Celebrate NYC Honey Week!

You may not see them, but they’re there: buzzing wooden boxes dotting rooftops and backyards throughout New York City. The city’s official records say there are a total of 261 beehives being maintained in the Big Apple, but many associated with the urban beekeeping movement estimate that there are at least twice that many.

NYER090814_2Now, there’s a week-long citywide festival celebrating the honeybee—and it starts today. With events ranging from the entertaining to the educational, NYC Honey Week is an attempt to raise awareness about the decline of honeybees, and emphasize just how critical the pollinators are to our own survival. It doesn’t hurt that they produce a sticky sweet food product, too.

Buzzing from borough to borough, the festival offers beekeeping classes, honey-themed dinners, apiary tours, honey tastings, and kids’ workshops. Things culminate in a daylong Honey Fest at Rockaway Boardwalk on Saturday, September 13. The event is free and family-friendly, and will feature art, food, music, kids’ activities, crafts, the “Bee Marketplace,” and, of course, honey.

You can find a full listing of events here.

Home on the Grange

Brooklyn Grange. Photo credit: Gonzlaught/Creative Commons

NYC Honey Week is the brainchild of Brooklyn Grange managing partner Chase Emmons. Emmons, who has been keeping bees for about 10 years, says that when New York City re-legalized beekeeping in 2010, it coincided perfectly with the boom in the urban agriculture movement.

“Portland has their backyard chickens; New York City needed something a bit more edgy,” Emmons told Metro New York.

Brooklyn Grange manages rooftop farms in Brooklyn and Long Island City, as well as a program called Brooklyn Grange Bees. Since its inception, this urban apiary has grown from a single hive atop the Grange’s flagship farm in Long Island City to more than 40 hives on rooftops in the Bronx, Queens, Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Jersey City, NJ.

Losing Ground

Honecomb. Photo credit: julochka/Creative Commons
Honecomb. Photo credit: julochka/Creative Commons

Worldwide, honeybee populations are experiencing a speedy and serious decline due to a scourge known as Colony Collapse Disorder. This poses an enormous threat to our food supply; one third of our food, directly or indirectly, benefits from honeybee pollination according to the US Department of Agriculture, and honeybees enable the production of at least 90 commercially grown crops in the US.

In June, President Obama launched a taskforce to protect the honeybee. The White House is investing $50m into research and action to stem the decline, improve habitats and promote better education around the issue.

Environmental groups have also filed a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency to restrict the approval of a controversial class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids, or ‘neonics’. These pesticides have become a subject of scrutiny in Europe and the U.S. as concern has mounted that they harm honeybees and other pollinators. Canada has recently filed for a similar ban.

While the 261—or even 522—hives in New York City may not stem the decline of honeybees completely, they are an important part of the beekeeping movement, and a critical contribution to New York City’s urban food system.



GrowNYC Helps Urban Gardens Prepare for Climate Change

Is your garden prepared for climate change? Are your hyacinths ready for a heat wave? Is your fig tree ready for a flood? These are the questions GrowNYC is posing to gardeners across New York City this year—and chances are, the answers are “No, no, and no.”

A new manual released by the nonprofit could change that, though, by providing gardeners and greenspace managers with simple strategies to prepare for more severe weather incidents.

The Resilient NYC Community Garden Guide is a practical manual that details easy ways to make your garden or greenspace more resilient, including step-by-step guidelines to minimizing storm damage.

Learning from Sandy

Photo credit: GrowNYC
Photo credit: GrowNYC

In 2012, Superstorm Sandy showed us, in the most straightforward way, our region’s immense vulnerabilities when it comes to climate change. It also gave us a glimpse of what is to come: more severe weather events, frequent flooding, higher temperatures, and less predictable outcomes.

In fact, these changes are already happening: just last month, New York City received nearly five inches of rain in a single day. As our region begins to tackle the infrastructure needed to handle these changes, GrowNYC is making sure we don’t leave our greenspaces and urban gardens behind.

Lenny Librizzi, GrowNYC’s assistant director of open space greening, remembers the impact of Sandy well. “Around 25 community gardens were damaged in some way by Superstorm Sandy. A number of them had large trees come down causing extensive damage. Others were completely flooded by the ocean or the East River.”

And while GrowNYC was awarded funding to help these gardens recover—through soil replacement, raised bed installation, debris removal, and other repairs—Librizzi hopes that in the future, with the help of their new guide, that won’t be necessary.

A Guide for the Future

Photo credit: GrowNYC
Photo credit: GrowNYC

The 15-page guide is meant to provide practical, approachable advice to gardeners of all kinds—backyard, community, and beyond. It provides preventative steps, like pruning, rainwater collection, and infrastructure enhancements, that can enable a garden to withstand the winds, rain, drought, and snow that come with a changing climate.

The pages are filled with illustrations, diagrams, and photographs that make it easy, even for gardening novices, to take steps towards resiliency. The end of the booklet also contains pre- and post-storm checklists that are designed to keep gardeners safe and healthy.

Resilient NYC Community Garden Guide
Resilient NYC Community Garden Guide

GrowNYC has distributed more than 1,000 copies of the guide to NYC community gardeners at gatherings, workshops and plant sales. The guide is also available online.

If you’d like to see some of these resiliency strategies in action, Librizzi recommends the following:

  • Campos Community Garden on the Lower East Side, where gardeners replaced wooden raised beds with recycled plastic lumber, which is less likely to be displaced by flooding and can be reused after floods.
  • College Avenue Community Garden in the Bronx, where GrowNYC has helped prune dead and damaged branches on trees and added dwarf fruit trees which will not grow as tall as standard varieties and therefore be less likely to be damaged by wind. This garden also repurposed many of the downed limbs into rustic structures in the garden.
  • Santos White Community Garden in Coney Island, which received a new shade structure that incorporates rainwater harvesting as a way to mitigate damage from heavy rains.


Urban Gardeners in NYC: Test Your Soil!

In just a few months, community gardens throughout New York City will once again become bountiful sources of fresh local produce for residents: ripe, red tomatoes, lush salad greens, crunchy radishes.

Unfortunately as it turns out, many of those same gardens are also rich sources of lead, arsenic, and other pollutants.

According to an article in the NY Post,

The data come from a first-of-its-kind soil-contaminant study by scientists from the state Center for Environmental Health published in the journal Environmental Pollution earlier this year.

Scientists found lead levels above federal guidelines at 24 of 54 city gardens, or 44 percent of the total. And overall, they found toxic soil at 38 gardens — 70 percent of the total. But the study did not reveal the locations or names of the gardens, and officials were mum, prompting The Post’s March FOIL request.

The worst single soil sample was found in The Bronx at Bryant Hill Garden — where lead was detected at 1531 ppm, new documents revealed.

The federal threshold for lead and arsenic is 400ppm and 16ppm, respectively.

Lead in soil is not just a legacy of lead paint, though gardens located near any structure built before 1978 (when lead-based paint was taken off the market) or near a demolition site are particularly at risk.

Leaded gasoline, plumbing, and pesticides have also contributed to high levels of the toxin in our soil, and while those are now outlawed, batteries and automotive parts still contain lead today.

Urban or rural, there are very few places that are immune.

What to Do?

The first step in making sure the fruits of your garden are healthy and safe is to test your soil! There are easy, affordable, and very accessible ways to go about this. The Brooklyn Botanic Garden has a great tip sheet that outlines exactly how to sample your soil and where to send it. For what it’s worth, NYER has had a good experience with Brooklyn College.

Once you know your levels, you can determine how to proceed. Maybe you can get right to planting, or perhaps soil remediation or replacement is required. Building raised beds is also an option for avoiding tainted soil altogether!

And as for the NYC gardens that showed high levels of lead? City Parks Department spokesman Phil Abramson said those gardens received clean soil after the study.