10/12/12 8:00am
10/12/2012 8:00 AM

AP/CAROLYN KASTER PHOTO | A preserved brown recluse spider on display at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History in March 2011.

There’s been a spider scare out in Greenport, just in time for Halloween.

But local experts say the chances of finding a venomous brown recluse spider on the North Fork are about as good as seeing a witch fly across the lighted moon.

This tale begins in Erin and Chris Doucett’s house on Sound Road.

The family had been struggling to rid a finished basement of persistent brown spiders, Ms. Doucett told The Suffolk Times, and tried fumigation, setting glue traps and the use of both eucalyptus and orange oils.

And despite what the experts say, she believes the invading arachnids — which are now gone — were indeed brown recluse spiders, or Loxosceles reclusa, which are infamous for highly toxic venom. Though the spider rarely bites, some extreme reactions to bites have resulted in necrotized flesh and limb amputations.

That was enough to put the Doucetts and some of their neighbors on Sound Road and parallel Sunset Lane on high alert over the last few weeks, with at least two homeowners having called in an exterminator to fumigate.

When told of the spider rumors, entomologist Scott Campbell of the Suffolk County Department of Health Services insisted there’s nothing to worry about; there hasn’t been one confirmed brown recluse sighting in Suffolk County to date.

Between 2000 and 2005, Dr. Campbell sent about 20 spider specimens to Long Island native Rick Vetter, a professor at the University of California, Riverside, who conducted a five-year national study to investigate, among other things, claims that the territory of the brown recluse spider had spread to Long Island.

Answering this question became all the more important after a Newsday article about three brown recluse bites that occurred on Long Island in 2003, Dr. Campbell said.

“That 2003 article drove people to send me dozens of spider specimens, which I passed along to Rick,” Dr. Campbell said, “Not one specimen of brown recluse spider was found outside of their habitat region or have become established there.”

Ms. Doucett believes her spider problem started with the family’s purchase of a new couch. It was shortly after the couch was delivered, she said, that the spiders appeared.

She added that when the family began sleeping upstairs, they began seeing spiders there as well.

“I don’t know if we brought them up with the blankets,” she said, “but it was just a terrible experience because we have three children and for a while there, we thought everything was a brown recluse spider bite.”

Dr. Campbell said the possibility of brown recluse spiders being shipped outside of their habitat region exists, but is “very unlikely.”

He encouraged those curious about the brown recluse spider to visit  http://spiders.ucr.edu/brs.html to see results of the five-year national study and learn more about the spider, including how to better identify it.

Dr. Campbell attributed the increase in calls about brown recluse spiders may be connected to a recent proliferation of spiders in general.

“This fall seems to be a banner year for some of these garden spiders,” Dr. Campbell said. “The webs are everywhere and people are seeing these big spiders and are saying they’re brown recluses for reasons not based in science. It seems when a person sees a spider that looks kind of frightening it’s a brown recluse.”

He added that though he can’t say “definitely” that there aren’t brown recluse spiders in Suffolk County or on the North Fork, the chances are “very very very very very slim.”

Indigenous to the South and Midwest, the brown recluse is also often called a “violin spider” as they have a black violin-like marking on their cephalothorax, where the legs attach, according to the University of California study.

The “neck” of the violin points toward the back of the spider. In addition to this violin marking, the spider has six eyes arranged in pairs, rather than eight. The brown recluse is usually found not outside, but in basements or quiet, undisturbed corners, prefers to feed on dead insects at night and does not make a classic wheel-shaped web, but a rather loose, messy web created out of sight.

Officials at Eastern Long Island Hospital in Greenport said they have no records of treating brown recluse spider bites.

Entomologist Dan Gilrein at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Riverhead said that though he wouldn’t be surprised if the spiders could survive here over a winter indoors, neither he nor the organization’s diagnostic lab had a confirmed brown recluse inquiry.

“I realize that it’s spoken a lot about and people insist they’re here, but we have never seen a sample,” Mr. Gilrein said.

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09/24/12 4:00pm
09/24/2012 4:00 PM

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Congressman Tim Bishop during a press conference Monday in the Village of Old Field. Federal and state environmental officials announced that 35 municipalities and community groups in New York and Connecticut will receive grants totaling over $1.6 million

Congressman Tim Bishop and other federal and state officials announced Monday that 35 municipalities and community groups in New York and Connecticut will receive grants totaling over $1.6 million to help fund projects aimed at improving water quality within the Long Island Sound.

The grants are awarded annually through the Long Island Sound Futures Fund, a public-private grant program that currently pools funds from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service and Wells Fargo.

Officials said the 35 projects will open up water passages for fish, as well as restore 390 acres of fish and wildlife habitat along the waterfront. Fifteen grants totaling about $913,200 were awarded to groups in New York.

During a press conference in the Village of Old Field, officials announced that Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, Peconic Green Growth, and the University of Connecticut were among the winners of the grant monies.

Mr. Bishop described partnerships between governmental entities and community groups as “critical” due to the current economic climate.

“The EPA and funding are under assault,” he said. “If we are going to proceed, as we must, we need to see to it that the environment we pass on is at least as good if not better than what we inherited. [To] protect the quality of life here on Long Island, both in our surface waters and our ground water, we’re going to need partnerships.”

Cornell Cooperative Extension received a $128,000 grant to help fund a nearly $330,000 project called “Engaging Vineyards to Implement Water Quality Improvement.” According to the proposal, Cornell Cooperative will develop a state-of-the-art pest and nutrient management pilot program aimed at improving water quality through reducing pesticide use at six wineries.

Becky Wiseman of Cornell said her group is in the process of finalizing a list of wineries that will participate in the program.

“We created this comprehensive idea for the vineyard industry, because it will dovetail nicely with other sustainability projects on Long Island,” she said.

In addition, Cornell Cooperative received a $95,000 grant to help pay for its “Marine Meadows Eelgrass Restoration Program.” The nearly $200,000 project includes organizing 400 volunteers to transplant eelgrass at different locations along the Sound.

The Peconic Green Growth, a not-for-profit organization focused on issues that integrate environment and community, received a $60,000 grant to help fund a nearly $150,000 decentralized wastewater treatment pilot project. The group has proposed that a solution to treating wastewater without the fear of high-density development is a “cluster” approach to sewering as opposed to a running a massive centralized system. The group is in the process of finding communities interested in taking part of a decentralized pilot program through Natural Systems Utilities, a New Jersey-based company that specializes in alternative wastewater systems.

The University of Connecticut received a $40,000 grant to help fund a more than $70,000 project to develop a management plan to remove invasive plants from seven acres at Great Gull Island, which is part of Southold Town, in order increase nesting habitat.

EPA officials said there is a review process associated with each project in order to monitor progress and success rates. Those reviews are expected to take place within the year.

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08/16/12 7:00pm
08/16/2012 7:00 PM

TODD GARDINER/LONG ISLAND AQUARIUM PHOTO | Jellyfish, such as these moon jellies on display at Long Island Aquarium in Riverhead, are a rare sight in local waters lately.

If someone pens a folk song about the Peconic Bay estuary this summer it could be titled, “Where have all the jellyfish gone?”

And the answer is, nobody knows.

While jellyfish large and small are usually the bane of bathers’ and boaters’ existence in mid-August, there have been few sightings of the gelatinous zooplankton in either the bays or Long Island Sound. That holds true for the large red lion’s mane jellies and the smaller milky white sea nettles, the species seen most often in local waters.

Marine scientists can only guess why.

“It may have something to do with the water temperature or the water temperature over the winter, but we’re not sure,” said Emerson Hasbrouck, director of the Cornell Cooperative Extension marine program in Riverhead. In both cases water temperatures were found to be somewhat higher than normal.

“Water temperature controls a lot of things, so a few degrees can change many things,” including migration and reproduction, Mr. Hasbrouck said.

Salinity levels, which tend not to vary much from year to year, are of less concern, he said.

Mr. Hasbrouck said he’s never before heard of jellyfish numbers so low in his 24 years with the cooperative extension research group.

The marine program has no jellyfish research projects under way, but staffers conducting field work on other studies have noticed the dearth of jellies, Mr. Hasbrouck added. The extension program’s phone lines have not been jammed with calls questioning the jellies’ disappearance.

“Over the years we hear more about when jellyfish are in high numbers, but people don’t usually complain when the numbers are down,” he said.

He’s certainly not complaining.

“It makes it easier for our eelgrass researchers, who dive almost every day,” Mr. Hasbrouck said.

Lifeguard Ryan Farrell of Jamesport said there’s been no need to refill the vinegar container he keeps with his equipment while watching over swimmers at the Southold Town bay beach in New Suffolk. Vinegar is a common treatment for jellyfish stings.

“I’ve seen one or two this season,” he said from his chair Tuesday afternoon. That’s far from the norm.

“In mid-August, you can’t go into the water sometimes,” said Mr. Farrell, who is in his fourth year as a lifeguard.

So far this summer just one swimmer has come seeking treatment for a sting.

“We all have theories why, but it’s anybody’s guess,” Mr. Farrell said.

Nearby, Candi Jacobs of Mattituck and Jackie Rodgers of Cutchogue were catching some sun while their kids splashed about in the shallows earlier this week. They were only too happy that jellyfish stings weren’t high on their list of parental concerns.

“They were here in early June, but then they seemed to dissipate,” Ms. Jacobs said. “I’m not complaining and the kids are not complaining.”

Megan and Christopher Eilers, also of Mattituck, were also relieved the chance was low that a stinging tentacle — perhaps chopped by a passing power boat — would find its way to their 1-year-old son, Chris.

“We were talking about it just the other night,” Ms. Eilers said. “We’ve seen one this year. This is the least I’ve ever seen and we’re really quite happy.”

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08/01/12 12:00pm
08/01/2012 12:00 PM

COURTESY PHOTO | NY76.0844.24 makes a top-ranked floral, muscat wine, according to Cornell scientists. So what would you name it?

Love wine? Want to help name a new variety of grape?

Here’s  your chance.

Cornell University is asking the public to help them name two new varieties of grape from their breeding program set to be released next year.

Grape breeder Bruce Reisch is the man behind the new varieties, including a cold-hardy white wine grape and an organic dark red one, currently named NY76.0844.24 and NY95.0301.01, respectively.

Mr. Reisch said the name needs to stand out among the 7,000 other varieties of grape and be “marketable, easy to pronounce and carry positive connotations,” adding that both foreign-sounding and names similar to well-loved varieties are popular.

NY76.0844.24, the white wine grape, was first created in 1976, a highly productive grape that ranks high in its winter hardiness. Mr. Reisch said it has “excellent wine quality and aromatic characters reminiscent of Gewürztraminer or a citrusy Muscat.”

NY95.0301.01, the organic red, was developed in 1995 and fast-tracked into production because of its promise as an organic variety. It is the first grape to be released from a “no-spray” vineyard, with good resistance to both downy and powdery mildews. Mr. Reisch said “it exhibits moderate body, good structure and blueberry flavor on the pallette.”

The winning names will be revealed between February 6 and 8 at the Viticulture 2013 conference in Rochester, NY.

“There are so many different flavors,” Mr. Reisch said. “Why shouldn’t people get excited about new varieties? They keep things interesting for the consumer and are often better for growers.”

Got name suggestions? Leave a comment below to let us know what your ideas are and don’t forget to copy and paste them in an email to Mr. Reisch at [email protected].

07/10/12 5:00pm
07/10/2012 5:00 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Ashley Schmitt of Phil Schmitt and Sons Farm on Sound Avenue in Riverhead husks some corn for a customer at the farm stand on Sound Avenue. Some farmers growing corn will have an opportunity to try a new type of fertilizer.

Local farmers growing sweet corn will have an opportunity to try a new fertilizer this season designed to better protect groundwater and the Long Island Sound, according to a press release from Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County.

The controlled-release nitrogen fertilizer is designed to break down over time according to the plant’s need for nutrients as opposed to regular fertilizer which dissolves from heavy rain, the release states. Suffolk County’s sandy soil, especially during spring rain, is susceptible to leaching of nitrogen from conventional nitrogen fertilizer.

Suffolk farmers can experiment with the new product at no risk to losing money.

The collaborative project involving Cornell, Agflex and American Fundland Trust is part of the grant-funded BMP Challenge system, which reimburses farmers who experience any reduction in their harvest after implementing the new product.

“The BMP Challenge protects the investment for farmers so they don’t have to ‘bet the farm’ on new techniques,” said Dr. Tom Green, president of Agflex.

Participating farmers will set up a side-by-side comparison with at least 8-planted rows wide running the full length of the field.

“This project will help demonstrate that it is possible to reduce the fertilizers while maintaining profitability,” said David Haight of American Farmland Trust.

Suffolk County farms sold over $300 million in farm products, more than any other county in New York, according to the 2010 U.S. Census of Agriculture, officials said.

Non-point sources of nitrogen, such as fertilizer, accounted for an estimated 72-82 percent of the total nitrogen from Suffolk County into the Sound, according to a model developed by the county with funding from the Environmental Protection Agency.

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06/22/12 7:00pm
06/22/2012 7:00 PM

BETH YOUNG PHOTO | Cornell Cooperative Extension and Empire State Development Corporation staff toss adult scallops into the Peconic Bay off Cedar Beach Friday afternoon. The state recently awarded a $182,000 grant to the project.

The folks working to rebuild the stock of Peconic Bay scallops have a new best friend in the state government.

Researchers at Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Peconic Bay scallop restoration program, based at Cornell’s Cedar Beach, Southold, marine laboratory, had a special visit Friday afternoon from Kenneth Adams, commissioner of the Empire State Development Corporation. The corporation awarded a $182,000 grant earlier this year toward the continuing scallop project.

Lead researchers Dr. Stephen Tettelbach of Long Island University and Dr. Chris Smith of Cornell said they’ve used the funds to expand the hatchery and hire additional employees to help grow scallops to full size in the lab.

“We’ve increased production in our hatchery,” said Dr. Tettelbach. “We plan to grow the scallops from spring to market size in the fall. This is the first time it’s being done in New York State. Other states are selling cultured scallops.”

Dr. Tettelbach said the scallops, which are smaller than wild scallops, will likely be sold whole in the shell.

“It’s a different way of marketing, a different market niche,” he said.

Since scallops are short-lived, usually living no more than two years, their contribution to the population is limited to one spawning season.

Dr. Smith said program researchers have also used grant funds to expand their long-line grow-out system in Orient Harbor. In that system, scallop larvae collect on a mesh surface inside an aerated bag that protects them from predators. Initially, researchers were using the bags, known as spat collectors, as a tool to quantify the number of scallops in the bay. They’re now using them as nurseries for scallops cultivated by humans.

“We’re now using Japanese techniques where you use spat collectors to produce numbers of scallops,” he said. “It’s increasing our capability of spawning and growing scallops.”

Mr. Adams said his office had received marching orders from Governor Andrew Cuomo to provide $785 million in grants by asking regional Economic Development Corporations for advice on the most crucial projects in their areas, instead of having the state dictate where the money would go. More than 700 grants were awarded.

Kevin Law, president of the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council and a former head of the Long Island Power Authority, brought the scallop project to Mr. Adams’ attention.

“This is an incredible, historical, vital natural asset,” Mr. Adams said of the scallop fishery. “Fisheries are a very important part of the regional economy. How would I know about this project sitting back in Albany?

“It really worked well,” he added. “I’d like to think this is the beginning of a long and healthy relationship.”

“I think scallops brought us over the line,” Mr. Law said Friday afternoon at a ceremony on a barge overlooking the laboratory. “Everybody had high tech, but nobody else had scallops.”

Dr. Smith estimated that the scallop industry, which had a negligible economic value for years after the brown tide destroyed the fishery in 1985, brought $3 million in economic activity to the region in 2010 after his research team helped to rebuild the fishery. He estimated the 2010 numbers were about 10 percent of the value of the industry before the brown tide hit.

Dr. Smith said his group hopes to continue building the number of scallops in the bays until there are three to five scallops per square meter on the bottom.

“I think we’re within a few years of that,” he said.

“Can you do lobsters next?” asked Mr. Adams.

“Lobsters are a whole different story,” said Dr. Smith.

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06/07/12 2:00pm
06/07/2012 2:00 PM

Cornell Cooperative Extension will hold an eelgrass restoration workshop, open to the public, between 3 and 5:30 p.m. Friday at the corner of New Suffolk Avenue and First Street.

CCE’s Marine Meadows Program staffers will lead the hands-on program.

Participants will be taught how to assemble eelgrass-planting discs to increase local population of sea grasses.

The event is co-sponsored by Peconic Land Trust and the New Suffolk Waterfront.

For more information contact Kathy Kennedy at 283-3195 or email her [email protected]

The following is a video we made from a previous workshop:

04/20/12 8:00am
04/20/2012 8:00 AM

TIM KELLY PHOTO | Dandelions are arguably the most common and obvious weeds to pop up each spring.

As you roll out the lawn mower this weekend, don’t be surprised if the weeds encroaching on the Kentucky blue grass or fescue seem more abundant than in years past.

Most winter annual weeds, such as doveweed, redstem filaree and chickweed, are typically suppressed by cold weather. Due to this past mild winter, however, many weeds were nurtured through the season and are expected to come out in full force this spring.

Lawn experts say that because the winter of 2010-11 was harsh, with several feet of snow and frigid temperatures, many lawns weren’t plagued with certain weeds that are already popping up this spring.

Dr. Andy Senesac, a weed science specialist at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Long Island Horticultural Research and Extension Center in Riverhead, said he’s seeing an unusual amount of weeds.

“Last year was the first time I’ve ever noticed less crabgrass because of that crazy winter,” Dr. Senesac said. “But with this mild winter, I’m expecting more this year. We are going to see a worse year for weeds.”

Lawrence Kaiser, owner of Kaiser Maintenance in Jamesport, agreed that more weeds will pepper lawns this year and suggests homeowners use a holistic approach to managing their turf.

“A balanced fertilization program will provide a thick turf which in turn out-competes the weeds for space,” Mr. Kaiser said. “If you are unsure what fertilization requirements are needed, a simple soil test taken to Cornell Cooperative Extension or the Long Island Cauliflower Association will provide the right course of action.”

Here are suggestions for combatting some pesky winter annual weeds:





• Dandelions are arguably the most common and obvious weeds to pop up each spring. They’re hard to eliminate because the seeds are numerous and will settle quickly into any opening in a lawn. Pulling them out is challenging. The plant sends down a taproot up to 10 inches deep that breaks off easily — and the weed will regenerate if even a small portion remains.

Spraying with vinegar offers an organic alternative to garden variety herbicides such as Roundup or Weed-B-Gon, But since the vinegar used in cooking is low in acetic acid, which is what kills the weed, one option is to boil it down to increase its strength.

Vinegar and Roundup will kill grass as well as weeds so they must be sprayed on the foliage. Weed-B-Gon, however, targets only broadleaf weeds.





• Doveweed  starts growing around mid-September. In the spring, it should disappear after a few mowings. To rid your lawn of stubborn doveweed, hand removal is recommended for single plants, herbicide for larger amounts. To deter growth, a pre-emergent herbicide application is suggested in the fall.





• Redstem filaree  also begins to grow around mid-September and should also vanish after two or three spring mowings. Redstem filaree may also die back during the heat of the summer. A fall treatment with a standard turf herbicide for broadleaf weed control is the most effective method to deter future growth.





• Chickweed  can reproduce throughout the summer months. Selective herbicide treatments for lawns and hand removal combined with a pre-emergent for gardens are suggested. A fall treatment with a standard turf herbicide for broadleaf weed control will also be effective.





• Nut sedge is a hardy perennial weed that’s very difficult to control. Mr. Kaiser said hand weeding is not an option because even a small piece left behind could continue to grow and multiply. Dr. Senesac said it’s possible to remove the weed by hand as long as you’re careful to get out all the roots. Only a few non-selective herbicides can eliminate this weed, so check the label.





• Purple dead nettle is another winter annual that gets going about mid-September. This weed should disappear after a few mows in the spring. To rid your lawn of stubborn specimens, apply a selective herbicide treatment with a balanced fertilization program. To deter growth, a fall treatment with a standard turf herbicide for broadleaf weed control is recommended.





• Hairy bittercress is a winter annual that can actually be spread by mowing, so it’s better to hand pull it before mowing and carefully put it in a bag so the seeds won’t spread to nearby areas. Spring pre-emergent application for lawns and gardens is suggested. When heavy population exists, a pre-emergent is suggested in the fall.

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