02/06/14 6:00am
02/06/2014 6:00 AM

Carrie Miller photo | Local farmers will continue to benefit from an updated farm bill.

North Fork farmers who have waited nearly two years for the passage of an updated farm bill say that if the president signs the measure passed this week by Congress, they stand to benefit from many of the same subsidy programs they have in the past — as well as new initiatives aimed at expanding crop insurance and farm-to-consumer marketing. (more…)

01/28/14 11:00am
BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO One of the participants (center) shows off his disappointment when his name wasn't called by Officer Jill Wicklund while she was announcing the prize winners.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | One of the participants (center) shows off his disappointment when his name wasn’t called by Officer Jill Wicklund while she was announcing the prize winners last year.

Students in fifth through ninth grades and live in Riverhead Town will have an opportunity to win a free bicycle and helmet in an upcoming essay contest. (more…)

01/04/14 8:00am
01/04/2014 8:00 AM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Aquebogue farmer Donald McKay cutting a field of hay recently on Sound Avenue in Riverhead. The hay is sprayed with citric acid to prevent mold from growing.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO |
Aquebogue farmer Donald McKay cutting a field of hay recently on Sound Avenue in Riverhead. The hay is sprayed with citric acid to prevent mold from growing.

Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County will hold its 33rd annual Long Island Agricultural Forum at Suffolk County Community College’s Riverhead Campus Jan. 16 and 17.

The two-day conference will include informational sessions on issues affecting growers and dealers across the region.

General sessions include information on the East End’s weather station network, which is being used to enhance crop production and pest management, the Affordable Care Act and what it means for area business owners, the Long Island pesticide strategy and information dealing with updates to labor law compliance, as well as 2013 survey results on the State of Suffolk County Agriculture.

Smaller sessions will focus on specific issues related to potato/vegetable production, viticulture, greenhouse and nursery production, sustainable agriculture, tree fruit production, livestock and poultry harvesting and marketing, and environmental landscaping and gardening.

Registration is $30 a person; after Jan. 10, the registration fee will be $45 a person. For more information or a registration form, call Linda Holm at 631-727-7850, ext 341, or visit www.ccesuffolk.org for the complete schedule.

Schedule below:

33rd Annual Long Island Agricultural Forum

11/30/13 5:00pm
11/30/2013 5:00 PM
CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | Suffolk County Water Authority assistant superintendent Warren Jensen.

CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | Suffolk County Water Authority assistant superintendent Warren Jensen.

In an effort to reduce the impact of chemicals on Long Island’s groundwater, the Suffolk County Water Authority wants to learn more about how North Fork farmers cultivate their land.

The public agency has contracted Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County to gather data from local farmers about their agricultural practices, hoping to better understand if and how the chemicals they use are reaching groundwater.

“We want to have a better handle on things like what crops are being grown and what products are being used to grow those crops,” said Carrie Meek Gallagher, chief sustainability officer for the SCWA.

A farmer’s irrigation and product storage practices can each play a role in whether or not chemicals are leeching into the groundwater, she said.

After gathering the information, Cornell scientists will make recommendations on how farming practices might be improved to protect water quality in the future, Ms. Gallagher said.

Dale Moyer, agriculture program director at the county extension said researchers are in the beginning stages of planning the study, which they hope to start sometime early next year.

“Based on what we learn and understand, we may come up with additional practices to avoid or minimize any impacts from the pesticide use,” Mr. Moyer said. “Now is the time when the farmers aren’t so busy, so there can be some conversation and discussion of practices of what’s being done and what can be done.”

He said there are many materials farmers use that do not make their way into groundwater, so researchers hope to also get a broad understanding of products working well in the area.

The program, which will cost about $5,700, will focus on farms surrounding the agency’s well field off Route 48 near Mill Lane in Peconic. The well field, one of 17 overseen by SCWA, has seven individual wells, Ms. Gallagher said.

It is one component of a long-term plan the authority is working on to continue supplying North Fork residents with safe drinking water — free of pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers used in agricultural production, according to SCWA officials.

“Currently, 27 out of 56 authority supply wells on the North Fork are on treatment for pesticide-related contamination,” said SCWA chairman James Gaughran. “As the equipment needed to filter out these chemicals is extremely expensive, it’s in the best interest of our customers to take whatever steps are possible to reduce the amount of these chemicals entering the aquifer system.”

This year, SCWA installed a filter known as a granular activated carbon system, at one of the seven wells in the Peconic field. The system, which holds 10,000 pounds of carbon, costs about $750,000, not including maintenance, said Warren Jensen, an assistant superintendent with the agency.

Trace amounts of at least five different chemicals commonly used in agriculture had been detected in groundwater at the Peconic site, according to 2012 SCWA data. They include nitrates (nitrogen) and metalaxyl, two of the substances most widely contested by environmental advocates.

Many of the pesticides or fertilizers that have been detected in Long Island’s groundwater are what the agency calls legacy contaminants that are no longer available for use on Long Island, Ms. Gallagher said. Some of the detected compounds, however, are still being used in fertilizers and pesticides on Long Island.

If SCWA finds the information gathered by Cornell useful, it may extend the program to each of its additional well fields.

cmiller@timesreview.com

11/24/13 10:00am
11/24/2013 10:00 AM

AMBROSE CLANCY FILE PHOTO | This East End backyard, which once had views of wetlands and berry bushes, is now overun by mile-a-minute vine.

No one is declaring victory just yet, but the man-versus-nature war on what has come to be known as the mile-a-minute vine has been joined. The invasive vine has a predator, experts have found, and it comes in the form of the stem-boring black weevil.

Although he’s taking a cautiously optimistic approach, Cornell Cooperative Extension scientist Dr. Andy Senesac says there’s reason to hope that over the course of several years, the plant could be eradicated

“We’re encouraged, but we can’t be throwing any parades as far as success,” he said.

COURTESY PHOTO | Weevil damage to a mile-a-minute vine leaf.

For the past two years, CCE scientists have been running test programs using the weevil on the North and South forks. The protocol for releasing the weevil was developed by a professor at the University of Delaware and the weevils are being distributed without cost by the Phillip Alampi Beneficial Insects Laboratory in Trenton, N.J., where they are being raised.

While the weevils may not be as prolific as their prey, early tests are promising that the insects will steadily eat away the invasive species and eventually wipe it out without damaging other plants that grow alongside it.

The hope is that as mile-a-minute dies off, the weevils themselves will also die off, Dr. Senesac said.

Persicaria perfoliata, as mile-a-minute is properly know, grows up to six inches a day when conditions are right. Also known as “the kudzu of the north,” it easily overmatches native species. It blocks other plants from sunlight, stopping their ability to photosynthesize, which will eventually kill them. Mile-a-minute devastates the natural ecology on a wide scale, stopping the regeneration of forests and woods and doing damage to a community’s economy.

And being an annual, with a generous amount of seeds, it’s a recurring nightmare for homeowners, gardeners and farmers.

“If you look around now, you might think, ‘Oh, it all died. But it’s not over; it will be back the next year,” said Roxanne Zimmer of Peconic, a volunteer at Cornell. “Because it’s an annual, all those beautiful blue berries will seed and reseed. And, of course, the birds and insects will carry it around as well. It doesn’t really poke its head up until June or July. And July is when you start to notice it again.”

CORNELL COOPERATIVE EXTENSION COURTESY PHOTO | Researchers plan to continue to release more weevils in vine-infested sites on the East End in 2014. The program has been in practice for eight years in Delaware, New Jersey and other states, and in that time the weevil has been observed to feed only on the weed and no other plants.

Ms. Zimmer said the vine has a unique feature that she described as a “curved barb that allows it to grab.”

“That’s what makes it so vicious,” Ms. Zimmer said. “It can hook onto a limb or tree and then the next barb will hook on and then it just continues to grow up and out.”

According to research compiled by the University of Delaware, mile-a-minute is an Asian vine introduced to the United States in the mid-1930s at a nursery in Pennsylvania, where it was mixed with holly seeds imported from Japan. Deceptively beautiful, not only for its vibrant green color, its leaves are delicate triangles, almost heart-shaped, and its berries, when ripe, are bluish-purple. The vine has now made its home in 12 mid-Atlantic and Northeastern states, extending west to Ohio, south to the Carolinas and north to Massachusetts.

But designing and managing programs to put the weevil to work is no easy process, Dr. Senesac said.

For the dozen states experimenting with weevils, there’s a two-step approval process. It starts with the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Once a permit is received from APHIS, those in New York have to apply to the state Department of Environmental Conservation for a permit to deploy the weevils. The entire process takes about six months, Dr. Senesac said.

He generally begins the application process in October with the aim of deploying the tiny critters, which are twice the size of the head of a pin, in test areas in late April or May.

In the two years that test programs have been operated, there’s a positive indication that the weevils move beyond the point where they are originally deployed. There has also been some evidence of weevils arriving on Long Island on their own from other locations, Dr. Senesac said.

He cautioned that people whose property is overrun with mile-a-minute not pull it out at the roots at this time of year. It will die out during the winter, and early next spring would be the best time for property owners to destroy new plants, pulling them out at their roots, before they’re able to take hold.

Cornell Cooperative Extension has plans to get information to residents in early spring about how to identify the weed.

Dan Fokine, a volunteer organizer for Shelter Island Vine Busters, an awareness group, said mile-a-minute is relatively new to that island and the East End. He first saw it a couple of years ago.

“Once it hit the ground it really took off,” Mr. Fokine said.

If a neighbor has mile-a-minute, that neighbor should be approached about removing it, he advised.

He compared rooting out the vine with fighting terrorism. “You have to take the fight to it,” he said, “You just can’t fight them on your own turf.”

jlane@timesreview.com

With Michael White

11/09/13 2:30pm
11/09/2013 2:30 PM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Farm workers harvesting spinach at Bayview Farm on the Main Road in Aquebogue in 2010.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Farm workers harvesting spinach at Bayview Farm on the Main Road in Aquebogue in 2010.

The Suffolk County Agricultural and Farmland Protection Board will host a series of meetings to discuss updates to the county’s farmland protection plan. Local meetings will be held Tuesday, Nov. 12, from 4 to 6 p.m. at Cornell Cooperative Extension in Riverhead and Wednesday, Dec. 18, from 4 to 6 p.m. at Southold Town Hall. Light refreshments will be served.

The program is held in cooperation with the Suffolk County Division of Planning and the Environment, Peconic Land Trust, New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, the Long Island Community Foundation, Long Island Farm Bureau and Cornell Cooperative Extension.

RSVP to Robin, 283-3195 or rharris@peconiclandtrust.org.

09/23/13 4:32pm
09/23/2013 4:32 PM
Dave Murphy who helps maintain the center’s grounds found the fruit hanging from a tree in the center’s garden Friday evening.

Dave Murphy who helps maintain the center’s grounds found the fruit hanging from a tree in the center’s garden Friday evening.

Seniors who gathered for lunch at the Riverhead Senior Center this afternoon were surprised to find what looked like an unusual type of tree – a watermelon tree.

Dave Murphy, who helps maintain the center’s grounds, found the fruit hanging from a tree in the center’s garden Friday evening.

“When I first saw it, I thought it was a wasp’s nest,” he said. After getting closer, he realized it was a watermelon.

Its vine had grown up a nearby tree, growing more than 6 feet long. The watermelon was simply hanging, supported by the tree.

He showed it to about 60 seniors Monday afternoon.

IMG_6144“You should have heard their remarks,” Mr. Murphy said. “Yeah, a watermelon tree – right.”

The fruit is just one of many produce plants growing as part of a Cornell Cooperative Extension gardening program for seniors run by Elizabeth Takakjian, community garden educator for Cornell.

Two seniors do most of the labor: Fred Johnson, 73, and Bob O’Rourke, 65,who started growing all of the produce from seed.

The garden also holds pumpkin, tomatoes and cabbage among other trees and flowers.

The duo planted the watermelon plant sometime over the past two years, but had not realized it produced fruit until now.

08/14/13 11:30am
08/14/2013 11:30 AM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO  |

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO  |  Weeping Willow Park will open Friday with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

The long planned Weeping Willow Park will officially open Friday in a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 1 p.m., Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter announced.

The park sits on the site of the former Weeping Willow Motel on West Main Street, which had been there for 58 years until the town purchased the property in 2009 for $1.25 million to transform the half-acre site into a park. The demolition of the building was delayed until 2011 because asbestos had to be removed, and earlier this year, the opening was delayed further by vandals driving on the grass.

In addition to creating a park with a canoe and kayak launching area, the removal of the motel also had benefits, Mr. Walter said.

“The project has removed a blighting influence in the downtown Riverhead business district and eliminated the significant discharge of wastewater and runoff from the site into the Peconic River,” he said.

Cornell Cooperative Extension provided picnic tables, trash receptacles and signage to the park through its “Creating Healthy Places in Suffolk County” grant awarded by the New York State Department of Health, according to Susan Wilk, Cornell’s  Creating Healthy Places in Suffolk County Coordinator.

The town purchased the property using money from the Community Preservation Fund, which comes from a voter-approved two-percent real estate transfer tax.

The town also received a $500,000 state Environmental Protection Fund grant for the project in 2007.

tgannon@timesreview.com