Friday, July 31, 2009

Rebuilding Humpty Dumpty

This passed weekend I went on a tour of the future Fresh Kills Park. I had lots of questions, or I thought I did, but most of my questions could be better answered by scientists. So instead, I enjoyed the view. You too can go on a tour, so sign up here. It lasts about an hour, but the whole adventure will take you longer. Especially if you arrived via MTA bus.

Funny thing about traveling somewhere new, like Staten Island, you never know when your stop is coming or has gone. Now I've done it, now I know, but there was some anxiety there for awhile. I took the S79 from 4th Ave and 86th Street in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. It seems like a short trip on the map, but it takes about 45-60 minutes with all the stops. It is nice to go over the Verrazano with your monthly metro card instead of paying 11 bucks for the toll. So one bus ride to the Eltingville Transit Center makes Fresh Kills Park a fairly easy adventure for Brooklynites.

We were picked up in this NYC Parks van for the tour. Yes, you're primarily in the van, but you do get out on two mound tops. The roads are bumpy, make for dreams of anti-shake cameras.

Fresh Kills was the 20th century landfill for NYC brought to us by Robert Moses and our unstoppable ability to produce trash. These are shovels left over from its hay day. I hear one will remain for roadside display.

This is one facility amongst several, designed to process and refine the gases produced by the anaerobic breakdown of the trash.

In every way, Fresh Kills is a technological landscape. Its imported skin of soil conceals 50 years of mounded and compressed trash. You can find a description of the cap system on the Fresh Kills Park website. It's as artificial as Central Park, but in a monolithic way. In its current state, it is both ecologically simpler and technologically more complex than Central Park. Settlement of waste, gas production and capture, liquid leachate capture and treatment, water testing, not to mention the capping technology. After 30 years, the time frame for constructing this park, we can show the states that are taking our trash the ins and outs of topping it with a park.

This facility with the two stacks in the distance is the burn-off plant. You've seen them wherever there's petroleum refining -they've got the fire on top. When the gas collection system is down, gas will be rerouted to this facility for combustion.

This photo (click on for larger size) shows the twin stacks of the burn-off plant in the middle ground. Hard to see, but deep in the distance is lower Manhattan and Jersey City. Up close is one of the many gas well heads in a field of weeds and grasses. This view is from South Mound which may be called South Park later on.

Here are many grasses growing around the well head at the peak of the mound. I asked why so many wetland grasses appear to be growing on the sides of the mounds (and in this case, the top) when the information states that everything is designed for good drainage so that water does not collect and permeate the barrier. It's possible I don't know my grass from my ass, so maybe those aren't wetland grasses. Its also possible that the barrier and growing medium are holding water above the trash mound, saturating the soil in spots. But I am just guessing here -scientist needed.

Looking south-southwest towards West Mound. That hill is where the remains of the World Trade Center attacks were taken, further complicating an already complex space. It is said that a earthen memorial will be built there.

On our drive to the other mound, we passed the tidal creek. Our tour guide was eager to point out the Osprey nest.

On the North Mound, looking east, you can see the East Mound still being capped. Imagine how much fill and soil it takes to cover these mounds. To the right is the gas burn-off stacks we saw earlier from the south. Again, click on the photo for a larger image.

To the north is the William T. Davis Wildlife Refuge, a small parcel of tidal marsh and some woods that will essentially be absorbed into Fresh Kills Park. I tried to visit the refuge last year, while locals on the tour and our tour guide suggested it was highly overgrown and in disuse.

Looking west you see the Arthur Kill and industrial New Jersey. But that is rendered lovely as it hovers above a field of Queen Anne's Lace. The previously capped mounds are all to be re-covered by another 2 feet of residential-grade topsoil, so that all vegetation you see will be destroyed. Much of the vegetation I saw at the park, while attractive as a whole from a distance, were weed species like mugwort, knotweed, q.a. lace, and phragmites.

Other landfills have been made into parks, such as Flushing Corona Park -once a dilapidated ash dump, but it's the scale of the systems in this new landscape that make it interesting. It is a laboratory for ecological concerns and brown-field re-development. It is both in-place as a series of large mounds situated in post-glacial moraine landscape and out of place as a series gas well-heads on stepped mounds of unforested expanse.

Most importantly, Fresh Kills Park shouldn't lose its history to it's new park-i-ness. Yeah, sure -it's a great redevelopment of a 50 year eye and nose sore, but if we forget how we got here, while we pay billions to ship our trash to far away states that one day will say no more, we will back into the same old place with garbage up to our ears.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Hiking Avalon

On Long Island's north shore lies a landscape called Avalon Park and Preserve. Its part designed landscape using many native plants, part preserve of native woodlands, and part cultivated fields of native flowering plants. This is the approach from Mill Pond in Stony Brook.

The woodwork is over the top for a preserve. All the decking, furniture, and gate is oiled. You can see how tightly the decking is cut around obstacles like trees.

It's a grand entrance that to a sensitive person might seem to undermine the preserve's mission. The slope is cut into to provide room for the wide walkway. These cuts will be sources of erosion, all the while plants will grow over the walkway and need to be hacked back. That said, I enjoy walking on wooden plank pathways because of the sound it makes and because they generally preserve land adjacent to the pathway.

Eventually the wooden walkway does end, changing to an edged pea stone pathway. Further in, asphalt paths mix with the pea stone paths. The landscape these paths traverse is attractive and completely constructed, despite its naturalistic appearance.

After you explore this landscaped portion, called Avalon Park, you can go on to the much larger Avalon Preserve and East Farm Preserve. Cross over Rhododendron Road (an event during flowering season) and take the red trail to a few miles of woodland and field trails of different color blazes. The yellow and orange trails pass through old farm fields cultivated for massive displays of native wildflowers. All the trails can be walked within a couple of hours with ordinary footwear.

A colony of Joe Pye Weed at the edge of Mill Pond.

The wooden truss bridge (despite the cables) over Mill Pond.

This appears to be an Aster. Anyone?

Coastal Sweet Pepper Bush, Clethra alnifolia, had scented flowers.

This white-flowered shrub was growing adjacent to the pepper bush. Anyone know this one?

Afterward you can walk to the beach at Sand Street (half-mile), or even further to West Meadow Beach (about 3 miles) which has recently been overhauled (finally!!) to be completely open to the public. I have rented a canoe at the marina near Sand Street Beach, across from the Three Village Inn -search the Yellow Pages for Stony Brook Boat Works to find their listing.

Monday, July 27, 2009

This Week In The Side Garden

Things are humming along. Thunderstorm rains have been helpful.

The green beans are producing.

I think I defeated the blossom-end rot that begun a few weeks ago on one 'Milano Plum.'

The Milanos from underneath -determinate, so they're setting over a shorter period.

Even the 'Black Russian' is forming fruit now. Can't wait.

As always, the cherries are producing the earliest. These are 'Sungold,' very sweet and tasty, but the skin is a little thick.

The 'Bella Rosa' is going strong, no sign of the dreaded B.E. Rot. These tomatoes have been enlarging for the longest period, and they seem to keep on getting slowly bigger with no sign of ripening.

And the strange 'Orange Pixie,' now has flowers and is still the most upright tomato plant I have ever grown.

I Like To Eat Alone

Swear that's what was said as I got in close for a photo. Not long ago, this mantis was a wee thing.

Strawberry muffins

  • 1-cup all-purpose flour
  • 1-cup whole-wheat flour
  • 1/2-cup sugar
  • 11/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 eggs
  • 1-cup low fat plain yogurt
  • 1/4-cup butter, melted
  • 1-teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup chopped strawberries, fresh or frozen

Preheat oven to 375F. In a bowl, mix together flour, sugar, and baking soda. In another bowl, mix eggs, yogurt, and vanilla. Toss strawberries into the flour mixture. Then pour yogurt mixture into flour mixture and stir. Spoon the batter into a greased muffin pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until tops are golden brown. Makes 12 muffins.

Calories: 150
Fat 5g
Carbohydratess 24g
Protein 4g
Fiber 2g

Sunday, July 26, 2009

We're Swimming In Gas

I'm always suspicious of alarmism or overly emotional pleas. I think that is why I appreciate the site,, for keeping its cool about a hot topic. I've followed the story loosely for a couple of years, and now its coming to a head. I should tell you.

Parts of New York, Pennsylvania (the first oil state), Ohio, and West Virginia have a geological zone called the Marcellus Shale region. Deep down in this zone is natural gas. As you know, carbon fuel prices went through the roof. This enabled companies, like Halliburton, to invest in developing new extraction technologies. One of those is hydraulic fracturing also known as fracture stimulation or "fracking". The process is simple. Drill a well. Add a lot of water, sand, and a cocktail of chemicals into the plumbing under extremely high pressure. This will fracture the shale deep beneath the ground, releasing the gas and a few other impurities. The gas is shipped to a facility to refine it, then its piped to electrical plants and to us, for use in our stoves.

Read this for a brief overview of NYC water supply system
Read this for an overview of the Marcellus Shale in PA and NY.
Read this for the Catskill Mountainkeeper overview of gas development in NY.
Read this for all kinds of issues via Propublica.
Read a blog all about it from PA.

Energy companies have already targeted Pennsylvania and are now eyeing New York. Much of the shale they are looking to drill is in the watershed of NYC. If my opinion mattered more than a hill o beans, I'd say just don't do it. But we got lots of rural land owners looking at energy salesmen waving dollars in their faces. In the upstate economy, that carries some good weight. State lands are open for drilling, but as far as I know, surface drilling on state park lands is a no-no, although this process uses horizontal drilling technology. There's lots to think about here, but ultimately we're talking about trading NYC's water purity for natural gas. Are we that desperate?

The current NYC administration is against the drilling. They've proposed 1 mile buffer zones around our drinking water supply. But this is unfair to all those who live and drink outside those zones. If it's not good for NYC, it's not good for all of NY.

Oil and gas prospecting wastes are essentially exempt from U.S. national environmental laws. Read the EPA pamphlet.

A Statement from Halliburton on your right to safe drinking water:
The U.S. Congress has recognized that fracture stimulation has been regulated for decades by the states and is essential for future development of America's energy supplies. When passing the federal Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) in 1974, and then amending it in 1980, Congress created a program to monitor disposal of wastes injected underground. Congress made clear it never intended to regulate well stimulation activities under the SDWA (my italics). Congress reaffirmed this position in 2005 when it clarified that fracturing stimulation is exempted from the SDWA, except where diesel is used in the fracturing fluids.
That same year (2005), Halliburton was the first to introduce an industry-leading advancement – continuing to improve a technology it first commercialized in 1949 – by introducing diesel-free liquid gel concentrates into its suite of well stimulations fluid systems (what a coincidence!) and helping operators move to higher levels of environmental performance.

All I can say is WTF?

The latest news I have is this:
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation extends environmental impact study, further delaying of natural gas drilling in New York.

image courtesy of splashdownpa

Friday, July 24, 2009

Diary Of A Cataclysm

Have you noticed the spate of end-of-the-world scenario TV movies in the last two months. Asteroids on NBC and ABC, Earth 2100 climate change cartoon on ABC. Then there's that movie (2012?) I've only seen the trailer for where the monk is running to ring the bell for the tidal wave is coming. Did you know there are people who believe the Earth will be hit by a planet in 2012? Its called Nibiru, the planet that is going to hit the Earth. Chiliastic beliefs at their best! How I do love living at the turn of a millennium. Sometimes I wonder, just wondering now, if all our environmental fears are a secular version of this chiliasm.

So, after looking at that funky stuff, enjoy so much this trailer mashup for that movie, 2012. Love the music!

When I was in my last year of undergraduate school I took it upon myself to read the dry biologist and scribe Barry Commoner's Making Peace With the Planet (review). In it, in essence, he describes a world in which all economic activity and warfare expenditure must cease. These resources must then be folded into the environmental problems we are facing. It was 1991.

I stumbled across this article by Derrick Jensen in Orion Magazine. Its called Forget Shorter Showers. Read it, as it is brief, then move on to the 250 comments, which are just as, or more, enlightening on a population torn asunder by humanity's pathological drift toward agriculture and technology.

Here are the things I've given up this year, because they mostly save me money -not sure they save the earth.

  • Pump soap -I'm back to bars, pricier ones seem to last months at my bathroom sink.
  • The window air conditioner -its been cool enough.
  • Not composting -so now I do it, hard to believe.
  • Urge to buy used clunker-car -I rent one when I need one.
  • Buy beautiful, flat TV -yeah the old one's big and not so well resolved, but who cares.
  • Takeout for dinner at work -yup, bringing in the dinner has not only saved me $, lost 15 lbs. in 9 months.
  • Bottled water -I can't believe how much I drank! I lobbied for a water fountain at work.

I already vegetable garden, which I know was saving the world for at least 6 months this year. So, you know I couldn't count that one. We did the compact fluorescent thing last year. Um, what else? Running out of things here. MMMM, uuuhhh. So read that article if your having trouble giving stuff up because maybe you're not so sure there's anything left to give up. Maybe there's something else you can do. Besides, who wants to be the only person on the block who can't refrigerate their leftovers from the block party because they gave up the fridge to save the Earth?

I Dream of Greenie

Its morning in Prospect Park

Green living (turtles from first photo)

Green planet, maybe Jupiter.

Green apple, green duckweed, green algal slime.

Green monster (it smells as bad as it looks)

Green poke

Green bridge, structurally sound-not sound, blocked-not blocked.

Green leaves of aster, looking fine compared to mine.

Green traffic circle, mysteriously planted, a woman I hear.

Green June Beetle, been spotted on sidewalks lately.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Over a Barrel

In Red Hook.
A barrel,
with sedum of some kind.
Over it,
dropping to the ground.

Is, Was, and To Be

I went to the corner nursery (really, its pretty lucky) to get some bamboo stakes for the greenbeans. Could I stop myself from looking around the perennials? I don't need to answer that. I saw giant Rudbeckias and Echinaceas, thinking of the coneflower that had its flower stalks knocked off by a baseball bat a month ago. But I did not buy!

Then I saw the Gaura. Gotta get the Gaura. While I prefered the pinks of the 'Siskyou,' I much prefered the upright habit of the white, 'name already forgotten.' I told the friendly clerk of my dilemma. I walked out with two for one. Sshh. Its quiet-time for selling perennials. But then I got two free lilies just for being there a month ago. So, I'm always going there first and how else can I ensure that my nursery on the corner stays in business? I can't possibly be their best customer, I have no room left to plant. I pulled a never-bloomed siberian iris to make room for the white gaura, and pruned back the dwarf spirea and lavendar, pulled some field yarrow for the pink gaura (still not satisfied with that spot).

The allium sphaerocephalon, past bloom, drying. In my mind, one of the longest, attractive, interesting flowers in my garden, even after bloom.

The Lilium to be.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Upside Down World of Gardening

I am not a gardening expert, but I wear gardening on my sleeve -sometimes literally. Amongst my less experienced friends and neighbors, I'm called the expert. I enjoy getting the gardening questions, like to be helpful. To me, gardening is a universe that we can all choose to travel in, with different choices, decisions, and results. But it was hard for me last year, when I heard so many youngish city folk talking-up the upside-down tomatoes. I understood that it could work, I understood that tomatoes are vines, but I didn't understand the excitement! I had to admit to not knowing about it, I had to stay quiet.

I wonder if its no surprise that I've heard little of hanging tomato gardens this summer? I can understand a city gardener with limited space wanting to get their tomatoes off the ground. But when I saw this one on Sunday, on my block, in a nice front yard garden, I thought -oh my, there's one of those upside down things. And, while the hanging tomato plants were maybe 12-inches long, they had one or two tomatoes on each. Its a bad photo, but if you click on it, look closely and you'll probably see how small the plants are. This is in the yard of a knowledgeable gardener, so I cannot believe it has something to do with nutrients or soil or any ordinary gardening issue. It appears all contraption, no plant.

Trey, at, thinks that TopsyTurvy is iconic of the current gardening excitement. Maybe business taking advantage of new gardeners too? Click the TopsyTurvy link for a funny video of two older people struggling to grow their tomatoes until they get their topsy turvy on. Does any of the claim below make any sense?

The Upside Down Tomato Planter
Topsy Turvy® tomato planter works in a simple yet ingenious way. As the sun warms the plant like a greenhouse, the root system explodes and thrives (or burns) inside the planter. Because Topsy Turvy® tomato planter is upside down, water and nutrients pour (WHAT?!) directly from the root to the fruit, giving you up to 30 pounds (because of pouring water/nutrients?) of deliciously ripe tomatoes per plant!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Two Garden Problems

My front yard garden has a combination of two problems this year.

One is that neighborhood kids often toss their football or baseball into the plants. If that doesn't break stems, the whacking around with a bat in the dark does. I planted a new aster last autumn, bottom center, that has only one stem left. The fern also took a beating. Its hard to see the damage in the photo below, but same problem. Football lands on delicate Boltonia stems and breaks or bends them. Fortunately Boltonia, and asters in general, are resilient to this type of damage. I straighten them out by running twine horizontally and the plant rests on the twine.

Problem two has been the general health of all the asters this year. They are blighted and fungal. All the asters including the pink-purple, fall-flowering types and the yellow-flowered goldenrod and maximilian sunflower have been affected, although this one below is the worst. I don't remember the variety, but the leaves are usually a bigger, healthier blue-green.

The asters are tough, they can survive this unhealthy year. But they don't look so good in the garden. The main reason may have been all the rain of June. Yet part of the reason, really only part, is that my plants are a bit crowded. Another reason is the stress of the heat reflected off the apartment house and sidewalk. Its tough in that 24-inch slice of earth!

Aster 'Monch' has begun to bloom. Its a much smaller plant this year, with speckled, ratty leaves. I wouldn't do without it, though.