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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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05/20/13 8:10am
05/20/2013 8:10 AM

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | A customer, Lucille Kurtz, inspects a boxwood plant at Verderber’s Landscape Nursery and Garden Center in Riverhead. No cases have been reported on the North Fork.

Landscapers, nursery owners and plant scientists are on the lookout for a new fungus that attacks one of Long Island’s most popular plants: the boxwood.

The boxwood blight has yet to have a significant impact on Long Island, and both the landscaping and research communities are working hard to keep it that way, said Margery Daughtrey, a plant pathologist with the Cornell Cooperative Extension in Riverhead.

“We will have to be quite lucky and vigilant not to bring it in from other areas,” she said.

The deadly disease, calonectria pseudonaviculata, was first spotted in the United Kingdom in 1994, though scientists are unsure of where the disease originally came from.

The blight was not a concern stateside until October 2011, Ms. Daughtrey said, when the disease was found in Connecticut and North Carolina.

COURTESY PHOTO | Boxwoods infected with the blight have a dark brown or black spot on their leaves.

Since the disease had already been well-documented in Europe, scientists in the U.S. were able to share information about the disease quickly, she said. The fungus then spread to a few other states, like Maryland, Virginia and Oregon, which are large exporters of boxwood plants. That’s kept scientists on high alert for cases in new states.

The first cases of the disease in New York were found at two garden centers in December 2011.

The fungal disease attacks the plant at the point of contact, causing signature black spots on the leaves.

“We’re used to seeing dead foliage on boxwoods for a bunch of reasons, including winter injury, but this is a disease where the leaves usually fall off,” Ms. Daughtrey said.

Bare boxwood twigs are a good indicator that the blight is present, she said, adding that gardeners may also notice thin black streaks running down the sides of twigs on blight-infected boxwoods.

Since the disease was first spotted in 2011, no more than a dozen cases of boxwood blight in the landscape have been identified on Long Island, she said, adding that the infected plants were likely circulated before word of the disease spread. None of those cases occurred on the North Fork, she said.

No cases have yet been seen in production at nurseries on Long Island, she said.

“I think our nurseries have escaped contamination up until now,” Ms. Daughtrey said. “I don’t know if they always will but they’ve been lucky so far.”

But the growing demand for boxwood — a popular deer-resistant plant — on Long Island means that may not always be the case.

“Long Island doesn’t grow as many boxwoods as it needs,” Ms. Daughtrey said. “Over time it will get moved along a lot.”

Federal funding was recently approved to research the disease, she said, adding that scientists are curious to learn why some boxwood species are more resistant to it than others.

Landscapers who have been affected by the disease have worked with the Cornell Cooperative Extension to eradicate the blight, Ms. Daughtrey said.

Most nurseries are aware of the new blight and are taking steps to prevent it from reaching the North Fork, Ms. Daughtrey said.

COURTESY PHOTO | The fungus is fatal to the boxwood plant it infects, causing its leaves to fall off.

Lou Caracciolo, owner of Shade Trees Nursery in Jamesport, said his company is screening the sources of its boxwood plants. If a supplier is from a state where infected plants are known to exist, the nursery will shop elsewhere.

“Basically, all you can do is just monitor,” Mr. Caracciolo said. “It’s a matter of infected plants coming in.”

Yet other nurseries in the area haven’t been able to find any suppliers of healthy boxwood. Homeside Florist and Garden Center in Riverhead just isn’t selling any boxwood this year.

“We can’t get healthy ones,” an employee explained.

At Twin Pond Nursery on Sound Avenue, several rows of boxwood plants — five different varieties in all — grow in one of the fields. An employee said this is the third year the nursery has grown the plants.

“The problem is there’s no fungicide for [the blight],” he said, adding the plants there came from Delaware.

Still, Ms. Daughtrey said there are steps consumers can take to keep the blight in check. Infected plants will be more recent purchases from within the last three years, she said. English boxwoods, one of the more expensive varieties, are most susceptible.

From now on, homeowners should plant boxwoods in open spaces instead of in the shade, since sunlight will help prevent damp conditions that helps the disease flourish.

Consumers and landscapers should also be most wary during cooler, wetter times of the season, she said. Scientists will be watching this season to see how the fungus behaves in drier conditions.

“We need to live with it for a while see how it behaves,” she said. “It’s new. We really don’t know what to expect.”

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05/05/13 9:00am
05/05/2013 9:00 AM

CORNELL COOPERATIVE EXTENSION COURTESY PHOTO | The connection between the red meat allergy and the lone star tick (pictured) went undiscovered until 2009.

It was Super Bowl Sunday. The Seattle Seahawks were playing the Pittsburgh Steelers and Gary Knox was kicking back, enjoying the game with friends. There was a hearty spread, complete with mini sausages smothered in barbecue sauce, a southern guy’s delight. It seemed luck was on his side; his beloved Steelers took the title. Mr. Knox, then 25, headed home, calling it a night about 9.

“My much-needed rest was interrupted around 3 a.m.,” recalled Mr. Knox, of White Hall, Ark. “I awoke with severe stomach cramps, difficulty breathing, and a feeling that my face was on fire,” he said. He had a rapid heart rate and was suffering from diarrhea. His body was covered in hives.

“I took Benadryl, then called 911,” Mr. Knox said.

After Mr. Knox was packed into the back of an ambulance, a paramedic checked his blood pressure.

“The paramedic shook his head. He said, ‘That can’t be right,’ ” Mr. Knox recalled.

His blood pressure was 54 over 31, incredibly low. His heart rate was an alarming 203, incredibly high.

“I was going into anaphylactic shock,” he said.

Mr. Knox has been dealing with allergic reactions since he was 13, when he developed an allergy to galactose-alpha-1, 3-galactose — more commonly known as alpha gal, a carbohydrate found in red meat. But what makes the allergy unique, experts say, is that people aren’t born with it. They contract the condition from a tick — specifically the lone star tick.

“It’s such a classic story,” Dr. Erin McGintee, an allergist at ENT Allergy & Associates in Riverhead, said of Mr. Knox’s ordeal. “People eat a meat dinner at 7 p.m., and they wake up at two in the morning with symptoms. They can get anything from hives and itchiness, to abdominal pain, to a full blown anaphylactic reaction. I’ve had patients lose consciousness from it.”

Dr. McGintee currently has 62 patients on the East End dealing with the red meat allergy.

The tick bite triggers the production of antibodies that target the alpha gal carbohydrate, she said. When people who have developed the allergy eat red meat, she explained, the newly formed antibodies produce a histamine response to the alpha gal carbohydrate, causing inflammation and an allergic reaction. The carbohydrate is not found in fish or poultry, so those with the allergy can still enjoy some types of meat.

Experts are still researching why the entire phenomenon happens.

The lone star tick, once found largely in the southeastern U.S., is now one of the most common ticks on the East End, said Dan Gilrein, an entomologist with the Cornell Cooperative Extension.

“[The lone star tick] was first documented in Montauk in 1971, but it really hadn’t become much of a problem until the 90s,” Mr. Gilrein said. “It’s now really the dominant species in many areas.”

The lone star tick, named for a single white spot on the adult female’s back, is out and about now and will be around through September, he said. And unlike the deer tick, which likes wooded shade, lone star ticks seem to like a range of habitats, from woods to bare fields to low grasses, and sunny and shady areas alike. Adult lone star ticks are brown or dark brown. Females tend to be larger, with a sole white dot centered on their backs. Males tend to be a bit smaller, with several white dots across their backs, Mr. Gilrein said.

In late June, the eggs will be hatching, releasing lone star ticks in their larval stage.

“The larvae are about the size of a pin head. When you encounter them, it could be dozens to hundreds,” Mr. Gilrein said.

People commonly confuse larval lone star tick bites with “chigger” bites, said Dr. John Byrne, an allergist with Allergy & Immunology in Riverhead, who also has several patients with the allergy. According to Mr. Gilrein, if you believe you have been bitten by chiggers in the past, it could have been lone star tick bites, because chiggers are not found on Long Island.

“Larval ticks are really just tiny little things, and they are very itchy when they bite,” he said.

The connection between the allergy and the lone star tick went undiscovered until 2009, when a group of University of Virginia researchers began looking into the allergy.

“The truth is that we were just searching for a geographical explanation that would overlay with where we were seeing our patients,” said Dr. Scott Commins, allergy and clinical immunology physician at University of Virginia.

“We kept coming back to the distribution of Rocky Mountain spotted fever,” which has been long known to be transmitted through lone start tick bites, he said. “It was in the same places as patients with this allergy. We started asking about tick bites and found this amazing correlation.”

He and a team of researchers are trying to better understand the alpha gal allergy, which experts still know very little about. They are conducting an ongoing study, gathering information from several allergists across the region, including Dr. McGintee.

“It gives us a sense that this a much bigger issue than we first thought,” Dr. Commins said. “We probably know of close to 2,000 total cases between these places,” he said, adding that the patients in the study are likely just a fraction of cases nationwide. More recently researchers have been looking at children who have developed the allergy, he said.

“We don’t know why certain people develop the allergy,” Dr. McGintee said. Not everyone does, and there seems to be a genetic component, she said.

“It can go away, but it can also come back, which makes it different from other food allergies,” she said. “It is a changing allergy.”

Local experts say the allergy is very different from those they typically see.

“Almost all food allergies occur in response to protein,” Dr. McGintee said. “The kooky thing about this is it’s in response to a carbohydrate.”

Dr. Byrne said some “interesting” discoveries may yet come, “when we find out what the tick’s salivary substance is and how it induces this allergy,” said Dr. Byrne.

Until the allergy is better understood, Mr. Gilrein advises using repellent and checking oneself after being outdoors.

“Don’t let the ticks have the last say,” he said. “Just be more careful about it, that’s all.”

The Cornell Cooperative has a diagnostics lab in Riverhead that will identify ticks for a small fee. The lab can be contacted at 727-4126. Ticks can be mailed to the lab or dropped off.

As for Mr. Knox’s ordeal after the Super Bowl, although he survived after treatment in a trauma unit, the now-32-year-old says it was the worst reaction he has experienced. He now carries an emergency kit, complete with a self-injectable epinephrine pen in case of a future reaction. The sausage, which he was told was made of turkey, turned out to be a mixture of turkey and pork, which despite “the other white meat” slogan, contains alpha gal and is, in this regard, a red meat.

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