Brooms for sale in a Tbilisi market.

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The Gowanus Canal is a 1.5 mile long man-made waterway in Brooklyn. The canal was originally built in the mid 1800’s for barges, and the surrounding land was used for various industrial activities.
Today, parts of the land are used for heavy industrial undertakings, some for light industrial use and some of the area along the canal is mostly residential.

The Gowanus canal has been cited by the EPA as one of the most contaminated bodies of water in the country and currently a large scale effort is being made to clean it up.

If you want to read more about the clean up efforts all you have to do is an internet search for Gowanus Canal and clean up. There is tons of information out there. What I want to write about is something I found a lot more interesting. (Although don’t get me wrong. As someone who lived in NYC for 12 years, 6 of those in Brooklyn, I am thrilled about the clean up process.)

What I want to write about is Sweep, which I read about on Urban Garden’s web site.

Sweep was started by Christina Kelly and Jeff Hutchison who run Husk in Brooklyn. The two met when Christina was growing corn and Jeff was drawing plants in CAD. They found they had a common fascination for the history of Brooklyn agriculture and decided to stat Husk.

At Husk the two work as a duo on multi-platform projects that explore the agricultural histories and possibilities of New York City.

Sweep, one of their current projects, focuses on the Gowanus Canal. With funding from the Brooklyn Arts Council and Feast, and the go ahead from the Gowanus Canal Conservatory, the steward for the site, Jeff and Christina planted a terraced garden of Broomcorn which was used to make brooms before synthetic materials took it’s place. They even brought in a broom maker from the  Catskill Mountain Broomworks, a company that sells brooms made out of Broomcorn, to give a broom making workshop.

Jeff and Christina hope the garden and the broom making will bring attention to the efforts being made to clean up the Gowanus area and help restore it to it’s original state.

English: Broom

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A special thank you to Tim Matsui for letting us use his photographs in this post.

My school, Colby College, had Jan Plan. Jan Plan was great. For one month in between semesters you could do just about anything you wanted as long as you learned something. You could take a class somewhere else, learn to play the guitar, or go on a school-sponsored trip to London to study theater.

One year I went on an Earthwatch trip to Montserrat in the West Indies. Originally it was supposed to be an architectural dig but hurricane Hugo put the kibosh on that, so Earthwatch turned the trip into a hurricane relief project and asked all who had signed up if we still wanted to go. We all did.

In the main town of Montserrat, Plymouth, there had been a very old tree that marked the unofficial town gathering spot. People would meet there during the day as they went along their daily routines and at night to socialize.

The hurricane demolished the tree but people still gathered around the spot where it had been. To them this was a social routine that was not going to end because the tree was gone.

The Pomegranate Center, founded in 1986 by artist and community organizer Milenko Matanovic, is dedicated to working with communities to create public gathering places. The people of the Pomegranate Center believe their, “… time tested approach to public space building creates a foundation for healthy community development and can be a critical first step in bringing communities together to work for a healthier, more sustainable future.”

Recently the Pomegranate center completed a project in Sumner, WA that turned an alleyway into a community space.

To the left is a picture of the alley before any work was done. Not very inviting or practical as a community space.

But with hard work from Pomegranate staff members and the community this alley was transformed into the beautiful space you see below.

But with hard work from Pomegranate staff members and the community this alley was transformed into the beautiful space you see here.

An uncapping fork

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It’s amazing how a manual or how to book can turn you off a potential new past time or turn you into an aficionado. I never thought I would consider keeping bees, EVER, until I read Kristina Mercedes Urquhart‘s well written article in the March/April issue of Urban Farm magazine.

In her piece, Kristina covers everything from why you should not wear velvet around your bees, the right gloves to buy and why you shouldn’t eat bananas before you go to the hive. (No Joke)

And although Kristina keeps bees in the mountains of North Carolina, it is more than possible to keep bees in a city backyard. In fact, there are two companies that make kits specifically for that purpose.

The first is Omlet (which also makes urban chicken coops.) The Beehaus, Omlet’s hive can be seen here. They sell the hive and all the accoutrements you need to get honey from your bees including protective gear and instructional information.

The second is Philips. While most of us associate the Philips Company with rather mundane items such as lightbulbs, razors and toothbrushes they have developed a very stylish modern looking beehive that can be seen here.

While I was living in New York I had the honor of serving on the board of the Brooklyn Queens Land Trust; a consortium of 37 community gardens bought by the Trust for Public Land when the current mayor threatened to sell the gardens to developers.

Recently, The Trust for Public Land released control of 32 of the 37 gardens to the Land Trust making Brooklyn Queens Land Trust the largest urban land trust in the country.

Please visit BQLT’s web site. It is still a work in progress but in the future they will have many resources for urban community gardens, as well as more information about what they are up to.

Having been a part of the organization myself I can tell you this is a great accomplishment that was made possible by the hard work of many dedicated people.

Redefine Your Idea Of Lawn

February 24, 2012

When I was working in Brooklyn a lot of my clients had young kids and many would say the same thing to me, ‘I want something low maintenance. I’d love to have a lawn for my kids and some roses.’

Let me explain why these things are mutually exclusive. First of all we’ll talk about the roses. Most roses don’t like high humidity or stagnant air, two things Brooklyn is full of. I’m not saying you can’t grow beautiful roses in Brooklyn, The Brooklyn Botanic Garden does, but they are not low maintenance. Second, they have thorns. Kids are, by nature, curious. You can see where this could lead to a trip to the hospital.

Lawns. By lawns most people mean some kind of turf grass that is either seeded or put down as sod. A lawn requires a tremendous amount of work. Here, in a nutshell, is why. The vast majority of perennials, which includes grasses, has a natural life-cycle. It starts out as a seed, grows (hopefully) into a seedling and then into a full-fledged plant. It blooms, develops its own seeds which it drops and then goes into a resting period we call dormancy, although dormancy can take different forms with different types of plants.

Now, imagine you planted a perennial bed and every time it got to be a few inches tall you mowed it down. That’s what a lawn is. Every time those plants get to be 2 or 3 inches tall you mow them down and they have to start all over again. This is why turf lawns require so much water and so many nutrients.

My solution for people who wanted an area in their yard where their kids could crawl around or play but didn’t want the hassle or environmental drawbacks of having a turf lawn was to install what I call an Alternative Lawn. For sunny yards certain species of Thyme work very well; although it is important to choose the right kind. I’ve experimented and some varieties do not work but some work marvelously. My dad has two Malamutes – the male is 90 pounds – who roughhouse on the Thyme lawn I installed on their property. After three years it is holding up just fine. There are other options for less sunny locations and even areas in full shade.

If you are not ready to completely forgo your turf lawn there is a lot of good information out there about how to shrink your lawn or plant a native lawn. The Lawn Reform Coalition is a great resource. One of their founders, Evelyn Hadden, has just released a book called Beautiful No Mow Yards which has received rave reviews.

CInder Block Vertical Wall Planter


I found this Vertical Wall on Urban Garden‘s site and chose it for the first Once a Week post because, well, not only do I love it, but it is made from cinder blocks which can often be found at construction sites; it is easy to build; won’t cost a fortune and is cool looking but not so hip it will make the rest of your garden look immediately out dated.

Zac Benson built the wall (and took the beautiful photographs of it) in his California home. He is a succulent collector and felt this would be a great way to display them.

You can read the full article here which has instructions on how to build it but it’s not that difficult. Plus, with this design you can start small and add on; either up or out.

The Congress for New Urbanism

February 19, 2012

At Resolution Gardens, which is located here in Austin, I read about The Congress for New Urbanism which had a post about the Partnership for Sustainable Communities which I posted about yesterday. Got all that?

CNU touts itself as “the leading organization promoting walkable, mixed-use neighborhood development, sustainable communities and healthier living conditions.” Co-founders include Peter Calthorpe, Elizabeth Moule, Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, Stephanos Polyzoides and Dan Solomon all people with a wealth of experience developing sustainable communities. This organization has some real potential to do good.

Also read about this good news at the CNU website Obama Administration Releases 2013 Budget, Protects Partnership for Sustainable Communities.

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