Building and Harvesting

It has been long overdue for us to announce that our project has officially been funded by 42 very generous backers!!  We have been VERY busy bees gathering bins, soils, plants, and various other little things to make our garden a reality, and we have all of you to thank for it.

Having said that, you’re probably wondering how the garden construction is going.  Needless to say, it’s certainly been a learning experience for all of us, and it hasn’t been without mistakes and roadblocks along the way.  To satiate your curiosity’s appetite, here are some pictures (with captions) of what we’ve been up to:

This is the glorious and stately beehive in it’s current incarnation.  We’ve been able to add two more “stories”, one for winter honey storage, and one for comb honey production.  The bees have been using the honey box for some larvae production as well, which definitely says something about the health of the colony.  Maybe next year we can have two hives!

This is an overall view of half of the garden as of earlier today.  The plants have really filled out their bins since we planted them a month ago.  On this side of the garden we have raspberries, blueberries, beach plums, some herbs and greens, and a whole lot of nectar flowers!

The other half of the garden – corn, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and melons.

Raspberries!

These have grown a whole lot since I took this picture.  At last count, we had NINE eggplants coming in!

A little veggie/herb bin – Kale, Swiss Chard, Lavender, Thyme and Chamomile

This was the last we saw of the Echinacea before it was choked out by the mint.  On the plus side, we did get a whole bunch of Echinacea seeds.

We have voted this bin as the one that did the best thus far (although it may be a tie with the eggplants).  That sedem ground cover that is flowing over the sides was taken out of a landscape as a weed, and took to the bins extremely well, as you can see.

Anton the beekeper, taming the bees with some campfire smelling wood pellets which are being burned in the smoker.  The bees, smelling the smoke, think their hive is on fire, and make a mad dash to guzzle up as much honey as they can, in case they have to relocate.  This makes it harder for them to fly around and sting.

Carefully prying a comb out…

Bees!

Clusters of bees!

Though our gardening experience has been fun and exciting, it has not been without hardship.  This bin was flooding every time it rained.  We eventually scrapped it all together, due to how weak the bin itself was, and are currently working on relocating the plants (tomatoes and asparagus) to other bins where we can fit them.

The blueberries (and a few other bins) had some flooding problems as well, which we remedied by cutting more holes near the water line.  We haven’t had many problems since then.

Then came Hurricane Irene.  To prepare, we moved all of the plants up against the building, and gave the hive a special rain coat and some extra weight.  Worked like a charm, and we had little to no damage throughout the garden.

And here is the fruit of our labor, our first honey harvest!!


So thanks again to anyone who helped us with our funding.  If you haven’t yet, you will be contacted shortly regarding the things you were promised for your donation, including the harvest party, which we will be having sometime in October, depending on when everything seems to be ready to harvest.

Thanks for stopping by!!

– The Hive Gardener and Beekeeper

What is a Sub-Irrigated Planter (SIP)?

For our garden plan, we have planned on using an overall irrigation strategy called sub-irrigated planters.  I’ve briefly mentioned what these are in the first post, but I’d like to further explain what these planters are and why we’ve chosen to use them.

Here is a diagram from www.insideurbangreen.com that shows each component of the system and how it functions:

The planters don’t have to be two buckets, it can be one closed container.  Here’s an overhead view of a bin style planter, very similar to the ones we will be using.  This one uses almost entirely recycled parts, as we hope to do:

For this version, all you do is cut the bottoms off of water bottles and stack them to make the fill tube, poke holes in the milk jugs, and the part that was not shown here, cut larger slots on the bottom of the milk jugs to allow for water to pass between them.  They’re incredibly easy to construct, and I can tell you first hand from my personal experience with them so far, they’re incredibly easy to work with.  We set up two planters on May 29th, and have only had to water them once or twice so far.  Any time I have checked the soil moisture, it’s always wet, but  never too wet.  Most importantly, the plants look really healthy so far.

There are a number of reasons we have chosen this method in particular.

The first reason is because none of us are engineers or roofers, and we are worried about the condition of the roof membrane, not wanting to damage it (more than it already is).  We would also like to be able to have the freedom to play with the layout and architecture of the garden pretty easily and frequently.  Because the planters are in individual plastic bins, and because the bins have curved edges, and are relatively light, both of these needs will be met, making the garden’s layout very flexible and modular, and having a very light and minimal impact on the roof membrane.

Another big reason we’ve chose this method is because we don’t have the money to spend on a complicated and expensive green roof system, and in the same vein, we would like all of our methods to be as accessible to the as many people as possible, both in terms of cost and availability of materials.  This means we would like to use as many cheap and easy to find components as we can, and where possible, as many recycled and re-purposed components as possible.  This system meets these needs because they can be built with a variety of cheap, recycled, and easily found components such as plastic bins, buckets, plastic bottles, milk jugs, old plant flats, and many other things if you use your imagination.

The final reason we’ve decided to go with sub-irrigation is because we would like to make our garden as self-sustaining as possible, requiring the least amount of labor and outside inputs as possible.  Sub-irrigation is able to meet this need because we will be able to integrate a rain barrel system that uses rain water catchment, and connect it to the bins, which will then all be connected to each other in a fully integrated system.  This system will be made possible with a solar powered water pump that will pump the water from our backyard to the roof, and will also include a timer, making it a “set it and forget it” way of ensuring our garden’s health.

So you don’t have to spend a ton of money or devote many hours a week caring for an urban garden.  If you know the right system (which you do now!), you can have fresh vegetables on your roof or balcony for very little money and effort!!

The Bees, the Planters, the Kickstarter, and more!!

Wow.  So much has happened since the last time I posted.  Where to start?  Do you want the good news first, or the bad news?  Let’s start with the bad news.

We got both of our heavy metal soil tests back, and the results were shocking.  Here’s what the levels were, in parts per million, for our backyard soil:

(Cr)  Chromium

64

(Co) Cobalt

9

(Ni) Nickel

28

(Cu) Copper

183

(Zn) Zinc

1002

(As)  Arsenic

14

(Cd) Cadmium

4.4

(Hg)  Mercury

4.3

(Pb) Lead

1639

Who remembers my last post where I cited information stating that lead levels over 300ppm should not be used for vegetable gardening?  Ours is over 5 times that.  We have some serious work to do if we ever want to make our soil safe to grow food on, which is an eventual goal.  My theory on where the super high lead levels are coming from is that the back fence, which is composed of extremely old painted metal store signs, have slowly been chipping off into the soil, which if true, means we have to get rid of the fence if we hope to stay truly lead free.  We also got our results back from some bags of free soil we found, which we were hoping would be less contaminated.  It did have acceptably low lead levels, but the levels of cadmium present were just above what I would feel comfortable with to allow it’s use.  We could use it for flower cultivation, but the data on accumulation of cadmium in pollen and nectar is iffy, and we don’t want to risk contaminating our honey.

Luckily, we have a few tricks up our sleeves that we are researching and planning on implementing once we have the funds; specifically, various forms of bioremediation, such as myco and phytoremediation, the details of which I will elaborate on in upcoming posts.  In short, we plan on dividing the yard into several plots, and trying out these various methods to see which works the best, but all with the eventual goal of making the soil clean and safe for food and flower production.

So that’s the bad news.  Now for the good news – the bees have finally arrived!!!!!!  After being pushed back a total of 3 times, AZ Apiaries posted on their website (www.azapiaries.com) that our finally truly official pick up date for our package of 30,000 bees was Sunday, May 29th.  Seeing as how we had yet to begin construction of the garden due to our obvious lack of funding, we were sort of starting to panic.  We took a tally of the total money we’ve had donated to us thus far from having small events at the hive, and used that to buy some good quality organic potting soil for two of the large tubs that were also donated to us, which we packed to the gills with flowering nectar plants.  Here’s a picture of the planters just after planting them, and the beehive minus the bees:

Not the most impressive set up, but it’s a start.  The plants are looking healthy overall, and will provide the bees with a very small amount of their needed nectar as different things start to flower throughout the season.  Once we have the sufficient funds to build this garden for real, hopefully the bees won’t have to forage at all, making the honey they produce almost entirely organic.

On to the final point, you may have noticed that throughout this post I’ve mentioned how much of a limiting factor money has been for us.  To try to remedy this limiting factor, we have officially launched our kickstarter campaign to try and truly get this project off the ground.  It will be running up until July 1, and has a goal set of $2,800 which would be just enough for us to construct stairs up to the roof (lugging soil, tubs, plants, water, a beehive, and 30,000 bees up a rickety ladder is not fun!!!), the rain catchment system, a large nectar garden for the bees, and a small to medium sized veggie garden.  If you’d like to contribute to making our garden a reality, you can do so hereEven if you only contribute a dollar, if we could get 2,800 people to do that, we’d meet our goal.  Please consider it, and thanks in advance!!

Until next time,

The Hive NYC

Soil Contamination

Considering our site is located in the heart of brooklyn, which is an obviously very developed and urban area, it is crucial that we check the soil for heavy metal, lead, or other contamination.  We have brought a soil sample from our backyard to Brooklyn College’s soil testing lab, and are awaiting the results with bated breath.

In the mean time, I’ve been looking into some possible steps of remediation we can take once we find out what exactly our soil is contaminated with.  Better safe than sorry.

The first thing I came across was this write up from the University of Minnesota:

http://www.extension.umn.edu/distribution/horticulture/DG2543.html

Of particular interest was the following:

“To minimize absorption of lead by plants a number of control measures may be taken:

  1. Maintain soil pH levels above 6.5. Lead is relatively unavailable to plants when the soil pH is above this level. If needed, add lime according to soil test recommendation. Lead is also less available when soil phosphorus tests are high. For information about obtaining a routine soil test, contact your local Extension office.
  2. Add organic matter to your soil. In soils with high lead levels, adding one-third by volume organic matter will significantly reduce lead availability. Organic compounds bind lead and make it less available to the plant. When adding organic matter, the pH should also be maintained above 6.5. Good sources of organic matter include composted leaves, neutral (non-acid) peat, and well-rotted manure. Avoid leaf mulch obtained along highways or city streets as it may contain higher than normal lead levels.
  3. Locate your garden as far away from busy streets or highways and older buildings as possible.
  4. Because of the possibility of bare soil exposure to children through hand to mouth activity, soils with lead levels exceeding 100 ppm should not be used for gardening. If soil exposure to children is not a concern, then plants can be safely eaten from soils with soil lead levels up to 300 ppm.”

So that’s interesting.  Basically all we have to do to ensure the least amount of lead exposure, if it’s there, is to maintain the right pH, add organic matter, and keep the kids from eating the dirt.  Not a problem!

The next minute, a light bulb went off in my head, and I immediately grabbed my copy of Mycelium Running by Paul Stamets, an incredibly useful and interesting book which talks about so many of the recently discovered wonderfully useful properties of the fungi kingdom, including mycopesticides, mycoforestry, and the topic relevant to our discussion, mycoremediation.  According to Mycelium Running, mycoremdiation is “the use of fungi to degrade or remove toxins from the environment.”

Outlined in this book are methods of using mushrooms to treat contaminated soils, containing tables with which mushrooms cleanse the soils of what contaminants, and in what concentration.  Some are more effective at certain compounds than other.  One particularly interesting case study was the use of oyster mushrooms to treat petroleum contaminated soil.  This method was compared against other chemical and biological methods of remediation.  At the end of it, the mushroom pile had reduced the hydrocarbons from 20,000 to 200 ppm. The book also outlines a number of cultivation methods, mostly on the beginner level and very easy to understand.

So so far, our option for treating our soils is first, the use of mushrooms, mixed into the soil, and once the mushrooms have fruited, removing them and second, putting in only fruiting plants, such as apples and berries, and planting the herb and salad garden in containers with soil of a known origin and free of contaminants.

So overall, it doesn’t look like it would be too much work to free our soils.  Hopefully our soil tests will come back as safe for all plant growth, but if not, at least now we know what steps we will have to take to make it useable.

Until next time!

Build It Green! NYC

Time for an update!! 

First, I managed to get some better pictures of the backyard. 

Garden Entrance
Here’s how the garden looks when you first walk out the door.
Storage/Compost Area
Storage area for now. To the right where that table is, is where the compost bin will go. Right next to the door for easy access.
Chill Spot
Nice little hang out area in the corner.
Ugly Tree
This is the sad looking Sophora japonica that resides in the corner next to the hang out spot. I’m personally a proponent of removing it entirely so as to give the backyard a bit more much needed light, but as a quick and temporary fix, we could prune back its dead spots and hope it survives. It doesn’t look very healthy overall though, and has many watersprouts growing from it’s trunk, which is a sign of stress.

Don’t get too attached though, it won’t look like this for long, as we have developed a better layout plan.  We have created a Dynascape drawing of it, which will be posted for your viewing pleasure sometime next week.

One last thing in the pictures department:

Chicks
A good sign for the strength of the local bird populations, there was a mourning dove who laid some eggs up in one of the window sills. The baby has since hatched and flown off, but it’s good to see that the local bird population is thriving.

And now for a status update:

Yesterday, Isaac and Brian went to this great place called Build It Green! NYC.  Build It Green! NYC is a non-profit retail store that reclaims materials from demolition sites and sells them at half the regular price if they were new.  They have a featured items section on their website, so you can see some of the best stuff they have right now.  Here’s some of the fantastic things they’ve done:

  • Kept 450 tons of building materials of out the landfill.
  • Provided $250,000 of material support to other non-profit and arts organizations.
  • Saved New Yorkers nearly $1 million on purchases.
  • Provided a site for 120 green collar trainees in partnership with CWE.

 So, Isaac and Brian went there to get lumber to build the stairs up to the roof.  Once that happens, we’ll be able to lug our creations up to the roof to bring life to a formerly dead landscape.  I feel like Dr. Frankenstein. 

We have also constructed a dual chambered compost bin, based on a plan available for free on the internet.  I will update when I have pictures and when I find out where our plan was from exactly, but here’s a great site with at least 15 different plans for DIY compost bins.


http://www.mybackyardplans.com/compostbins.php

We also treated our bin with chemical sensitive, low VOC wood sealer, which means no harmful or toxic chemicals will leak into our compost, but the wood won’t decay!

So we’re hoping to get the stairs assembled within the next week, and then we can assemble the bins and get them filled with flowers to prepare for the arrival of the bees, which is May 7th – just two weeks away!  We have a lot to do in not a lot of time…wish us luck!

Your Friends,

Planning time!

The Hive space has been lucky enough to have a really cool landlord who is open to the idea of planting on the roof, as long as we show him the plans before hand.  So we’ve been busy busy busy with planning, collecting information, getting input from all the members involved, and trying to recruit knowledgeable parties who would like to help out.  Due to the fact that none of us have ever done anything like this before, it’s been an interesting process, and one that I’m sure will get all the more interesting as time goes on.

Well, here in Brooklyn, the frost free date is April 10th.  Since that’s about a week away, we’re kind of stressing about getting the garden installed in time; but then zen kicks in, and we remember that everything always seems to work out around here, and even if we end up installing the garden a week or two late, it’s no biggie.  So here’s where we’re at right now:

The roof

We are hoping to get an engineer analyze the structural stability and possible damage to the membrane, either already existent, or what we should do to avoid damage upon installation.

In terms of placement of the garden, we were thinking the front half, anything beyond the skylight, would be used for rain catchment, since there are no walls in that half of the interior, making that half very unstable, and the actual garden itself would be placed roughly even with the skylight and back, where walls do exist inside.  A schematic of the proposed plan I’ve drawn up will be posted soon.

Yard

We’ve been blessed enough to have a small yard area, with a wonderful patio and two beds, one large and one small:

There’s an old abandoned store front directly behind us.  We had jokingly been wondering if it would be possible to turn it into a cafe.  We’ll see.

We have since tidied things up, and intend on making them even more tidy in the near future.  The plants that you can barely see in these pictures are a Euonymus vine, english ivy, and sophora japonica.  I’m pushing to have them all removed and turned into mulch, since they’re not very useful and in quite bad shape due to neglectful pruning, not to mention that I know we could plant some much more useful and beautiful native fruit and nut bearing plants.  Also, the soil could use some sort of organic matter covering as well as amendment.  Speaking of the soil, we are having a soil test done to check for nutrient levels, organic matter content, pH, and most importantly, possible contaminants.  It’s an urban site, so we’re expecting the worst.  But no need to worry, members of our group are big into bio- and myco-remediation, so in the event we do find contaminants, it will be exciting to see nature work her magic at making the soil safe again.

We also hope to build a deck with stairs to gain better access to the roof.  As you can see, there is no real stairs to get up, just a small and very unstable ladder.

Water

As mentioned, we were thinking of using the front half of the roof for water catchment.  How we were thinking of doing this is rigging up a tarp (eventually a more sturdy tin roof sort of arrangement, perhaps with green roof planting for filtration ), angled slightly, with a diversion pipe attached which would then be directed into the backyard into rain barrels.  We currently have at least 4 rain barrels that we have been assured of, 3-5 donated by a private party and one through the city rain barrel program:

http://www.nyc.gov/html/dep/html/stormwater/rainbarrel.shtml

In terms of getting the water onto the roof, we are going to be testing out a pump system to pump the water up.  Eventually, we would like to have the pump powered by a small solar panel, but until we can afford that, we’ll have to settle for on the grid electric.

The water will then be pumped into our sub-irrigated planters.  It’s still up in the air whether we will be linking them together in a giant chain watered planter system, or if we will be manually watering them.  Like most everything else, we’ll likely start out simple, and get more complex when we have the time and money.  Which brings us to our next aspect of the garden.

Planters

We intend on using a special planter called sub-irrigated planters, or SIPs for short.  Here’s a picture of one, showing it’s insides and how they work:

This is a schematic view of an earthbox, a commercial version of what we intend on making ourselves from salvaged and bought materials.  All you need to make one yourself is a plastic bin, which can be anything from plastic tubs to peanut oil jugs to regular 5 gallon buckets, and anything in between, something to make a water reservoir, a tube to fill the reservoir, which can be made out of various salvaged materials, soil, and something to fertilize the soil, which can be either commercial organic fertilizer, compost or manure,  which should be mixed in at the beginning, or compost tea, which can be added to the water reservoir, but will have to be continuously added throughout the season to keep feeding.  We intend on using a mix of both compost/manure mixed in and compost tea feeding throughout the season.

Here’s a picture of a home made, super simple version of a SIP, courtesy of Bob Hyland of Inside Urban Green:

And here’s another pretty similar model, currently installed and in use at PS 39 in park slope thanks to Freida Lim, who has worked closely with Bob in the past.  Notice the re-purposed pallets used to make the raised bin holders:

Instead of bottles for the reservoirs, they used perforated irrigation piping, giving it a much more neat look, and probably better overall functionality:

What we plan on using for our reservoir, at least at first, is plant flats.  My job is getting rid of hundreds of them, so we have access to a steady and free supply:

Plants

We have lots of plants on the way, both already started, and still in their seed packets.  We’ve been lucky enough to have some friends donate some seeds to Isaac, and Jason is looking into getting a whole bunch donated as well.  We do have a pretty substantial seed reserve already though, ordered from Fedco seeds.  53 varieties in total.  Here’s some pictures of what we have started already:

Lovage

Front – Anise Hyssop, Back – Wild Bergamot

Ho Chi Minh Peppers

Chicory

The whole setup:

 

So that’s where we’re at currently.  Stay tuned for more updates as things start to warm up!

 

– Rob