It was time to gather our seeds together. Such a perfect autumn day — crisp and bright. We emerged from a week of rain, wind and cold. Fall — and hard rain– came upon us suddenly after a prodigious drought. But here were fourteen of our local youth from Sayville High School, all gathering midmorning at the home of a ’77 grad to encounter local nature in a way they never had.
We’d been offering tours of the yard to various local groups. The yard and the Long Island Conservancy had recently been showcased on the front page of The Suffolk County News.
A movement was stirring, and here where it all began in my hometown, where yet nature persisted and where there was yet hope of renewal.
A native yard pulses with the rhythms of death and rebirth, a pattern played out over countless eons. Somehow we want our yards to be immune to nature, to changes in texture and hue. But that is how you miss they beauty. Embrace change, but also the comforting sameness of it. We are of this. You feel it in Nature’s midst. You can have that feeling in your yard or even on Main Street.
The Seeds Came Early This Year
Much of the yard had already gone to seed weeks earlier than last year. Last year, the Butterfly Milkweed peeked right with the Monarchs September 8th. 40 at once! This year, the plant’s strategy was to place whatever resources they could at seed production, so there were far fewer later blooms, and far fewer Monarchs, in a year where they were put on the endangered species list.
I’d recently been to Rhode Island and saw some of the historic drought that covered New England, and wondered whether this disrupted Monarch food supplies along their route from southern Canada. Caught now within the rhythms of nature, we will see what next year brings — rain? drought? Both in equal measure? We need to steady the ship.
On Indigenous People’s Day the natives of Sayville — I speak of the High School’s local environmental club SWEEP and The Greater Sayville Junior Civic Association — came to harvest wildflower seeds from 20 different native pollinators. There were 14 students in all, along with SHS teacher Doug Shaw and Christine Sarni, the Civic Association’s President. We filled 24 mason jars with seed, and we are far from done.
We still need to harvest seed from the Seaside Goldenrod, the asters, and to some extent the White Boneset, which are late to flower and seed and provide our pollinators food for the fall.
The goal of SWEEP, the Greater Sayville Civic Association and The Long Island Conservancy is first to learn how to best harvest /store / germinate / plant / sow the various types of native wildflower seeds. What can we start in winter under lamps? What should be started from plugs? What can we merely sow? And how do we best winnow all these plant parts to remove the seeds in the first place?
A lot to learn — the things we forget along the way to the modern.
Winnowing the Seed
We literally had wheelbarrows full of butterfly milkweed seed pods. But how to best pluck the pods, open them, and somehow get the seeds to fall out from the thick mats of floss, the gossamer “parachutes” that otherwise float the seeds as far as the wind would carry them.
All that fluff you see blanketing the ground is called milkweed floss, and wouldn’t you know it but it has a sustainable use! Maybe one of our students will try something!
Our next challenge will be where we grow from our seeds and when. What do we start now indoors, what should wait. What needs “cold stratification,” or exposure to freezing temperatures. How also do we prevent moisture and mold from ruining our seeds?
We will all be doing our homework here, relearning what was once common knowledge, passed on implicitly. There’s Wildflower.org, established by Ladybird Johnson, to start us on our way. As we reconnect with Nature, we do so humbled by its nuance and complexity. We are here to facilitate its flourishing, whether by planting a seed in the ground or understanding and from that hope in an emerging generation inheriting so much in need of repair.
Where will all these native pollinator gardens would go around town? In what parks, public spaces, and on whose property? And to what overall end? What is the community’s planting strategy? What does Nature need here? We’ve enough seed for ten acres as it stands. The library and The Greater Sayville Chamber House are givens. It will be interesting to see where else we will plant, who else will see the necessity of this all.