Wednesday, February 29, 2012

On Cornus

Cornelian cherry buds just opening, Brooklyn Bridge Park end of February 2012

Seeing the Cornelian Cherry buds up close yesterday at Brooklyn Bridge Park (for more of what's happening there - a Bluebell photo contest even- visit the link to Brooklyn Bridge Park's blog or take a walk to see spring unfolding there for yourself in person) was kind of an aha moment. I knew the Cornelian cherry was related to the Cornus florida, the spring-blooming dogwood native to this area. Same genus. But the resemblance between the two only finally caught my eye clearly yesterday and it was in the buds.

Dogwood buds in winter, New York Botanical Garden
Cornus florida winter buds at NYBG last January

Cornelian Dogwood bloom, Prospect Park, Brooklyn
Blooming Cornelian Cherry Dogwood, Prospect Park, mid-to-late March last year

It's less easy for me to see that resemblance when the flowers are open. But I rarely get up close and personal with the Cornelian cherry. Mostly, it just appears to me in the distance as this lovely haze of yellow in the empty canopy of early spring. Our native Dogwoods most anybody recognizes and could draw, (but it's the petal-like bracts and not the actual flower clusters that catch the eye) and they are the image that will forever come to mind first whenever I hear the word Dogwood. You know I love them the most.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

On The Cusp of Spring at Brooklyn Bridge Park

There is both the sign that a new season is beginning and the reminder of the season passed. In the places where plants are allowed to remain as they are throughout the four seasons, this is an excellent time to pay attention to the beauty of both the old and the new. There are buds swelling with spring's flowers and leaves while old seed heads and stalks still stand and though it may be happening earlier this year than most (It's still February for one more day), this time between seasons comes every year.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Jamaica Bay Ecowatchers on Proposed Pipeline (and other links)

Attempting to identify native pollinating species in my community garden plot at Floyd Bennett Field near the site of proposed metering and regulating station

Writing a blog is not unlike sidewalk preaching in that it's a somewhat crazy thing to do. So I'm quite sure that my own writings on the proposed gas pipeline project through Gateway National Recreation Area will not have much significance. Thankfully, there are however longtime environmental activists in the area, like Don Riepe and Dan Mundy (featured in the NY Times article link) that may be able to make a difference in the matter. The Jamaica Bay Ecowatchers and the Jamaica Bay Research and Management Information Network are two places that I will be going for updates on the project. I expect Ned Berke's excellent independent news blog Sheepshead Bites will provide ongoing news coverage even if other press never picks up the story.

According to the information at Jamaica Bay Ecowatchers, the pipeline and the lack of public outreach will be a topic at the April 4th Jamaica Bay Taskforce Meeting. If you are reading this please follow the link to Jamaica Bay Ecowatchers info on the pipeline.

Link to my posts on this project:
All posts on this project:

Friday, February 24, 2012


Gazebo with plantings and care by Bob over the years at Floyd Bennett field

I don't know if the following quote by Margaret Mead, whom a local Sheepshead Bay school is named after, is verifiable or not but it is hopeful, as is the sight of local blogger Marie's post today at 66Square Feet about the proposed pipeline project involoving Gateway Recreation Area's Jacob Riis and Floyd Bennett Field:

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

I haven't had a lot of hope since first reading about this proposed project, but perhaps I shouldn't give up yet. Thanks Marie. At the very least, more people will hear about the project maybe for the first time through reading your blog. I was speaking yesterday with a frequent Jacob Riis beachgoer who hadn't heard about it yet at all.

Update: The Wave Rockaway's local paper is covering the story. Without an online subscription I haven't been able to read the stories, but it's comforting to know it's being covered.

Back at the Old Lot

When planting in an urban lot, you gotta work with what you've got and it ain't much. But from what's left of last year's growth, the ground, disturbed or disturbing depending on your viewpoint) supports mugwort, goldenrod, some evening primrose, some sweet clover, queen anne's lace, honeylocust saplings and mullein, among other things. No big surprises yet but we haven't explored it fully. For our first planting in the fall, we chose bulbs, thinking that since many come from rocky areas and won't be requiring a whole lot of water or care, they just might make it. Drying stalks of the nearby weeds sufficed as a makeshift mulch and our fingers were crossed for luck. We're still waiting to see what happens. So far, unlike a lot of things this year, no early blooms. Just some sweet green poking out of the ground to let us know these plants are making an effort to survive.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Something to Do When You're Finished Following a Proposed Pipeline

Butterfly weed growing along bike path Flatbush Ave near Floyd Bennett Field

If you want to follow the path of a pipeline project through Brooklyn and Queens (or rather two projects, there is a National Grid component and a Williams Transco component) that has gotten little attention in the news or little public outreach by the companies that intend to build it, you're going to have to familiarize yourself with FERC's elibrary. (this particular's project prefile number is PF09-8)

Over the past week I've waded through documents dating back to early 2009 in an effort to find out how hangars at Floyd Bennett Field came to be the site of the proposed metering and regulating station attached to this project. In the earliest planning stages of this project, both Williams and NPS (National Park Service) preferred that the station be built outside of park land because of its industrial nature. I've got a time frame narrowed down, but still no definitive answers about why. (Restoring the facade of historic hangars only to use them to house new industrial infrastructure isn't quite a good enough reason for me as a park user. I fail to see any real benefit to the public.) Only in paperwork dated March, 2011 is there an indication that Williams had come to some kind of agreement with parks about locating the facility on park land. In late May of the previous year, NPS was still indicating that the M & R station needed to be housed outside of park property. That's pretty late in the game and only several months before legislation was introduced in Congress that may potentially allow this new industrial use on park land, but it's still almost a year before news of this intended industrial development reached the public at all via a NY1 story. And while Williams is ultimately responsible for outreach to the public regarding this project, NPS is the government arm responsible for preserving and protecting Floyd Bennett Field and Gateway National Recreation Area for the people.

Is a proposed metering and regulating station at Floyd Bennett Field mentioned in Gateway's State of the Park's report for 2011? No. But the report does state that Gateway will be reaching out to the public in 2012 concerning revisions to their General Management Plan and asking the public what the core mission of the park should be. Perhaps legislators in Washington should wait for the public to give voice and input about new industrialized use in Floyd Bennett Field at a public meeting in 2012 before enacting legislation that will make it possible.

I'm not waiting for a public meeting (with dates yet to be announced) to have my voice heard. I've already written my New York State senators (Schumer here and Gillibrand here) telling them I don't support this bill and I don't support this use of NPS land. I don't expect that my voice will mean much alone but there are a lot of people with love for this area so perhaps eventually as people actually hear about this proposed project, it will become part of a chorus.

Links to posts on this project:
All posts on this project:
Following the Path of a Pipeline
Following the Path of a Pipeline (take two)
Following The Path of a Pipeline (take three)
NYC Beach (in the sand and proposed gas pipeline construction below)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Following The Path of a Pipeline (Take Three)

Turkey vulture on rooftop at Floyd Bennett Field
Turkey Buzzard at Floyd Bennett Field, March last year

I don't take the most direct route from my home to the community garden at Floyd Bennett field and that's because I usually go by bicycle. And one of the things you quickly learn when travelling by bicycle is that it's often wise to add on mileage in order to take the safest most scenic route. So I'm pretty comfortable with the idea of detouring and I know that's there's usually more than one or two ways to get to where you need to be and that the most obvious route isn't always the best choice. Perhaps that's a useful metaphor to use when following the path of a new pipeline. Perhaps there's another route to take to cleaner energy than the one that involves transporting gas that's being extracted in a manner that's increasingly being called into question and challenged and maybe there's a better route for a new pipeline and metering and regulation station than through the part of Brooklyn and Queens that contains the National Gateway Recreational Area.

For instance, in an early draft report that Williams was required to file with FERC demonstrating the need for this project they stated, "While solar energy has been identified as a viable form of renewable energy and initiatives such as ConEd’s Pilot Program indicate a push for its use, the inherent issues with constructing solar facilities in the New York City area (i.e. tall buildings requiring cranes to install parts) preclude this form of renewable energy from providing the energy needed to supply the demand area targeted by the Project.", but the demand for this project is Queens and Brooklyn not Manhattan. These are areas that include large tracts of mostly suburban areas and much smaller buildings than in Manhattan. It's perhaps arguable that solar energy both in private homes, and industrial sites in these areas is more likely to be feasible and attainable than in the more developed Manhattan.

As for the route, I'm not a birder, but any serious birder will tell you that Floyd Bennett Field and Jacob Riis beach are on the list of places to go to see birds in New York City. And I'm not an entomologist but I know that even the small patches of potentilla along the bikepath near Floyd Bennett provide habitat for pollinators that you probably don't see in abundance in other parts of the city. Floyd Bennett field is not a wildlife reserve like it's neighbor across the bay, but it is managed in a way that supports the many species of birds that use it on their migrations along the Atlantic flyway.

This particular part of New York City may be overlooked by a lot of New Yorkers, but that doesn't mean that it isn't important for all kinds of reasons. And some of its most important users cannot vote. Nearby Jamaica Bay and Breezy Point are designated Significant Coast Fish and Wildlife Areas and there's no short list of species they support. Not all of New York City's coastal resources are ranked in the same way. Some, like Brooklyn's Navy Yard, are in fact recommended for industrial use as Significant Maritime and Industrial areas.

Syrphid fly on Potentilla, bike path alongside Floyd Bennett Field

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Following The Path of a Pipeline (take two)

Andropogon sp (Broomsedge) Native grass, Floyd Bennett Field (unless it's Little Bluestem or something related. It's hard for me to tell the differences between the species.)

I'm pretty familiar with the path that the proposed gas pipeline project (which has local Marine Park community board members angry) would take down Flatbush Avenue and through National Gateway Recreation Area parkland. One of the things I like to do since catching the gardening/plant bug is stop and pay attention to some of the details in the area. So at least I don't have to actually research the physical path the construction will take when trying to follow this project. The paperwork trail is another story entirely. Because little information or outreach efforts to the public on the project have been made by Williams Transco or the government agencies involved, I've been forced to wade through the necessary paperwork that's available in FERC's elibrary. Considering all the government agencies involved, recent press about expanding camping and attention on Floyd Bennett Field (a Blue Ribbon Panel dedicated to making recommendations about its future even), it shouldn't be so hard to find information about this project and particularly the introduction of a new industrial use for the airfield (the gas metering and regulating station proposed on site). But it is. Perhaps as more local journalists follow the story, that will change.

Most of the proposed sites for the station were originally located outside of the airfield. "As the construction of a meter and regulating station would result in a given site being classified as a developed industrial use, consideration was given to alternatives in areas with high proportions of developed land."
From: 20090601-5223
Description: Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Company, LLC submits Draft Resource Reports 1 and 10 for the Rockaway Delivery Point Project under PF09-8.

Sea Rocket, Jacob Riis beach

Monday, February 20, 2012

Following The Path of a Pipeline

Floyd Bennett field looking towards Marine Parkway/Gil Hodges bridge and Rockaways near the path of a proposed new gas pipeline project

Following the path of a pipeline is a fascinating journey, though not necessarily an encouraging one. It's fascinating because it leads down deep into the earth to natural gas deposits in deep shale created ages ago in places both far and not so far from New York City. It's a path that follows the history of the rise of America, urbanization and the resources that shaped that history. And it's a path that leads to questions about the future and energy policy, but it's also rooted in the issues of today. I'm following the path of one specific pipeline. A new pipeline that may be built through Brooklyn to Queens, under Jamaica Bay/Rockaway Inlet and the Atlantic Ocean to an existing pipeline that's part of a larger network of pipes that covers some 10,500 miles of earth down the east coast of America and then west all the way to Texas.

So far the path has led me to few news stories (here's one though), which is surprising because it's a path that's rich with detours both local and distant. And with players both powerful (politicians, policy shapers and pipeline companies), but also small and less recognized for their importance (like clams and crabs, young fish and birds). I'm following this path because it starts out, passes through and will effect places I spend time in regularly, Floyd Bennett Field and Jacob Riis Beach, both part of the National park system's Gateway Recreation Area. It's personal in that way. (But it's also not so personal, because it's not really about me in any meaningful way.)

What I'm quickly learning following the path of this pipline is that perhaps it's fitting that it will pass under two bodies of water in the New York City area because you cannot follow the path of a natural gas pipeline today without considering water. Because the gas that will eventually pass through this pipeline, if it is built, will come from Appalachian and Gulf Coast shale plays, perhaps eventually even the Rockies, there's no escaping the issue of water when following this pipeline. There's no way to follow this path without exploring the story of the gas that will travel through it and how that gas is extracted. And the modern chapter of the natural gas extraction story is all about hydraulic fracturing, which requires large volumes of water both to drill and then to fracture rock when it is sent deep underground at high pressure mixed with chemicals. The water issues associated with fracking are a combination of worries about water management, possible contamination of drinking water wells and aquifers as a result drilling and what to do with toxic waste water left over afterwards.

Though this gas pipeline is linear (New York City is on the receiving end of a oneway chain), its path in one sense begins and ends with water.

At Jacob Riis park near where horizontal directional drilling under beach will make way for new pipeline

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Guess What I'm Thinking About Right Now?

Flowers, yes. The lot. Yes. Seeds. Straw for mulch and silver tip wheat to plant. Seedlings and havesting. Flowers and the pollinators. And are the bulbs we planted in the fall faring well in that scrap-filled lot, and how much more money we can afford to throw at this dream. The usual, in other words. Inching slowly on a ridiculous treadmill toward a goal.

There are seeds though to sow soon (something concrete to do beyond thoughts), more to order and pollinators to look forward to meeting this year, many I'm hoping, for the first time.

Friday, February 17, 2012


Wintergreen with envy over Marilyn's cold frame productivity in February.

Marilyn's always got something to ooh and ah over at the garden and it's usually something handbuilt, awesome and efficient like this winter's coldframe full of good green stuff. (Now she hasn't been dubbed the vegetable fairy by Edible Queens for nothing, but someone's gonna have to come up with a good moniker for her as an innovative builder and design maverick too though. That's a bed built for a queen, you know. She doesn't have to bend over at all to reap her harvest.)

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Looking at Potato Flowers in a New Way That's Old

I've been reading a lot lately about the idea of growing potatoes from seed instead of from seed potatoes. I remember only vaguely and perhaps only once seeing fruit on one of my potato plants and even then it was someone else who noticed it and pointed it out to me. Flowers yes, always and pretty too, but no fruit. I'm not sure why I never thought about the reasons behind not planting from true seed. I think I thought that it was probably like a lot of things propogated from bulbs, in that getting a flower or fullsized plant would take a while. (technically potatoes are modified stems though, not bulbs, something I still find mind-blowing) I will be keeping an eye out this year for any potential berries because it could be that I just wasn't paying attention and they were there. I'll also be checking out this 1915 Potato Breeding and Selection manual, available for download from the potato farmer who's in the news these days as the face of the OSGATA's lawsuit against Monsanto, to learn a little more about potato breeding, vintage-style, just because I'm curious. Are my potato flowers producing male flowers that are sterile? Likely. I'm still going to be growing my potatoes this year from tubers, not true seed. Maybe someday in the future when there's more room for seedlings started at home, I'll try seed.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

It's The Best Part

Now I wouldn't believe me at all if I say right now is the best time for watching your bulbs because I'm just as likely to say that the best part is yet to come. And I'm just as likely to say that the best part of gardening is harvesting something to grill for dinner. (pretty sure I've already said that, in fact) But though I would tell anyone that every step of growing something is the best part, there's still something undeniably awesome about catching the first sight of your bulbs' growth emerging out in winter.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Because Everyone Digs that Weeping Beech at Brooklyn Botanic

I'm not at all surprised to see that it was featured in the photo spread "How to See a Tree". (Course, so many of the trees there are just as likely candidates for their own magnificent black and white portrait.) I wonder if one could even wager a guess though as to how many people have needed to be asked by the staff at BBG to get down from perching or posing in that beech.

Monday, February 13, 2012


I can't remember who it was at Brooklyn Botanic that passed on the idea that studying plant catalogs was an excellent tool for learning. They're not all created equal, but the best ones often teach you much more about a plant and its needs or what the best propagation method is for a seed (direct sow or 6 weeks before last frost?) than just what the hottest color or cultivar currently is. (not that I don't appreciate that info too and the pretty pictures.)

I have a stack of catalogs I'm wandering through, planning gardens and meadows, dreams that will never happen. What are you gonna do? You dream anyway, you make a note and and turn the page.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

My Favorite Flower Bouquet From Last Year

One might say I'm just being sentimental because Joe picked it from by the railroad in Hudson. And because it's entirely made from these scrappy weedy species that grow by the roadside. But that's not true at all. It's just because I think it's lovely and it reminds me of summer.

Friday, February 10, 2012

NYC Beach (in the sand and proposed gas pipeline construction below)

At Jacob Riis Beach, (part of Gateway National Recreation Area)

I prefer that my NYC beach studying be like the kind above. Taking pictures and making observations (part of my plant identification method) of what's growing in the sand. But it seems with some recent news about a proposed gasline under parts of Gateway National Recreation Area, specifically Jacob Riis beach where I took the picture above, (Rockaway Delivery Lateral Project,) I may have a new kind of studying to do. And it looks like it might involve reading a lot of paperwork on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's (FERC) website, among other things.

I can't say I'm an expert on the latest technologies for laying natural gas pipeline in environmentally sensitive areas, so I feel like I need to do a lot of research and pay attention to what's happening with this proposed project in a place I love. Next stop for the bill is with  New York State Senators, I believe. I kind of imagine that anyone who spends any time at all at Jacob Riis, Fort Tilden, Plumb Beach, Dead Horse Bay, Breezy, Jamaica Bay or Floyd Bennett might feel similarly. I'm thinking of you, Frank of New York City Garden, Marie of 66 Square Feet, Ned of Sheepshead Bites, (some local bloggers who I'm quite confident dig the area). It's at least worth looking into.

The plant? Perhaps Small Seaside Spurge, Euphorbia polygonifolia or Chamaesyce polygonifolia (not sure which is most current). Native. Definitely looks like some kind of spurge.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Winter Beach Wandering

It won't cost you a dime to wander a New York City beach in winter checking out what grows in the sand. You could try to name a species or two by the remains you find. You just have to wear a lot more than you do when summer beach wandering. I garden near the shore. Crazy lucky I am. There's always an excuse to be down by the water.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Winter Herbs

Only time will tell if the choices I've made, in allowing my cilantro to flower and set seed and in letting creeping thyme meander into the garden's aisles, will end up being good practices or bad. They're both pretty successful in my garden. The question will be are they overly so? It is a vegetable garden after all, not a cilantro/thyme farm. I'm definitely going to have to make it a practice to regularly pass some seedlings and divisions on. Right now though, I'm happy enough to just appreciate their color and foliage this winter.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Are You Ready?

For the sublime possibilities of February? (These pictures are just a bit of my February last year. And man, it was way colder than this year. We hadn't yet been snowfree at this time) I'm looking forward to watching this February develop. I've got my eyes out for catkins and blooms and buds galore. It's time to wake up again and start paying attention.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Which Came First?

The Broccoli rabe or the egg? The definitive answer to this age old question is finally in and it looks like we're gonna have to give it up to the egg.

So it's one thing to sow seeds in an old egg carton, but now Joe's sowing in egg shells? Seriously? They remind me of wee terrariums missing their covers, but if I know Joe, though he may be an artist, there's a practical method behind his gardening madness. I'm just not sure whether he thinks it's going to be easier to slide the seedlings out of the eggshells rather than the carton or if he's thinking that he might then also crush the shells to ward off potential insect predators who might not want to slither over the broken shards, therefore protecting his seedlings. Not to mention that the eggshells will also eventually be broken down in the soil, releasing calcium and potassium among other things useful to plants. (Joe's always a step ahead of me. Here I am just thinking about getting a cold frame going because of this warm winter and already he's moving his recently sown seeds to the window sill, a pitstop on the way to his coldframe.)

Is there a lesson here? I think there is, but it doesn't necessarily have anything to do with DIY craftiness or eggshells. I think it has more to do with the idea of having a willingness to experiment in the garden and also with having a willingness to celebrate the unexpected small pleasures that are always a part of the process. If you really want to get the most out of being a gardener, cultivating your sense of wonder is at least as important as sowing seeds.

Lest you think that having a sense of wonder is a frivolous idea, here are the words of one with a much bigger mind who went before me:
"A child's world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood. If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantments of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength." - Rachel Carlson, A Sense of Wonder

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Gardener's February (from Capek)

"But do you know what? The snowdrops are in flower; and hamamelis with yellow stars is in flower, and hellebore has fat buds; and when you look properly (but you must hold your breath) you will find buds and sprouts on almost everything; with a thousand tiny pulses life rises from the soil."

From the end of Karel Capek's February chapter in The Gardener's Year

So what if this winter there were snowdrops blooming in New York City in both December and January and even some hellebores that are past the fat bud stage and already blooming? We know that the earth today is not at all the same one, in many ways, that Capek lived on. Still, most of the hellebores haven't opened yet and not all the snowdrops have bloomed, and you probably should still consider holding your breath when looking at the winter buds on almost everything. You might miss something otherwise.

Hellebore foetidus buds putting on a little winter weight in the Washington Ave Woodland garden Jennifer tends at Brooklyn Botanic

Thursday, February 2, 2012


Dried remains of some Glasswort found near the Peconic
Have I found an ID for the remains above or not? I'd say I'm at least at genus, it being Salicornia, a plant that likes to grow in salt marshes. What did I think about when I first saw it growing in the sand near the Peconic Bay in late summer last year? I wondered whether it was related in some way to either a horsetail (Equisetum genus) or perhaps some kind of sedum. And I wondered whether it might be native or not to salt marsh regions of Long Island (including Queens and Brooklyn, the New York City boroughs that are geographically part of this island). It's been a little more than four months since I saw the plant and those first associations threw me off the trail for a while. Searching for a specific horsetail or sedum proved fruitless and it was only when reading up on plants of salt marsh communities that I discovered the right trail for ID'ing this plant. My best guess at this point it that it is Salicornia bigelovii, also known as Dwarf Glasswort. If you'd like to read more, here's a botanist's take on the plant. It's early February and a long time until I might meet up with this plant again, but next time round, I'll be armed with a little more info about it.

The habitat where it was found

Glasswort or Salicornia (perhaps bigelovii)

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

In Your Time

If you wait for spring on the calendar this year, you just might miss it. February can be a brutal month, but this year it opens with balm and blooms. I don't panic about unusual seasonal patterns anymore because I've come to understand that you really have no choice but to live in your own time and make your way in the world as you find it. This warm weather makes me wish that I had a cold frame going this winter with some cool season vegetables, so that I might reap the benefits. Now that might sound callous in a way, but on the other hand, it might be just my way of thinking about adapting.