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Re-working the founder plot

As this past winter brought tremendous amounts of wind and snow to Long Island, there were a few areas on the Brentwood Founder Plot that needed mending.

The weed cloth that was put down in the past year flew off the ground in the winter winds, needing to be re-attached over the native species that were planted there in the fall. To do this in an effective and timely matter, plenty of volunteer hands and staples were needed to secure the weed cloth back onto the plots.

The main challenge was to line up all of the cut out holes with the plant species that were already planted beneath. Because we had to re-apply the weed cloth in late winter, it was challenging to find above ground growth of the planted species. It was imperative to line up the weed cloth as straight and taut as possible to ensure no wind penetration through the holes in the cloth.

To ensure successful plant coverage, we had to spray an outline around all of the hard to find plant material. This helped us line up the weed cloth in all the correct areas.

After two days of stapling, cutting, and re-applying weed cloth on the founder plot, we successfully completed our goal. We are excited and hopeful to see the growth of the native species through our newly manicured plots.


Preparing seeds for germination

Some native seeds need to go through a cleaning process after they have been collected in order to promote successful germination in the future. Native grass species are one of the most common seed types that require thorough cleaning. Grass seeds are very small and covered with many thin layers of plant material that need to be removed to promote water intake through the seed.

There are various methods and machinery that can be used for seed cleaning, however, a simple method is to utilize different sized screens and sieves. This method requires placing seed/plant material on top of an appropriate size screen, while shaking it on top of a smaller screen/sieve size or flat surface. Utilizing this method will allow the small seed to fall through the top screen, while keeping all of the larger plant material on top. This will successfully separate the plant material from the seed.

Below is a picture of native grass seed/collected material getting ready for seed cleaning.

Some Long Island native seeds also need to go through a process of scarification before they can be placed in a period of cold dormancy. Scarification refers to scratching or opening of thick seed coats. 

Long Island native seeds vary in shape, size, and thickness depending on the species. Thick seed coats need mechanical, thermal, or chemical help to encourage germination, and the ability to soak up water. This process mimics how the seed would have been physically effected during the digestion process in birds and animals after the seeds have been eaten.

Below is an example of mechanical scarification of Opuntia humifusa seeds, a.k.a. Prickly Pear Cactus. The native cactus seeds are very round and thick, which makes them very difficult to scarify. Here we are using a hand held sander against a grooved bottom tray to encourage the scratching of the seed coats.

Once this process was complete, the seeds were ready to be placed in a period of cold dormancy.

There are many methods that can be done to successfully stratify seed, but at LINPI we use the refrigeration method by placing the seeds in small plastic bags filled with moist media, and let them chill, or stratify in the refrigerator for 6 weeks. Of course, all different species of seed are in their own plastic bags with their name, location and date of seed collection, and the start date of stratification written on each individual bag.


Starting our seeds

A large part of the internship will be based on learning how to grow native plants from seed.

We will be germinating seeds that have been previously collected in various locations throughout Long Island. Some of the seed we will be working with have been collected in prior months to years, so we will be testing the viability (ability to work/succeed/grow) of all the seeds being used.

Before germination can occur, most Long Island native seeds need to go through a period of cold dormancy, known as stratification. Stratification is the process of pretreating seeds by putting them through cold treatments in order to mimic the environmental conditions they would have endured in nature. This is necessary for most native seeds to germinate successfully.


The beginning of our journey

January 13, 2018 marked the beginning of the first internship held by LINPI. 

Being an intern for the Long Island Native Plant Initiative means learning everything from greenhouse protocols to native plant production, and everything else in between.

Our first line of duty was to get the greenhouse prepped and ready for our spring plant production. We started by unloading many pallets (and pounds) of mixed media, perlite, etc. that will be used as the growing medium for our plants and seeds. We hand mix all of the components together in small batches  to create the perfect growing media.

Our second line of duty was to prep one of our hoop houses in order to make it a safe place to over-winter our pre-existing plants. This is an important task to complete as soon as possible to avoid freezing of plants that are kept outside. To provide more insulation in the hoop house, we had to stretch a thick plastic covering along the outside frame and staple it in. It is important to do this neat and efficiently so there are no air pockets present. 

Once the outside prepping was complete, we covered the ground inside the hoop house with weed fabric. This doesnt only aid in controlling persistent weeds, but also helps keep our local rodent and animal families out that are looking for a tasty treat. (It seems to be working!)

Finally, we began loading in all of the grasses, forbs, and woody plants that have been stored outside from the previous season. Loading the plants on stacked tables saves room and also protects them from any small rodents that may sneak in through the bottom.