-foot height, gambrel roof and distinctive cupola, is located on the south side of Main Road in Cutchogue. It was once owned by the Fleet family, which had a grand house (now gone) with matching cupola close by the barn.

When Richard Cifarelli acquired a handsome barn back in 1996, he knew it was going to be quite a project to turn it into a home.

“It wasn’t usable at all,” said Mr. Cifarelli, who, as a senior agent with Prudential Douglas Elliman, knows a thing or two about real estate. “There was no water, no electricity. It was about as raw a piece property as you could imagine.”

The 19th-century barn, immediately recognizable by its 60-foot height, gambrel roof and distinctive cupola, is located on the south side of Main Road in Cutchogue. It was once owned by the Fleet family, which had a grand house (now gone) with matching cupola close by the barn.

Mr. Cifarelli says the barn was originally used to house horses and, indeed, according to Munsell’s “History of Suffolk County,” in the 1880s Henry L. Fleet was renowned both as a horse breeder and as the biggest farmer in the Town of Southold.

The book describes Mr. Fleet as having “raised a number of colts and horses which sold at prices ranging up to several thousand dollars, and has at the present time a very superior stock of young horses, from which similar returns may be expected.”

Later on in its history, the barn was used in the flower business of another member of the Fleet family, who sold gladioli from the building, advertising the flowers on an old horse carriage as the “Wayside Flower Stand.”

By the 1990s, though, the barn had fallen into disrepair.

“Probably nothing was done with it for 30 years or so,” said Mr. Cifarelli. “There were gaping holes in the roof.”

Although he had a vision for the barn, Mr. Cifarelli did not dive right into a major renovation project. Instead, he took his time getting to know the property.

“I owned it a long time before I started working on it,” he said. “You walk around a lot, you check where the sun comes in and that’s where you put the kitchen.”

After major work was completed — Mr. Cifarelli estimates that around 80 percent of the barn is new — 1,100 square feet of living space had been created. He moved into the two-bedroom space in 2007 and says the barn is still a work in progress.

In that regard, Mr. Cifarelli plans to turn the rear of the building into living space and convert the current residential area into additional bedrooms.

“I’m going to build a three-car garage, there will be a courtyard to the east and a pool will go in just off the back of the barn,” he said. “It’s 2 1/2 acres, so it’ll be a small estate.”

And, indeed, the exterior of the barn and surrounding grounds already possess a rather European country-estate look by virtue of privet hedges and a paved stone driveway.

It’s kind of a French and Tuscan mix,” said Mr. Cifarelli. “I also wanted low maintenance and although the privet was expensive, there’s not that much upkeep going forward apart from mowing the grass.”

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The living area’s interior is paneled in wood, some of which was originally on the outside of the barn, and painted a creamy white. The plank floor was also painted white “and then we painted it a Ralph Lauren blue which, with the original white coming through, makes it look quite old,” said Mr. Cifarelli.

The result is a relaxed country space flooded with light and offering comfortable bentwood armchairs and couch to sink into. Fresh flowers, paintings and prints abound, along with a collection of horseshoes propped up on shelves and an ancient porch support casually leaning against a wall.

One quirky touch is the huge creamy-colored chandelier suspended from an old glass-paned door attached to the post and beam ceiling.

“Double the light gets reflected in the glass panes,” observed Mr. Cifarelli.

Mr. Cifarelli seems remarkably calm as he describes the labor of love, but he is the first to admit the project has had its share of stress.

“I moved to Miami for a year and a half right in the middle of it,” he said. “Then I came back and finished it enough to be able to move in.”

He knows there’s still a substantial amount of work to be done, but Mr. Cifarelli remains committed to his work in progress.

This is just what I wanted for my home,” he said. “I lived in Europe and so I really don’t like a typical sheet-rocked house. And I grew up with a barn in my backyard.”