Article (Book Announcement): Eco-Friendly Living [and Gardening] in New York City

Science & the City announced that another Brooklynite, Ben Jervey, has just published a book, "The Big Green Apple: Your Guide to Eco-Friendly Living in New York City." He's also launched a Web site, Green Apple Guide, in association with the book.

The opening to the book's preface:

Right now, right here in New York City, somebody is cultivating a garden. [And how!] Around the corner, somebody is pocketing their car keys and hopping onto a bicycle. In some nearby kitchen, locally grown, organic produce is being kept cool in a refrigerator plugged into wind power energy. Somewhere in New York City, a street tree is being cared for by a concerned local resident, while a sanitation worker on the street adjacent is dutifully keeping the recyclable paper and plastics separate.

Although difficult for many to believe, all over the city of New York, acts of sustainable, low-impact living are being performed by a hearty bunch of citizens who recognize the inflexible connection between the quality of life in a place and the attitudes and lifestyle decisions made by those who live there.

The article presents five tips:

  1. Change your light bulbs
  2. Order a home water conservation kit from the
  3. Join a community-sponsored agriculture group
  4. Choose your own energy source
  5. Reduce, reuse, recycle - in that order!
- Eco-Friendly Living in New York City, Science & the City, June 19, 2006

Tips 2 and 5 are of particular relevance to gardening. Item 3 is also of interest.

Tip #2: Reduce water use. Now that we own our own home instead of renting an apartment, we see the water bill, which means we have some idea of how much water we're using. I conserve water in the garden in several ways:

  • Choose plants appropriate for the site, conditions, and climate. Native plants (appropriately sited) and drought-tolerant plants will need less water than others. Plants in sunny areas, containers, or exposed to extra heat from pavement, walls and other structures, will need more water. A rooftop garden, for example, is essentially a desert; choose and plant appropriately.
  • Increase the amount of organic material, such as compost, in the soil. Organic material provides several water-related benefits, including absorbing and retaining water, reducing runoff by allowing water to penetrate the surface of the soil, and improving the soil structure to allow roots to run more deeply and widely, increasing the ability of plants to reach the moisture they need.
  • When gardening in containers, use non-porous containers (I don't always do this, but I'm mindful of it) and amend the soil with water-retentive materials such as compost or hydrogel.
  • Mulch to reduce surface runoff and evaporation.
  • Water only when needed. If the soil is moist below the surface, it doesn't need water (yet). Group plants with similar moisture requirements together, so you can water them at the same time.
  • When extra water is needed, water in the morning (ideally) before the sun is fully up, or in late afternoon or early evening, as the sun is going down.
  • Water at or below the mulch or surface of the soil. A sprinkler loses more water to evaporation, in the air and from leaves, than hand watering at the surface. Soaker hoses reduce evaporation even more, since they can be placed on or below the mulch or soil surface. For containers, drip irrigation systems can achieve the same result. I haven't used either of these, but my neighbor uses soaker hoses, and I hardly ever see any water runoff. The only way I know they're watering is from the sound of the water passing through their faucet! I'm hoping to invest in a soaker system, possibly next year, when I have a better idea of how the beds will be arranged.
  • Collect rainwater for garden watering. Again, I haven't had the opportunity to try this before. Now that we have a house, it's a possibility.

Tip #5: Reduce, reuse, recycle. There are numerous opportunitiess to reduce consumption in the garden:

  • Apply organic growing techniques to reduce the use of fertilizers, pesticides and other chemicals in the garden.
  • Reduce or eliminate areas devoted to lawn and turf.
  • Grow some of our own vegetables and fruits to reduce the need to transport them long distances to supermarkets and our homes (the "Victory garden").
  • Select native and heirloom plants and vegetables which we can propagate from year to year instead of having to purchase new seed, plants and bulbs each year.
  • Replace gas-powered tools with electric ones, and powered tools with hand tools.

We can reuse materials throughout the garden:

  • Broken pots can be used as decorations, and pot shards can be used in the bottoms of pots to control drainage.
  • Other artifacts can be reused in the garden as containers and decorations. One of our neighbors has an old radiator spread out as a fan and used as a decoration in their front yard!
  • Old, misshapen or imperfect brick and other building materials which can't be used for construction can be used as pavers, stepping stones, edging and so on in the garden.
  • Propagating plants, and giving them away to others, is the ultimate reuse.

Finally, in the garden, composting is the ideal recycling technique. Yard waste such as shrub trimmings and tree prunings can be chipped and shredded. Grass clippings which are not left on the lawn are prized ingredients in compost. Fall leaves, spring cleanup trimmings and summer weeds (which have not gone to seed) go into the compost heap. Kitchen scraps (excluding meat, fat and bones) can be added to the compost as well.


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