By Emily J. Weitz
Tony Minardi has been working in the fields of chemistry and marine sciences his whole life, but this time it’s personal. The deer problem (and the resulting tick problem) on the East End is no secret, and Minardi set about using his experience in the lab to find a solution. Patent pending, it looks like he has found one.
“Several years ago, I had a pool put in the back,” says Minardi. “The village of East Hampton recommended, so we didn’t interfere with neighbors, we plant shrubbery around the perimeter. So I planted hydrangea and rhododendrons and evergreens.”
Seven-thousand dollars later, the deer had demolished the plantings.
“The first recommendation was a fence,” says Minardi. “But then the deer will go under and over and through. Then we went out and bought liquid fence. We bought Deer Off. We used everything on the market. Finally, I thought, ‘There’s got to be a biological way to treat this problem’.”
He checked out as many different kinds of deer repellant and deterrent as he could find.
“The smells can be terrible,” he says. “One of the formulas had dried blood in it, another has cat food. This has none of that.”
With his experience, Minardi had some heavy hitters as resources. He contacted three scientists with whom he had worked in the past.
“For three years we worked on a formula at Woods Hole. What we came up with is all organic, except for water, which is inorganic. The composition is animal protein. Since deer are herbivores, they can’t digest animal protein.”
So the scientists created a concoction that the deer could not break down. They would eat it and get no energy from it. Add to that, Minardi says, two organic ingredients to which deer are sensitive as far as taste and smell (which he would rather not divulge).
“Then we added a sticking agent,” he says. “A surfacing agent, which breaks the water tension in water molecules, like a soap.”
The result is a product called Environmental Art.
Once composed, the substance is sprayed onto the surface of the plant. But there are a lot of factors that go into this process.
“On a proper day with low humidity, no rain in the forecast for 24 hours, we apply the treatment to the plants with an electrical pump sprayer,” he said. “It sticks to the plant, but it doesn’t affect the plant at all. It doesn’t affect the birds, the bees, and the butterflies for pollination. We don’t want to disturb that cycle.”
That one application is not enough, though. Two-and-a -half weeks later, Minardi will reapply it. And the application process is as important, he says, as the treatment. Even though the treatment will be available in powdered form when the patent comes through, Minardi doesn’t want homeowners doing it themselves.
“I wouldn’t give my formula out to anyone,” he says. “I have to do the job. There’s a formula. It’s about the way it hits the plant.”
Because of this time-intensive aspect of the job, Minardi can only handle a limited number of clients. That’s why his son has come in from Charleston to help him as business grows. And Minardi has utmost confidence that with an in-demand product like his, growth will not be a problem.
“When it’s franchised,” he says, “we’ll be able to spread out.”
Minardi, a scientist at heart with a commitment to experimentation, has his proof all around him. As walks around his property, he’ll point out the 30 plants he included in a recent experiment.
“Rhododendrons and hydrangea are their favorites,” he says.
Of the thirty of these types of plants, he left ten alone as controls, and applied the treatment to twenty. The treated plants were left untouched by the deer, and the ten controls were demolished.
Minardi is seeing similar success on his clients’ properties. When it’s time for a job, he mixes the formula that day in the lab.
“I noticed that the formula was more effective when it was mixed the same day,” he says.
That’s why they’ve come up with a powdered form, so that all that will need to be added the day of application is water.
“I would like to help out the homeowners having real problems,” he says. “The only problem right now is I have to do the job. I am currently following East Hampton, Springs, Wainscott, Sag Harbor, and North Haven. Soon we’ll be able to extend the reach to Southampton and Westhampton, and beyond.”