06/02/13 8:30am
06/02/2013 8:30 AM

VILLAGE OVERHEAD DOORS COURTESY PHOTO | Multiple garages with custom doors made of western red cedar.

Garage doors are getting a high-end makeover on the North Fork.

No longer satisfied with having their garages look like everyone else’s, some local homeowners are shelling out thousands of dollars for custom-made wooden, glass or steel carriage garage doors.

Wally Voegel, owner of Doorworks Garage Door Service in Mattituck, said wealthy clients are veering away from the vinyl and steel look that’s been standard in new home construction for decades.

“Wood is where you find your more expensive products,” said Mr. Voegel, who has worked in the industry for 20 years. “Usually we end up with mahogany, cedar or teak. They’re higher quality woods that hold up well in weather conditions and don’t rot out as quickly as pine.”

Mr. Voegel said custom doors at his store cost upwards of $8,000 or $9,000 — a hefty price tag, but one wealthier clients are willing to pay.

“Nothing looks prettier than cedar or mahogany when it’s stained,” Mr. Voegel said.

Aesthetics aside, wooden doors still require upkeep to look their best. They need to be painted or stained every couple years, said Steve Hall, owner of Village Overhead Doors in Southold.

Rain and snow can also rot the doors.

VILLAGE OVERHEAD DOORS COURTESY PHOTO | A contemporary-style garage with a frosted glass door.

“Out here on Long Island, wooden doors have to be maintained to a high level because of the dampness,” Mr. Hall said. “You can’t let moisture get into the wood.”

Homeowners who want the look of a wooden door without the maintenance are in luck. Steel carriage doors, which look like wood but are made with vinyl overlays, have become very popular. Less costly than custom wooden doors, steel carriage doors lend rustic charm by appearing to swing open like barn doors.

“You get the look of a custom wood door without the maintenance,” Mr. Hall said. “That’s what I put on my garage.”

“They’re less expensive than wooden doors and you don’t have to paint them,” added Robert Elmore, owner of Titan Overhead Doors in Cutchogue.

Mr. Elmore said there are too many variables in the construction of steel carriage doors to estimate an average cost, but he said a custom stained mahogany garage door can cost as much as $15,000. At Mr. Hall’s shop, a steel carriage door costs roughly $3,000.

Of course, not everyone wants wooden or steel carriage doors. For a modern look that offers more natural light, some homeowners are going with glass. Mike Kontokosta, an attorney who owns Kontokosta Winery in Greenport, had Titan Overhead Doors install glass doors on a three-car garage at his Water Mill home two weeks ago.

“They complement the house, which is very modern,” Mr. Kontokosta said. “They’re cool doors. They give the house a more contemporary look and feel.”

Some garage doors fall outside the scope of the ordinary. Mr. Voegel said he once installed a door completely covered in stainless steel at a Shelter Island home.

“It looked like a giant silver refrigerator,” he said.

Most East End homeowners, however, take a more conventional and budget-friendly approach to their garages.

Bill, a sales specialist in the millwork department at the Riverhead Lowe’s who asked to be identified by his first name only, said one of the store’s bestselling garage doors is the 500 Series, a steel door with two inches of insulation that costs around $290.

Whether someone pays a little or a lot, one thing is certain: aesthetically, garage doors are as important to a home as paint, siding or windows.

“Changing your garage doors is one of the largest single things you can do to the appearance of your house,” Mr. Hall said. “It’s relatively inexpensive and can change the whole appearance of the house.”


04/28/13 8:00am
04/28/2013 8:00 AM

COURTESY PHOTO | There’s no need for a big investment of space to grow fruits and vegetables out of season.

Forget just going green, now it’s all about staying green.

A hoop house, a smaller version of a greenhouse, allows gardeners to enjoy fresh, 100 percent organic produce even during the coldest months of the year. Twenty years after Peconic resident Renato Stafford began growing his own produce that way, others are following the trend and eating what they cultivate.

Using a 12-by-20-foot dugout-style hoop house, Mr. Stafford harvests homegrown spinach, tomatoes, garlic and lettuce fresh from his backyard.

“Anyone with any level of interest can do it,” he said. “The big trend is local and there is nothing more local than your own backyard.”

Greenhouses have long been used by farmers to jump-start summer seedlings in early spring. Hoop houses similarly allow the growing of fruits and vegetables off season.

COURTESY PHOTO | A hoop house shows the semipermanent nature of year-round cultivation, with a center trench that allows a gardener to cultivate without constantly bending over.

Dugout-style hoop houses are the most efficient way to grow year-round, Mr. Stafford said. This type of hoop house setup involves digging out a center trench to put planting beds at waist level, which eliminates the need to bend over to maintain crops.

Another option for year-round farming is a cold frame hoop house, which is similar to the dugout-style but lacks a trench. Cold frames require less work to install and provide similar protection from adverse weather. Both types of structure must be positioned in areas with plenty of sunlight and, if possible, relatively little wind, Mr. Stafford said.

The right approach varies depending on the gardener.

“There are many levels of making these things,” he said. “Some people might want a simple cold frame in their backyard or build an elaborate one. Some people want to put herbs in a pot. Just find what’s right for you and get growing.”

Regardless of the enclosure’s design, successful planting begins with the proper soil — and Mr. Stafford recommends using homemade compost. Compost can contain any organic material including leaves, manure, branches, even seaweed, fish or shellfish.

But compost can take anywhere from eight months to a year to form, so Mr. Stafford advises anyone who wants to get started immediately to purchase organic soil from a reputable company.

Contrary to popular belief, all-season gardening requires less maintenance than summer vegetable gardening, he said. Weeds are a common problem for all gardeners, of course, but using a hoop house, where seeds are planted in compact rows, mitigates the concern.

“When I plant in rows I know everything between is a weed and I can easily yank them out while they’re small,” he said.

Novices are encouraged to plant a variety of crops at first and to customize their garden.

“Focus on the food you want to eat,” Mr. Stafford said. “I have a big Italian family, so I grow two to three hundred pounds of garlic every year.”

The benefits of eating garden-fresh greens are many. From a health standpoint , homegrown produce has more minerals and contains no synthetic pesticides, he said.

“The benefit is you know what’s going into your food,” he said. “You can’t buy that anywhere, at any price.”

Other payoffs include a lower grocery bill and the satisfaction of a hard day’s work. “When you eat your own homegrown food it is so different from anything you can buy in the store,” he said.

Mr. Stafford founded his business, Homegrown, three years ago to share his longtime passion for growing organic foods. Rather then sell his produce, Mr. Stafford said his business focuses on education. For nearly a decade he has taught clients how to grow their own food and more recently began constructing customized hoop houses. For more information on year-round growing, visit homegrownorganic.net   or call 631-514-5315.


04/21/13 8:00am
04/21/2013 8:00 AM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Contractor Matthew Forrest bought this home in Polsih Town last December.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Matthew Forrest bought this home in Polish Town last December.

Veteran homebuilder Matthew Forrest has been constructing new houses for investors for nearly a decade but recently decided to try his hand at buying a two-story fixer-upper in Polish Town.

Months into the job, he’s torn the interior walls apart, rooted out an unpleasant surprise and is still several weeks away from completion. The 30-year-old Hampton Bays native agreed to share his thoughts on the process with others looking to fix up an old house, whether they plan to flip it or live in it.

Q: How did you find this house on Marcy Avenue?

A: My real estate agent originally [showed it to me]. I saw the potential. I kind of knew in the long run it would be worth it to me. The good thing about it was that it fit my budget [$135,000]. The house is a decent layout. You get a husband and wife with a couple of children and they can make this a cozy home. And it’s in a nice neighborhood. The staircase in the middle of the house — it is what it is. It’s strange but you work with it.

Q: You knew this house needed work when you purchased it last December. Have you encountered any unsavory surprises?

A: These floors were just stained with [dog] urine marks. It was so bad that right here, in the ceiling, there was like a watermark in the sheetrock. It wasn’t water. So when that happened it leaked down and came inside this wall and when I took the sheetrock off it was stained, with streaks coming down the side of it. I had no idea when I bought the house. The urine was under the sills of the walls. There was no getting it without going to the root.

Q: None of the reports you got about the house showed the problem?

A: You can prepare to an extent, but there’s an extent to which you really can’t prepare. With the engineer’s report, we were unable to see that there was a urine infestation.

Q: That sounds like a pretty big hassle.

A: [It’s] one of the risks you assume, but you also have to keep your eyes on the long term and the opportunities that owning a house gives you as to borrowing power, building equity, rental income. You need to be able to see the big picture and not just the front line but the back line. That’s really where I’m keeping my focus.

Q: What are some things homebuyers should be looking out for if they’re searching for a good fixer-upper?

A: For me the biggest thing has definitely been the neighborhood. The two factors that came into play were the neighborhood and the layout of the house … That’s a really special factor for me, having a neighborhood that’s homey.

Q: Fixing up a house is a big undertaking. Would you recommend this as something people should look into?

A: I would suggest anybody, especially now, especially younger people, get into owning their first home at a young age. Just go out and make offers. I have a couple of friends, investors that we build for, they’re just always making offers. They consistently have five offers on the table … Start the process. Speak to a mortgage broker, speak to a bank and see what you’re going to need. You’re not paying the rent, you’re not paying someone else’s mortgage, you’re paying your mortgage. And especially now with the [mortgage] rates, it’s crazy.


03/31/13 8:00am
03/31/2013 8:00 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Carl Gabrielsen (left) with GreenLogic energy consultant Dan Malone in Gabrielsen Farms’ West Lane, Aquebogue, greenhouse.

Carl Gabrielsen is hoping to make his greenhouse on West Lane in Aquebogue even greener.

Mr. Gabrielsen owns Gabrielsen Farms, which grows flowers and plants in greenhouses on Herricks Lane in Jamesport and West Lane in Aquebogue, and is building a solar panel system at the Aquebogue site that he says will eventually end up eliminating his electric bill.

Working with Dan Malone, an energy consultant from GreenLogic Energy in Southampton, Mr. Gabrielsen is installing about 400 solar voltaic panels behind the West Lane greenhouse to generate about 60 kilowatts of power.

“It’s basically a $200,000 project, but there’s a 30 percent federal tax credit that’s available and LIPA has a solar energy rebate of $1.30 per watt used,” Mr. Gabrielsen said. He estimates he will lay out about $37,000 initially but believes the project will have paid for itself in five years through the energy savings.

“My feeling is that anything in the greenhouse that can pay itself off in five years, you have to do it,” said Mr. Gabrielsen, brother of Riverhead Councilman George Gabrielsen. “But there’s two sides to the equation. There’s the economical reason, which is why I’m doing it, and there’s also the environmental reason. The lifetime carbon dioxide reduction from this is 2.7 million pounds over 30 years.”

GREENLOGIC COURTESY PHOTO | A ground-mounted solar array similar to the one that will be installed on Gabrielsen Farms’ Aquebogue greenhouse.

“That’s the equivalent of planting 17 acres of trees,” Mr. Malone said.

The solar panels will generate more electricity than needed at some times of the year and less during others. Any surplus energy goes back into the grid, and Mr. Gabrielsen gets a rebate for that amount.

The LIPA program doesn’t allow people to generate power for the sole purpose of selling it to LIPA, Mr. Malone said.

“We can only design our systems up to 105 percent,” he said.

Mr. Gabrielsen expects that over the course of a year his electric costs should fall to zero.

“It averages out over 12 months,” he said. “It’s a great benefit for agriculture out here.”

The solar panels are currently being installed and Mr. Gabrielsen, a member of the Suffolk County Planning Commission, intends to give his fellow commissioners a tour of the West Lane operation in early April, by which time the solar panels will be further along. He expects the system to be operating by June.

“It’s not just the solar energy,” Mr. Gabrielsen said. He’s also recycling the water he uses at the greenhouse, and he has been using what’s called integrated pest management for the past five years.

That’s when you introduce “beneficial insects” that will kill off insects that are harmful to the plants.

“We’ve cut our pesticide use by 95 percent,” he said.

Mr. Gabrielsen, whose family has been involved in farming on Long Island for more than 200 years, said he had wanted to install solar panels at his Jamesport greenhouse as well but doesn’t have enough land left at that site.


03/24/13 8:00am
03/24/2013 8:00 AM
Organic lawn care on North Fork

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Master gardener Nancy Gilbert cuts back last year’s leaves on a Hellebore in bloom in her yard in Jamesport. Witch Hazel and Snowdrops are very early blooming plants next to the Hellebores.

Spring is in the air (at least, it should be), meaning property management and landscaping are in the near future.

As people become more aware of the environment and the role fertilizers and pesticides can play in its demise, the trend toward organic lawn and garden care is taking off.

“It has probably doubled over the past three years, as far as money being spent and people using organics,” Dee Merica, an organics expert, said while giving an organic lawn care seminar at Talmage Farm Agway in Riverhead last week.

Bill Van Schaick, Talmage general manager, said he also is seeing increased customer interest in organic products.

“Even if they are not completely organic people, the average person is starting to say ‘I don’t want to keep dumping endless amounts of chemicals on my yard.’ People are just wanting to do things more naturally and less invasively,” Mr. Van Schaick said.

In the past, many people turned to chemical-based fertilizers for a rapid lawn green-up.

The main chemicals in most fertilizers include nitrogen, to make things nice and green; phosphorus, to promote root and flower growth; and potassium, to form sugars, which make plants strong and healthy, said Larry Kaiser of Kaiser Maintenance in Jamesport.

These common fertilizer chemicals are now more strictly regulated.

“New York and California basically have the strictest laws,” said Mr. Van Schaick. “Long Island in particular is really tough when it comes to any lawn and garden use. A number of things are legal in the rest of New York that aren’t legal here on Long Island.”

As of Jan. 1, 2012, the Department of Environmental Conservation prohibited the use of fertilizers containing phosphorus on lawns throughout all New York State, except when a new lawn is being established. And no fertilizers may be applied to lawns between Dec. 1 and April 1, according to the DEC website.

Kevin McAllister, head of the Peconic Baykeeper environmental advocacy group, said he would like to see more stringent laws during the time fertilizer can be applied. “We have become obsessed with the trophy lawn. It is a significant problem that we have to address in the interest of protecting surface water quality,” he said. “Individual property owners have to be a part of the solution.”

So, how do you start if you want to cut down on the chemicals?

“The best thing that people can do if they want to go toward the organic program is to start rebuilding all the microbes and fungi in the soils, to make the soil healthy,” said Mr. Kaiser, who offers customers a range of organic and chemical product packages. “You don’t have enough if you’ve been using chemical fertilizers.”

Ms. Merica compared fertilizers with chemicals to chemotherapy, saying they “wipe out the ecosystem of the lawn.”

Adding products with microbes starts to build that ecosystem back up.

“Instead of having nitrogen, these products take microbial action in the soil and start breaking it up,” Mr. Kaiser said.

Phosphorus, for example is naturally bound up in Long Island’s soils, Ms. Merica said. Re-establishing microbes is an organic way of activating that phosphorus.

“Read the labels, see which fertilizers have them,” Mr. Kaiser said.

They both said “bio-packs” of microbes are available at most home and garden stores. The small packs are water-soluble. “You mix it up in a small sprayer. They include all the beneficial microbes and microbial fungi to really enhance the natural process. You are building up the microbial population, so it’s a lot stronger.”

Cutting down on nitrogen is another good step, Mr. Kaiser said.

Three different types of nitrogen can be present in any fertilizer, Mr. Kaiser said: water soluble, which melts instantly in water; water insoluble, in which nitrogen is released over time; and sulfur or polymer coated, in which the nitrogen is coated and water or microbes eat away at it, releasing it over time.

“The best advice I can give,” said Mr. Kaiser, is to make sure that the percentage of water insoluble nitrogen in the fertilizer is higher than that of water soluble nitrogen. This will cut down on the amount of excess nitrogen entering the water table.

As for combating weeds, corn gluten is the natural route. It is 100 percent organic and works by inhibiting root formation in weeds when they start to germinate, Ms. Merica said. It doesn’t inhibit roots of mature plants or transplants unless it is used at a very high rate. You do not want to use it if you are laying down grass seed, because it will prevent it from germinating.

“It does work but is somewhat costly,” Mr. Kaiser said. “It doesn’t work immediately, it takes at least one to two growing seasons to really set up a mat of protection against seeds growing from the ground.”

It is known as a pre-emergent, so it does not work after a weed has already grown.

“If you have a dandelion, to the best of my knowledge there is no organic thing to spray on it,” Mr. Kaiser said.

As for weeds that have already sprouted, “pull them,” said Nancy Gilbert, a master gardener who has taught the master gardener program at Cornell Cooperative Extension since 2002. She relies on compost as a natural fertilizer. Adding microbes to a compost pile is also beneficial, as it will help speed up decomposition and cut down on any odors, Ms. Merica said.

For weeds in the garden, planting thick, dense layers of plants will help keep weeds from breaking through, Ms. Gilbert said.

“You want lots of different heights, and plants that are going to flower and bloom at different times,” Ms. Gilbert said. “You don’t want a lot of bare soil.”

“A good garden is a balance of lots of different insects and lots of different plants. It’s that balance that keeps a garden healthy,” Ms. Gilbert said.

Tossing boiling water on gravel driveways is one of many tricks for keeping weeds from overtaking the stones, Ms. Gilbert said.

Pure straight white vinegar is another alternative but be applied in sunlight. One thing to remember, however, is that these methods are “non-selective,” so they will kill anything they are applied to, Ms. Gilbert said.

“There isn’t a good organic thing out there for everything, but there are things that are generally lower impact,” Mr. Van Schaick said.

“If someone wants a perfect pristine lawn with no weeds, no issues, that’s unicolor, I would suggest organic may not be the way to go initially,” Mr. Kaiser said.


03/16/13 8:00am
03/16/2013 8:00 AM

KATE CARPLUK COURTESY PHOTO | Kate Carpluk of Town & Country Real Estate staged this South Jamesport home formerly owned by Steve Berger.

With a bite in the air and snow coating the ground, home buyers are less likely to go out and about searching for the perfect house. Instead, they are turning to the Internet to get a peek at what a property has to offer.

“Showcasing a home on the Internet is probably, besides pricing the property, the most important way to market a house,” said Diane Gregory, associate broker with Douglas Elliman in Mattituck.

Nine out of 10 buyers use the Internet as a resource when looking to purchase a home, and 52 percent of buyers use it as their first step, according to a 2013 survey by the National Association of Realtors. Real estate-related searches on Google grew 22 percent in 2012 compared to the year before, according to internal Google data.

“Buyers today have already done their shopping on the Internet,” said Kate Carpluk, senior vice president of Town & County Real Estate in Mattituck. “They have looked at hundreds of homes and come with a short list of their favorites.”

Where realtors used to make lists of homes to tour, Ms. Carpluk said, “the buyers put together the tour now.”

A complete portfolio of quality photographs is the most important part of an online listing, she said.

“The thing that generally grabs people is the quality of the photos, and the number of photos,” Ms. Gregory added. “The more photos, the more likely the individual is to stay with the property and look through the details of the home.”

Nancy Cervelli and Barry Novick of The Corcoran Group in Southold said they hire professional photographers to best showcase each property.

“We take them no matter what the price of a house is — if it’s $300,000 or $3 million,” Ms. Cervelli said. “The most important thing on the Internet is to have great photos with good lighting, or people will go on to the next property.”

They try to feature around 20 photos of each property, and no less than 12, she said.

A professional photographer isn’t always necessary, however. There are tips and tricks to taking inviting photos of a home.

“The devil is always in the details,” said Steve Berger, who recently sold his Jamesport home with the help of Ms. Carpluk. Mr. Berger is an avid photographer and took photos along with Ms. Carpluk, who said she generally photographs the homes herself. She purchased professional camera equipment to do so.

“She’s really good,” Mr. Berger said. “She made sure when she photographed the back of the house that she went out on a windy day so that the flag was fully extended. The little details like that make a difference.”

“You want to take away anything that personalizes the house,” Ms. Cervelli said. “We always tell homeowners to remove as many personal photos possible as well. It is best to have everything as clutter-free, simple and clean as possible.”

“[Ms. Carpluk] said you just want to leave bare essentials. You have to leave enough pieces that are sort of neutral — so people can see themselves sitting in a chair in the living room or see themselves cooking in the kitchen,” Mr. Berger said.

Then you want to “set the stage.”

“The house should be staged properly,” Ms. Gregory said. “If there is an outdoor table it should be set with margarita glasses and fresh fruit, maybe some colorful napkins. You need to set a stage for how the house will be used.”

“Some people are limited in what they can imagine so you try and make it as easy for them as possible,” Mr. Berger said. His home sold within 10 months of going on the market.

Timing can be essential, Ms. Gregory said. Shooting interiors in the late afternoon offers a warm glow, giving more depth to rooms, Ms. Cervelli said.

Shooting the exterior of the house depends on which way it faces and where the sun is in the sky, the realtors said.

“I think it’s also important to do a sequence of photographs,” Ms. Carpluk said.

She said she starts with exteriors, moves to interiors and saves any special amenities a home may have for last.

“The last photographs are often the ones that stay on the buyer’s mind,” she said.

And avoid the cardinal sin of East End realty marketing: a photo with snow on the front lawn.

“Generally, the people shopping for homes on the North Fork, the reason they purchase it is for enjoying the water, the summer people, the fresh vegetables, the fresh fruits,” Ms. Gregory said. “Looking at a property with snow on the ground is not going to showcase that.”


03/10/13 12:00pm
03/10/2013 12:00 PM

CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | Linda Burke of Mattituck (left) and Sheila Thomes of Southold browse through items on a table in the basement during a tag sale held this weekend at the Orient home of the late Gertrude Vail Rich.

The estate sale at the home of the late Gertrude Vail Rich, a longtime Orient resident whose mother was a founder of the Oysterponds Historical Society, opened last weekend, giving buyers the chance to own a piece of North Fork history.

Ms. Rich had the Youngs Road estate built in 1972, according to family. She acquired a vast collection of valuables over her lifetime. Items on sale, some of which had belonged to her mother, born Alma Jane Miller, dated back to the 18th century.

CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | The most notable painting in the collection, painted by an unknown artist around 1848, shows Daniel Shotweil Vail and his dog.

Robert Barker and Sherron Francis of the Long Island Tag Sale Company spent seven days preparing and pricing items, Within the first 90 minutes of the sale, which ran Friday through Sunday, over 250 people combed through the collection.

“It’s like a wonderfully full treasure chest,” said Linda Burke of Mattituck. “There is such a history of people’s lives here.”

That history connects back to the 17th century, when the Vail family helped settle Orient, which was then known as Oysterponds.

Vail family heirlooms were sprinkled throughout the three-story home; even Ms. Rich’s school report cards from East Marion and Friends Academy were for sale.

“This is the best thing in the whole house,” said Mr. Barker, pointing to a large portrait prominently displayed over a sofa in the living room. The painting, of young Daniel Shotwell Vail playing with his dog, dates back to approximately 1848. A view of boats sailing the Hudson River at sunset is seen off to his right. The boy was born in 1843 and is about 5 years old in the painting, Mr. Barker said. The artist is unknown. It sold within the first hour of the sale.

“I saw it online, but I didn’t know it was a Vail,” said Jeff Hoffman, who bought the painting with his wife, Sue. “When we turned it around and saw it was of a Vail, we got excited.” The couple is from the mid-Hudson Valley but also has a home in Greenport. They found out about the estate sale through a Suffolk Times classified ad.

“Sales like this are rare,” Ms. Hoffman said. “It is interesting to find Hudson Valley stuff out here.”

CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | An array of family photos.

Mr. Hoffman said the Vails also spent a lot of time in the Hudson Valley. They declined to say how much they paid for the painting.

A 1930s Charak-brand secretary desk, priced at $895, stood in the corner of the living room. It was filled with books; titles like “Napoleon’s Letters to Josephine” and “Shakespeare’s Works” were held up by brass bookends of former U.S. presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

Book collectors like Dennis Massa of Peconic took their time perusing the collection. Mr. Massa said he also sells books, and decided to purchase a few for resale.

A marble bust, dating to 1910 and priced at $950, sat in another living room corner. It was signed by its Italian sculptor. The family had purchased it while on a tour of Europe, Mr. Barker said.

A seascape by local Orient artist William Steeple Davis hung in the dining room, while multiple smaller seascapes by local artist Elliot A. Brooks hung elsewhere around the house.

Fine china filled cabinets in the dining room, with dishes and crystal displayed across the dining room table. Silver cutlery, cut glass candleholders and lace tablecloths were abundant.

Hung above the front door was an antique mirror with a cornucopia inlay, circa 1800. It was priced at $750.

“It certainly is a beautiful collection,” said Janet Zenk of West Islip, standing next to several boxes filled with items. “I’d like to stay longer, but I ran out of money,” she joked.

Members of the Oysterponds and Southold historical societies visited the house prior to the public sale and acquired a number of paintings and photographs for their collections, ensuring that some Vail family history will remain on the North Fork.


02/16/13 8:00am
02/16/2013 8:00 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | East End Organics owner Dave Schiavoni in the shed where his beet juice ice melt mixture is bagged. A 50-pound bag retails for $10.

Always a barrel of energy, Dave Schiavoni was particularly hyperactive last Thursday afternoon preparing his organic ice melting business for the demand ahead of an impending blizzard.

As he walked his East End Organics property on West Main Street in Riverhead, he pointed down to the ground and warned a reporter to watch his step. Then he paused for a quick deadpan.

“Want a cup of coffee?” he joked, indicating the brown liquid puddle on the ground.

Welcome to the world of manufacturing beet juice ice melters, a relatively new trend in the business that could change the game for municipalities and homeowners looking for an alternative to traditional rock salts.

The beet juice patent was developed in 2005 by a beet farmer in Illinois after he learned beet juice doesn’t freeze when temperatures fall below freezing, even below 0 degrees. Instead of discarding his surplus brown beets, the farmer began using his leftovers to develop the juice.

Mr. Schiavoni, the exclusive retailer of beet juice ice melts in the Northeast, receives the juice by the truckload and mixes it with rock salt or brine at his Riverhead yard. This has enabled him to diversify his existing concrete business for the winter season, when work is slow, and has even helped him keep his employees working year-round.

He sells both a liquid spray-on product and a product similar to the traditional rock salt you might buy in the store. The key difference is that instead of chloride accelerants such as magnesium, calcium or potassium, Mr. Schiavoni’s product uses all-natural beet juice, which is less corrosive and thus safer for the environment.

It’s a “green product,” the Water Mill resident says.

“You also don’t have to use as much,” he added. “You put down half as much of this as you would the other stuff.”

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Mr. Schiavone says you only need to spread half as much of his beet juice ice melt as you would traditional rock salt.

Mr. Schiavoni has donated his product to the East End towns and encouraged them to use it in place of their usual melters. The Town of Shelter Island has gone back for more.

“Because we’re in a salt source aquifer we have to be conscious of the material we put down,” said Shelter Island highway superintendent Jay Card. “The beet juice seems to counteract the salt.”

Shelter Island has been using the liquid product, which sprays from machines Mr. Schiavoni developed. A plastic tank that rests on the bed of a truck connects to a thin plastic sprayer that hangs below the back bumper. The machine is powered through a dashboard cigarette lighter.

Mr. Card says they have also used backpack sprayers, which Mr. Schiavoni recommends along with a smaller tank that can be used on standard pickup trucks to spray driveways and commercial parking lots.

He said his crews have been spraying the beet juice product in the aftermath of this weekend’s blizzard.

“It definitely has some benefit,” he said. “Because it’s liquid, it washes right away.”

Even Shelter Island, which has used more of the beet juice melt than other towns on the East End since Mr. Schiavoni’s donations last year, is still using it only on a test basis. In order for the product to be used exclusively over traditional rock salts, Mr. Card said the town would have to commit to purchasing several expensive pieces of equipment. Because the weight of the salt-mixed product is not compatible with bulk shipment by ferry, the town would have to purchase the beet juice in bulk and mix it with salt on the island.

Riverhead highway superintendent George “Gio” Woodson said the town used a couple hundred gallons of the beet juice last year before storms approached, but since most of the predicted snowfall ended up as rain during that mild winter, he never got a great feel for the product.

“There was supposed to be snow, but we got rain and that might have washed it off, so we never got a good idea how it worked,” he said. “But a lot of states in my travels use it.

“It’s an organic juice that creates a barrier between the road and the snow so that when you plow the snow you get a nice, clean road,” Mr. Woodson said. “You get right down to asphalt.”

The New York State Thruway authority has begun to use beet juice products to pre-treat its roadways and Mr. Schiavoni said he put in a bid just last week to have the authority purchase 50,000 gallons of his product.

But it’s not just municipalities he’s trying to lure as customers.

He’s done a significant number of media interviews in the past year to encourage area residents to use his ice melt. He sells 50-pound bags of the beet juice rock salt for $10 apiece; 270 gallons of his liquid melt retails for $399 plus a $250 deposit to rent the pickup truck tank and sprayer.

Mr. Schiavoni says that because homeowners and business people would not have to apply as much of the beet juice products to their properties as they would traditional rock salt, they would see a savings.

And because it doesn’t use chloride accelerants, it is more pet-friendly.

Whether its homeowners or municipalities, he said people shouldn’t fear the brown coloring.

“Regular rock salt leaves a white stain, this is brown,” he said. “Which is worse? I don’t know.”