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

08/04/13 5:00pm
08/04/2013 5:00 PM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Mark Bridgen gives a garden tour at Cornell in July.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Mark Bridgen gives a garden tour at Cornell in July.

Mark Bridgen’s passion for plants first grew in Pittsburgh, where he’s originally from. Now it will expand into Chile for an entire semester.

The Cornell horticulture professor and current director of Cornell’s Long Island Horticultural Research and Extension Center in Riverhead was named a 2013 Fulbright Scholar in March, giving him the opportunity to teach and conduct research from late August until early December at a university in Chile.

Dr. Bridgen’s plant curiosity began when he was a child. While his mother worked as a secretary and his father did research for Gulf Oil, he developed a love of hiking and camping. When he was a little older, he taught children about nature as a camp counselor.

The prestigious and very competitive Fulbright Scholar award will allow Dr. Bridgen to take sabbatical leave and visit the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile (PUC) in Santiago. He’ll conduct research on breeding native Chilean plants and also teach three classes — plant exploration, ways to multiply plants, and conversations in English about agriculture and scientific terms.

“I was pretty happy,” Dr. Bridgen said in an interview Tuesday about winning the Fulbright Scholar award. “I get to go to Chile a lot and this will be my longest trip.”

Since 1985, he’s traveled to Chile about 20 times to study and crossbreed Alstroemeria flowers, commonly known as Inca lilies. Combining winter-growing species from Chile and summer-growing species from Brazil, he has created a hardier flower that lasts throughout the year in a greenhouse, he said.

The Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program sends nearly 1,100 American professionals each year to 125 countries for opportunities to study, teach and conduct research, according to its website.

Since its inception, about 310,000 people have participated, and the program currently operates in over 155 countries.

Dr. Bridgen said he’s looking forward to this trip because he’ll visit the Atacama Desert, the driest desert in the world.

“I’m excited to see the flowers there,” he said. “Chile is as long as the U.S. is wide. Its entire western border is shoreline. It’s a beautiful place.”

jennifer@timesreview.com 

07/21/13 2:30pm
07/21/2013 2:30 PM

COURTESY PHOTO | Brian Kelly of East End Tick Control counting ticks after ‘flagging’ a customer’s yard.

After servicing a pool in Wading River last week, Sean Lanigan of Lanco Pool Services found himself covered in ticks, a surprise to him since he’d been in the customer’s backyard only a few minutes.

“They were so hard to find, you didn’t even realize they were ticks. You think it’s a piece of dirt until you see it’s moving on your finger,” Mr. Lanigan said. “I had about 20 all over me.”

This, apparently, is the new normal on the East End.

“Tick numbers are significantly higher on Eastern Long Island from what they were two decades ago, and lone star [ticks], in particular, appear to be spreading westward,” said Daniel Gilrein, an entomologist at Cornell Cooperative Extension.

Lone star ticks are in their nymph stage this time of year, meaning they are very tiny and difficult to see, explained Brian Kelly, owner of East End Tick Control, which services homes across the East End.

This season, he said, the ticks are out in “unbelievable” numbers, making it important to safeguard yourself and your home.

COURTESY PHOTO | Lone star ticks are in their nymph stage at this time of the season.

The experts say homeowners can take a number of steps to safeguard their yards – beginning with what’s called “flagging for ticks,” to see if there are concentrations of ticks on a property — and where they’re located.

To flag for ticks, simply take a white sheet and attach it to a stick, as you would a flag to a pole, Mr. Gilrein said.

“Something with a bit of nap would be best,” he said, like corduroy. “Perhaps flannel would be a good alternative”

Slowly drag the flag across the lawn and bush edges — wherever you think the ticks might be — and then turn it over to see how many ticks the flag picked up.

“Sometimes it’s just a couple, sometimes maybe 50 to 60 ticks,” Mr. Kelly said.

The ticks will stand out against the light-colored fabric.

Mr. Kelly recommends wearing high rubber boots with pants legs tucked in while flagging. Use a good repellent as well, he said.

Lots of ticks means it’s time to clean up the yard, the experts say. Start by removing leaves, brush and weeds from the lawn’s edge and the home’s perimeter. If you have swings or play sets, pull them away from the property’s edge, and at least 15 feet from any woods. Be sure to clean up any brush around children’s play areas.

If possible, restrict use of ground cover vegetation – like pachysandra and ivy, Mr. Kelly said. Mice and chipmunks, which often carry ticks, use those areas to feel protected.

“It almost turns into a tick condominium,” Mr. Kelly said.

“Trimming your trees and letting sunlight on your lawn makes a big difference with the ticks,” he added.

While Mr. Gilrein warns that lone star ticks like both sunny and shaded areas — unlike deer ticks, which tend to hang out in the shade — both say keeping the lawn cut short is important.

If homeowners are still having trouble keeping tick populations down after sprucing up their properties, Mr. Kelly said there both synthetic and organic insecticide options are available.

Synthetic options usually last about 30 days, he said, while organic options tend to take out the ticks only at the time of the application.

Mr. Lanigan said he checks himself every time he leaves a customer’s yard now, and that he also often finds ticks inside boots.

“I’ve caught about 60 ticks on me so far this year, and normally I have 10 the whole year,” Mr. Lanigan said. “I would get your backyard sprayed.”

He added that even though you might leave a property tick-free, that doesn’t necessarily mean man’s best friend is OK.

“Don’t forget to check your dogs, too,” he said.

cmiller@timesreview.com

07/15/13 8:00am
07/15/2013 8:00 AM

COURTESY PHOTO | One of 12 new weather stations that provide real-time online information to Suffolk farmers.

Researchers with the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County are hoping new weather stations will help local farmers better plan pest control applications, thus cutting down on chemical use on farmland.

Through grant funding, the Cornell research group’s agricultural stewardship program has installed a network of 12 weather stations across the East End so growers can better track and predict weather changes that can affect insect development, Cornell officials said.

Each station will take hourly measurements of weather factors like temperature, rainfall, wind direction and the amount of water vapor in the air. Stations will be equipped with Internet access, making the information available to growers and the public through a server at newa.cornell.edu.

Cornell will then integrate weather data with expert scouting in the field, to “predict emerging pests” and see whether pesticide applications are needed, said Rebecca Wiseman, Cornell’s agricultural stewardship coordinator.

When possible, growers can use insect traps and pheromone-based methods to disrupt mating cycles to help cut down on pest populations without using pesticides, Ms. Wiseman said. Using those techniques, she said, “pesticide use can be greatly diminished for certain kinds of pests and there are instances where it can be eliminated.”

Eleven of the 12 RainWise brand weather stations have been placed in North Fork vineyards and orchards, Ms. Wiseman said.

Before Cornell received the $190,000 in funding for the stations, which came from various organizations, only three weather stations were located on the East End, and only one on the North Fork, she said.

“The fact of the matter is, we have so many micro-climates here on the Island, the three sites were inadequate to meet the needs of our agricultural community,” she said.

Gabriella Purita, business manager at One Woman Wines and Vineyards in Southold, said the vineyard received its new weather station in May, and the device has already helped growers there with mold and mildew control.

“If we plan and see an outbreak of a certain pest, mold or mildew annually because of certain weather conditions we’ll know to preventively treat that area,” Ms. Purita said. “We hopefully won’t have to use applications because we’ll know when to use the traps and pheromone cycles when pests are at their most active.”

The better farmers can forecast weather cycles, the more they can control basic farming practices, said Joe Gergela, director of the Long Island Farm Bureau.

“It makes decision-making of farming more advanced and more economically prudent,” he said.

Aside from their potential effects on groundwater, chemicals and pesticides are expensive. Farmers do not want to use them unless they are necessary, Mr. Gergela said.

“The costs have gone up astronomically over the past five to 10 years, so it ties to profitability and good business decisions, as well as the science side,” he said.

Funding came from grants awarded by the Long Island Sound Futures Fund, the Long Island Community Foundation and the state Department of Agriculture and Markets.

cmiller@timesreview.com

06/22/13 11:00am
06/22/2013 11:00 AM

COURTESY PHOTO | Polo player and instructor Alberto Bengolea tests out the 4-H field in Riverhead.

Locally, polo is a sport usually associated with the Hamptons of the lower fork, but this weekend, North Fork residents will get the opportunity to experience royalty’s favorite horseback game right in their own backyards.

The first-ever Cornell 4-H Cup Charity Polo Benefit will take place this afternoon at the Dorothy P. Flint 4-H Camp off Sound Avenue in Riverhead. The match is being presented by the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Nassau County, the nonprofit organization that operates the camp, to raise money to repair damage to the property caused by superstorm Sandy.

The Dorothy P. Flint 4-H Camp is the oldest 4-H camp in New York, established in 1924. It has been running summer programs that offer activities like arts and crafts, cooking, farming and horticulture, to young people in Nassau and Suffolk counties.

The storm damage at the camp is not covered by insurance, officials said.

“There has been about $100,000 worth of tree damage,” said Laura Hunsberger, Nassau County CCE’s executive director. “The insurance only covered the buildings that the trees landed on, but we’re worried about the trees or loose branches that could fall with another big gust of wind. Those aren’t covered and we want the camping season to be as safe as possible for the kids.”

One hundred percent of the proceeds from the event will go directly to the camp, and it’s hoped that enough will be raised to cover at least half the needed funds.

Ms. Hunsberger admits that a polo match is an interesting choice for a charity benefit on the North Fork. She said the idea came from a Nassau County CCE board member who knew a man, Alberto Bengolea, originally of Argentina, who has provided horses to the 4-H camp and teaches polo there in the off-season.

“It is definitely unique,” she said. “But it just all came together. It was at the right place and the right time, and the right people were interested.”

Over the past year the organization has been working to turn a former hayfield on camp property into the perfect polo field by filling in gopher holes and creating a usable flat surface.

The event begins at 1 p.m. and, aside from polo, will offer local food and wine, a silent auction raffles, activities for children and more, plus live music from jazz and blues artist Matt Marshak and Riverhead acoustic trio Spicy Tuna.

intern@timesreview.com