Worms live in soil. What else do they do? As twenty-three fourth grade students learned on April 9, they poop out compost!

Students from the Young Scholars’ Academy for Discovery and Exploration (PS636) didn’t just learn about worm poop on this windy spring day. They played with it! After Director of Education Programs Christine Petro gave a brief history of the Gowanus Canal, the energetic 9-year-olds incorporated food scraps into a compost windrow, sifted compost, and cared for nursery plants. In-between all of the work was playtime with the hundreds of worms buried under our compost piles.

“I found a worm!” one student shouted. As two classmates leaned over to look, two others passed by with a wheelbarrow of fresh mulch to be delivered to the nursery. After a few seconds, the worm wrangler chucked his new friend into a compost pile and continued to build the compost windrow.

Worms weren’t just something to ogle at for these energetic kids. “Worms poop out compost,” a student recanted while shoveling mulch. “It’s good for the plants.” Worms, compost and the outdoors aren’t just the stuff of after-school playground games. As the Young Scholars experienced, the foundations of environmental science can be taken from something as simple as a natural love for things that live in the dirt.

Program Manager Natasia Sidarta teaches a lesson on composting.

Program Manager Natasia Sidarta gives a lesson on composting and windrow turning. Photo provided by One To World

Collecting mulch to plant in the nursery.

Collecting mulch to plant in the nursery. Photo provided by One To World

Posing in front of the sifting table!

Posing in front of the sifting table!

To find out more about the program that brought PS636 and the Conservancy together, please visit One To World’s website.

For more information on School Clean & Greens and the Conservancy’s education programs, check out our Education page.



It was an amazing night.

After two and a half months of intensive planning, collecting $30,000 in sponsorships, and selling out to a crowd of over 300 people, AntiFreeze 2014 proved to be the Conservancy’s most successful winter fundraiser to date. With live performances by Aabaraki and Trixie Whitley, a wealth of silent auction items, food catered by Lot 2, Brooklyn Brine Co. and Whole Foods, and beer lovingly provided by Brooklyn Brewery, how could it have gone any differently?

True to the fundraiser’s new name, the midday snow shower did not deter guests from the corner of Bond St. and Degraw, where Ray Smith Studio opened its doors to an early VIP reception at 6 PM. Among these early guests included community leaders such as Borough President Eric Adams and Craig Hammerman, district manager of Brooklyn Community Board 6, as well as Comptroller Scott Stringer and Congresswoman Nydia Velasquez. At 7 PM, AntiFreeze officially opened its doors, and guests flooded in through the main door to escape the snowfall that lasted into the evening and found refuge in the relative warmth of the studio provided by a few powerful heaters reminiscent of jet engines.

Conservancy Executive Director Hans Hesselein kicked off the party with a great speech.

Hans joined by Borough President Adams, GCC Board Chairman Andrew Simons, and GCC Board Member Ted Wolff, Esq.

Guests followed up their dinner with the smooth sounds of Aabaraki, and as the party moved into the night, Trixie Whitley shared her strong voice and mellow melodies with a very enthusiastic crowd. Twenty-five of our donated silent auction items found homes at the end of the night, including Miska Draskoczy’s Egret, a piece displayed on the New Yorker!

As with many of the Conservancy’s major events, the major force behind the party was its volunteers. Twenty-six volunteers donated their Saturday nights to ensure that AntiFreeze ran smoothly, from set-up to check-in, collecting Silent Auction prizes, and selling ever-popular beer tickets. The Conservancy would like to extend its thanks to all of our volunteers – the show couldn’t have gone on without you!

There’s not much more we can say about this party unless you were there, and if you were there, you know exactly how it all went. For those that weren’t able to make it, let these pictures tell the rest of the story!

Setting up the sound.

Trixie’s sound check.

Volunteers help set up.

Mannequin strikes a pose wearing a jacket donated to our silent auction by Patagonia.

A beautiful painting of a street tree donated by Jessica Dalrymple is hung for display next to a series of photos by Patrick Schnell. All four auction prizes found homes that night.


…and after.

Aabaraki works the crowd!

Enjoying that Brooklyn Brew!

Board Chair Andrew Simons chats with a crowd.

Bunch of cool people.

Trixie lights up the stage. It’s a black and white photo, but we assure you that she did indeed light it up.

It was as fun as the pictures show, and more. If you couldn’t make it this year, look forward to next year’s fourth annual winter fundraiser! Everything the Conservancy does will only get better from here.

AntiFreeze 2014 was sponsored by:


New York City’s 2014 began with a great snowstorm. The Conservancy’s 2014, however, began under a warm winter sun that welcomed volunteers, members and staff back to the Salt Lot for the first time since December 22′s Composting Gowanus event. The warmth presided over what became a productive day of service centered around the collection and mulching of discarded Christmas trees around the watershed – Mulchfest!

With the assistance of our sponsors Arborpolitan and Urban Arborists, volunteers collected 460 trees and turned it into mulch. Meanwhile, our younger volunteers worked to sift .5 cubic yards of compost, while our tree stewards pruned 4 street trees and returned 100 lbs of pruned material back to the Salt Lot.

After the majority of our 26 volunteers assisted in turning our November and December windrows, the newly harvested mulch was spread around the compost area and on top of our windrows. Volunteers left the Salt Lot not with the all-too familiar smell of compost, but with the fresh piney smell of Christmas morning in their noses.

On this sunny day, hundreds of discarded trees helped breathe back life into the Salt Lot after the snowstorm that delayed Mulchfest for one week. January 12 was the perfect day  to beautify the Salt Lot just before the chilling polar vortex and its snowstorms descended upon Gowanus for the rest of the month.

Arborpolitan unloads the trees they collected.

Volunteer Committee Compost Co-Chair John Craver and Director of Education Programs Christine Petro biked around the neighborhood collecting trees!

John diligently binding the trees together so they don’t roll off the wagons.

Volunteers loaded up collected trees onto Urban Arborists’ truck…

…where they were ferried to the far end of the Salt Lot to be turned into mulch.

The fresh mulch was brought back to the main work area, where it was spread over the deep, muddy puddles formed after the snowstorm that kicked off the year.

Busy at work!

Volunteer Markley Boyer walks across the freshly placed green mulch.

Interested in volunteering at the Salt Lot before Clean & Green kicks off in March? E-mail volunteer@gowanuscanalconservancy.org and ask for opportunities such as weekly windrow turns!

Over 60 volunteers joined the Conservancy during our Clean & Green on November 16. Among the volunteers that joined us on this unexpectedly bright and sunny day were groups from Con-Edison, St. John’s University, and a group of Georgia Tech alumni from the New York/New Jersey area. During this year’s final Clean & Green, volunteers assisted in garden stewardship, street tree stewardship, and windrow turning.

Garden Stewardship

The bulk of our volunteers participated in assisting with the stewardship of our gardens on 2nd Ave., Huntington Street, 3rd Ave., and Degraw East.  A total of over 300 seeds were propagated into 1-gallon containers for the Salt Lot nursery, and 20 perennials and shrubs were installed in the 2nd Ave. Gardens. A total of nearly 4,000 square feet of green space was stewarded by our volunteers!



Street Tree Stewardship

Bob Lesko led a small team of volunteers to cut and prune 35 trees on 9th Street as part of our Street Tree Stewardship program.

It is notable that under the guidance of Bob, over 100 street trees were managed over the course of the month of November! Thank you, Bob!

Windrow Turning

Finally, a portion of the volunteers helped to turn the September windrow into a curing pile, where it will rest in the back of the lot for two weeks. Moving the September windrow cleared space for the November windrow to be built the next day.

In terms of composting, 350 lbs of organic materials were collected, 700 lbs of compost was distributed, and 250 lbs of trash were collected.



At the end of the day, all volunteers were treated to some great grilled burgers and hot dogs, courtesy of our friends at Whole Foods. November’s Clean & Green ended up being an extremely productive way to end the year! From the bottom of our hearts, we would like thank our volunteers for their extraordinary service this day. To those seeking further volunteer opportunities this year, there’s one more Composting event on December 22nd – e-mail us for more details and availability. But for those that won’t be able to make it, whether you’ve become interested through this post or just wish to come back – we hope to see you in March at our first Clean & Green in 2014!

Happy Holidays!

The Conservancy had its penultimate compost build of the season this past Sunday (November 17). With great help from students, parents, and teachers from Excellence Charter Boys School of Bedford Stuyvesant, as well as students from Brooklyn Technical High School in Fort Greene, we processed over 10,000 pounds of food scraps and sifted the finished compost from the past months’ builds.


The next generation of composters.

Food scrap collection has been on the rise the past few months; monthly builds used to cap off at 8,000 pounds but recent collections have been consistently coming in around 10,000 pounds. Although food collection is ramped up, our fantastic volunteers are still finishing the piles in less than four hours. Also, at the end of the summer Philip Silva, a PhD candidate from Cornell University, developed a compost calculator for us to determine the adequate ratio of leaves, sawdust and woodchips (carbon sources) to food scrap and coffee grounds (nitrogen sources). Following a few revisions by Christian Jungers, an avid compost volunteer, the compost calculator is now leading to some of the smoothest builds the GCC has seen.


The pile was particularly beautiful this past week as GrowNYC dropped off bags full of fall leaves to incorporate with the food scraps. Leaf pile anyone?


The day was finished off with a delicious barbecue cooked up by the GCC staff.

On September 21, 2013, the Gowanus Canal Conservancy invited community members and volunteers to help make a difference within the neighborhood through a public art project. The interpretive signage project, which took place on Smith Street around the corner from the Huntington Street Mural, is intended to illuminate the rich history of a significant historic property within the Carroll Gardens neighborhood, and the Gowanus Canal Watershed.  The signage speaks to Public Place, which is the former home of the Citizens Manufactured Gas Plant that stopped operating over fifty years ago. The site is undergoing environmental remediation at this time.


The interpretive signage project was sponsored by National Grid, and was designed and installed by Gowanus Canal Conservancy’s volunteers. The GCC also partnered with NY State Department of Environmental Conservation and the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and development for this project, which is intended to provide the community with information about significant environmental actions taking place in the area, and the historical evolution of a major landmark within the neighborhood. By revealing hidden histories, our organization, hopes to enrich the community’s appreciation for the ground beneath their feet, as well as the industries that have preceded them.

Volunteer artists, Gena Wirth, Andrea Parker, Julia Price, and Alexandria Donati worked together to design the interpretive signage, which was divided into 18 panels. The size of the interpretive signage project, in its entirety, is an approximated five feet wide by one-hundred and forty feet long. GCC volunteers helped install the interpretive signage at the public place site along the construction fence bordering Smith Street.

Gena Wirth created the “What Used To Be Here?” section of the interpretive signage. This section informs the members of the community about the history of the canal before industrialization. “What Used To Be Here?” gives information about the Dutch settlements, the Canarsee Native Americans, species of grass that grew within and around the canal, as well as the history of ecological species and the evolution of industrial growth throughout the area.


Andrea Parker created the “What Was Made Here?” portion of the interpretive signage project, which informs the community about the industrial processes that formally occurred at Public Place when it closed the Citizens Manufactured Gas Plant.”What Was Made Here?” also explains coal’s origins, extraction, and transportation, illuminating the complex relationship between Brooklyn and Coal Country.


Julia Price worked on the creation of “What’s Happening Here?”, which informs community members about the proposed site cleanup and remediation technologies that are likely to be employed while cleaning up and restoring the Public Place site.


Alexandria Donati worked on creating the “GCC Vision: What’s Possible?” portion of the interpretive signage project, which discusses the current activities of the GCC and Volunteer program. This section of the interpretive signage project explains project ideas and their effects on the canal post-superfund. These projects include public art installations, historic walking tours, and many community events. This part of the project also explains ecological restoration ideas like: floating gardens, which will provide habitats for fish and crustaceans, filter water and put oxygen back into the canal, as well as draw attention to issues of the urban pollution and the poor water quality of the canal. Other projects include: salt marshes that will support wildlife functions, and help to filter the water while putting oxygen back into the system; shellfish gardens that will create artificial reefs that project the shoreline, filter water, and when large enough can provide juveniles (spat) to other waterways in need. Another innovative ecological restoration idea is green streets, which are gardens or swales that soak up rain water and filter toxins through the soil and the plants that live in them.


Thank you to our sponsors and partners:


Back in February we posted about a project that aimed to map all tree pits within 2 blocks of the canal with the aid of TreeKIT, one of our partners. After reviewing the planning phase detailed in the previous blog post, we were all set to go through with the project.

Through TreesNY’s Citizen Pruner Program, 15 volunteers were trained for the purposes of this project. The Citizen Pruner Program, as described in its website, taught volunteers about “tree biology, street tree identification, common tree problems, tree stewardship, and how to prune dead and damaged limbs.”

The ultimate goal of the tree mapping project was to conduct an inventory of all existing street trees and empty tree pits within approximately 2 blocks of the Gowanus Canal, and with the help of TreeKIT, format and manage the street tree mapping data for public use as well as the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation (DPR). This information will help identify potential tree planting sites in addition to preparing a Tree Management Plan; the Conservancy hopes to engage more volunteers in the Gowanus community to steward local trees. The Management Plan would include a mobile platform where volunteers can log their stewardship activity.

In order to collect the data, the 15 volunteers who underwent the Citizen Pruning Program were designated as ‘Mapping Stewards’ and led volunteers around the proposed mapping site to collect the data.

Screen Shot 2013-11-01 at 3.33.14 PM

The zones seen here served as guidelines for which areas the Mapping Stewards and their fellow mappers covered.

The Tree Mapping event was a great success – see the finished map on TreeKIT’s website! You can zoom in to individual trees to view details such as species, DBH (diameter at breast height), and its health.

Among the data collected are the following:

  • Out of the 294 block segments mapped, 113 had no trees, or 38.4% of block segments
  • Total amount of living trees: 1009
  • Total standing dead trees: 12
  • Total stumps: 22
  • Total number of tree beds: 1093
  • Total empty tree beds: 50
  • Median tree diameter DBH: 6.0″
  • Biggest tree DBH: 38.2″
  • Living trees with genus and species unknown: 11

Finally, check out some of these pictures of the data collection process in action!

Discussing the data gathered.

Tree mappers on the move!

Measuring the DBH.

We would like to thank our partners at TreeKIT and TreesNY for collaborating with us on this project. We also want to thank all of our Mapping Stewards and volunteers for assisting us! None of this could have been possible without all of you.

Alex Lola, a prospective Eagle Scout, is collaborating with the Conservancy to construct a greenhouse in the Salt Lot. The project aims to expand the Conservancy’s nursery and provide a home for plants during the upcoming winter months. The planning process developed throughout Spring 2013. The construction phase began in September, and the first building day was on October 19. The build will continue through the upcoming weeks.

The proposal for the greenhouse initially included four different ideas for the frame, or shape, the structure would take. The decision on the right frame to use were based on conditions such as material cost, interior space, structural stability, and weight load for the greenhouse’s covering. Alex settled on a wooden ‘A-Frame’ structure, a sturdy build designed to bear lightweight to medium-heavy coverings such as the corrugated plastic that will be used to enclose Alex’s greenhouse on all sides.

The design’s blueprint states that the final structure will be 12 feet in both width and height, and 30 feet in length. It will be composed of five, triangular arches nailed to two 10 foot boards raised 24 inches off the ground. Each triangular arch is supported by cross pieces that give the ‘A-Frame’ its name. These arches are supported by criss-crossing boards. The following pictures should help to illustrate both the structure and the community effort being put into this project:

Making a few measurements for the 10 foot base boards.

Hauling one of the triangle frames that gives the ‘A-frame’ its name.

Putting it all together…

…and keeping it all together!

Propping up the ‘criss-crossing’ boards that support the arches.


This community project is shaping up to be a fantastic addition to the Salt Lot!

This project is sponsored by:


As part of the Conservancy’s Urban Ecology Lecture Series, we invited Gabriel Willow to lead guests on a bat walk. Willow, who is a naturalist and urban environmental educator, has led tours and taught classes at NYC Audubon, Wave Hill, and was even the Senior Naturalist at the Prospect Park Audubon Center. Having a speaker as experienced and knowledgeable as him was a treat; what better way to learn about bats than from an expert?

To start the lecture, guests gathered at Gowanus Studio Space where they were given a brief presentation on bats. We learned that there are actually 47 different kinds of bats in the United States and that there are actually a few species that are common here in New York City! He also gave us some information on widely believed bat myths, like the fact that vampire bats DO exist (they don’t suck blood however, they actually lap in it).

Most people consider bats to be rodents and overlook their value as a species. But, did you know that bats actually help manage mosquito populations, which greatly improves our quality of life? Their ability to do this however is greatly hindered by numerous threats to their survival, like white nose syndrome. White nose syndrome has no cure nor are there any means of preventing it. Discovering facts like these definitely changed our perspectives on bats and created a newfound appreciation for these nocturnal animals!

After the lecture, we went to the Salt Lot and began our outdoor sunset walk. He taught us how to use an echo locator device which helps people find and identify bats. Because Willow is primarily an ornithologist, he also pointed out the species of many birds around the Salt Lot. We hope he can visit again and share his knowledge on birds with our community!

Our walk ended at the Gowanus Dredgers‘ launching site and we celebrated the event with a nightcap. The night was a huge success with 41 people coming to learn about bats and their local presence. For more photos of the walk, please visit our Flickr.

A big thanks to our captivating and engaging guest lecturer; we hope you will come back! If you were unable to make it to this lecture, Gabriel Willow also leads bat tours in Central Park and you can learn more about that here. Stay tuned for the next event in our Urban Ecology Lecture Series; we hope to see you then!

50 Volunteers came out to the Salt Lot this Sunday to help the Conservancy create our monthly windrow. Along with creating our compost windrow, volunteers did some much needed garden stewardship in our 2nd Avenue Garden. It was also the first prototyping day for our Floating Gardens Designers. The Conservancy gives a big thanks to everyone who came and spent their morning with us!

Volunteers from the Kabbalah Centre helped us incorporate over 8,000 pounds of food scraps from GrowNYC Greenmarket collections. They were fantastic volunteers and we loved how fully they embraced the idea of promoting life in the watershed through the repurposing of food-scraps. It was a pleasure to host them and we thank them for working hard and staying enthusiastic through the midday drizzle of rain. We hope you can come back and volunteer with us again!

Volunteer Coordinator Christine explaining the science of compost:Untitled Browns, like sawdust and wood chips, are important to add between the layers of food scraps.20130728_113746 Volunteers working hard to even out the food scraps as it gets larger!20130728_130138 While the windrow was being built, we also had other volunteers sifting our finished compost. Sifted compost can be used for other projects like our tree and garden stewardship and for sealing our freshly-built windrow.

20130728_111019 After two weeks, the compost pile will host much beneficial bacteria that will generate heat and  break down the food-scraps. The windrow will then be turned weekly, for 5 weeks, then left to cure (or cool down) until it is ready to be sifted! We are constantly in need of compost windrow turners–you’ll use pitchforks and “turn” the pile systematically, to promote an aerobic environment and food-scrap decomposition. For more information on turning, contact info@gowanuscanalconservancy.org. For more information on composting workshops, other project sites, composting at home, and/or how to be a Master Composter, visit the NYC Compost Project’s website. For opportunities to build a compost windrow with the Conservancy, visit our website!

Tree Mapping
Tree mappers Judy and Talia completed some loose ends in our Tree Mapping Project. Stay tuned for more updates!

Garden Stewardship
We collected about 120 pounds of weeds from our 2nd Avenue Garden. Regular maintenance removes unwanted species and improves the garden’s ability to prevent erosion, absorb water, and preserves native plants.

Floating Garden Prototyping
This year, we have 6 designers for Floating Gardens. Designs range from a bamboo structure that will serve as a seaweed habitat to a concrete “rock garden”. It was a largely experimental day, with all the designers testing different materials and methods for creating their prototypes. They all discovered new ways to refine their floating garden constructions and by the end of the day, we even launched a prototype!

Designers at work:20130728_124615
FG Designer Sarah learning about another prototype20130728_125804
Our Landscape Architect Summer Intern Jin weaving bamboo: 20130728_114946
Here are some photos of the first prototype launch! This design serves as both a plant and “stick garden”.

Designers Christine and Sarah getting ready to take it to the waterfront:UntitledUntitled And now, it’s in the Canal!Untitled
And after a few hours, everyone was able to enjoy some great grilled food, thanks to Whole Foods!

20130728_131021 20130728_131743
For more images from the day, check out our Flickr!

Thanks to the Kabbalah Centre and everyone else who came to ¡Composting Gowanus! We hope to see you soon!


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