Archives for category: ¡Composting Gowanus!

At the September 11 Clean & Green Event, the Rockefeller Foundation employees volunteered for the GCC as part of their Day of Service to the community.  They arrived in the morning at the Salt Lot and after a brief orientation, split up to perform a variety of stewardship activities including composting and garden stewardship.

One group focused on turning over compost piles from bottom to top to help speed up the creation of beautiful nutritious compost.  They also used the sifter to separate larger pieces of wood chips from healthy compost by hand which will be reused for newer compost piles.  This created a wonderful opportunity to share everyones experiences of personal stewardship and how something as simple as composting gives nutrients back to the land.

Turning over compost to increase air circulation and eliminate odors

Turning over compost to increase air circulation


Volunteers separating compost from wood chips using the sifter

Volunteers hard at work separating compost from wood chips using the sifter
















Another set of volunteers focused on garden stewardship by removing trash, weeding and watering the native plants in the bioswales to allow them to flourish for both street beautification and stormwater absorption.  This generated interest in learning about the various ways  local communities are able to actively create vibrant green spaces while reducing the negative effects of water and sewershed on the Canal.

Volunteers picking up trash and uprooting weeds in one of GCCs bioswales

Volunteers removing trash and uprooting weeds in one of GCCs bioswales

One of the volunteers watering native plants

One of the volunteers watering native plants

















After a great day of stewardship the Rockefeller Foundation was treated to a cookout of delicious hot dogs, hamburgers, veggie burgers and refreshments including beer generously provided by our sponsors  Whole Foods Market on 3rd Street and Brooklyn Brewery.  To top off the afternoon they all posed for a group photo, happy and proud to have helped Gowanus become a little greener.  Rockefeller Foundation volunteers, thank you all for your service and hope you all had a wonderful experience!

Group photo to end a great day with the Rockefeller Foundation

Group photo to end a great day with the Rockefeller Foundation



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 and ask for opportunities such as weekly windrow turns!

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.

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 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!

Happy Earth Day from the Conservancy!

50 volunteers joined us on Sunday to celebrate the Earth Day weekend by stewarding street trees, maintaining gardens, and composting. The day ended with a barbecue feast, courtesy of Whole Foods. Our wonderful volunteer bunch consisted of ConEdison, Whole Foods, NYCares, GATHER, St. Francis Xavier Action Youth Center, and many community individuals. Thanks so much to everyone for spending their Sunday afternoon with us!

Altogether, we:

  • Stewarded 22 street trees
  • Stewarded gardens on 3rd Ave and Union St, Degraw St West and East, and 2nd St West, totaling 4,350 sq ft
  • Collected 110 lbs of organic waste
  • Removed 20 lbs of trash from the gardens
  • Composted 9100 lbs of food-scraps
  • Turned March’s compost windrow (8,300 lbs of compost)
  • Weighed 237 lbs of received sawdust
  • Sifted 0.5 cubic yards of finished compost

Compost lasagna in formation:

Volunteers braving the sweet smell of compost turning!

Sifting in action:

Finally, enjoying the end of the day’s delicious eats.

We had an excellent time amongst compost, trees, gardens and friends. Cheers to Earth Day, and make sure to spend some time outside today soaking up the leftover Spring sun!

With a freshly laid bed of mulch, who wouldn’t want to layer food scraps, woodchips, sawdust, and leaves all over it? March’s compost windrow build marks the first monthly build of 2013:

Our Volunteer Coordinators and volunteers from Fedex, Brooklyn Law School, Whole Foods, and individuals were so on point that efficiency was certainly the buzzword of the day. Although only 1 out of the 21 volunteers had ever worked with compost before, they quickly embraced the whole raw food-scrap thing and shoveled, wheelbarrowed, and pitchforked their way to compost success.


And we couldn’t have done it without the kids! He was super excited to shovel everything and anything:

The highlight of the day also came from our friends over at DB Co-op, an organization of engineers, designers, architects, and more who create human powered machines. They kindly lent us their compost sifter: an assembly of trommel (a mesh drum), stationary bike, and conveyor belt system. While someone pedaled, the trommel rotates to sift the compost. Here it is in action with our enthusiastic group of Brooklyn Law School volunteers:

We’ll be using the compost in our garden installations around the neighborhood, tree stewardship, and on-site berm and street-end gardens.

After the day’s work, our volunteers more than deserved a lunch consisting of grilled goods, graciously donated by Whole Foods.

Til’ the next compost windrow venture!

It’s that time of the month at the GCC–which could only be a compost windrow build at the Salt Lot nursery. With Hurricane Sandy wiping out the windrow from October’s compost day, this month’s was a clean slate. Or just dirty enough. The GCC welcomed 8,800 lbs. of food scraps from farmer’s markets and an impromptu collection from the Carroll Gardens Food Coop.

Erik Martig, Suzanne Lipton, and Christine Petro started off the day by giving a run-down of the fascinating world of composting science, complete with a diagram.

Layer upon layer of food scraps, compost, mulch, and leaf litter combined to form the perfect lasagna-like windrow, which will be turned weekly to aerate the mixture, providing the optimal aerobic environment for microbes to break down the food scraps.

Also, we can’t forget many other important activities occurring outside of composting. Volunteers worked diligently to organize the cement blocks from Saturday’s Clean & Green, applied compost and mulch in the rain garden (on the canal bank), and picked up trash.

Compost and mulch being applied to the rain garden.

The neatly stacked pile of bricks and cement blocks, displaced from tree pits in the Gowanus.

Local garden installer and designer Hannah Edmunds and 1/3 of the Garden Design Dream Team Andrea Parker propagated many seeds in our seed boxes for future additions in other gardens. Finally, Director of Special Projects Extraordinaire Hans Hesselein and Tree Steward of the Year Bob Lesko led volunteers on a mission to set up tree guards around trees near 2nd Ave.

Productivity can also be fun!

The Clean & Green on Sunday, October 21st combined tree giveaways, rain garden work, and composting. The event garnered roughly 80 volunteers of all ages and the Salt Lot was full of activity throughout the afternoon; weeding near the Salt Lot fence, seeding in our Native Seed Restoration plots, creating a path in the Salt Lot rain garden, composting, and many more activities kept the volunteers busy.

In conjunction with MillionTreesNYC, the New York Restoration Project, and BuilditGreen!NYC, trees were given away till mid afternoon. They will all be planted within the five boroughs, further greening our city!

Happy volunteers!

A beautiful composting windrow under way:

Volunteers worked all day to weed, pave, and maintain the overrun rain garden. The results were astounding:

The tree giveaway resulted in many happy new tree owners!

We will be having another tree giveaway consecutively at our November 18th Compost Windrow build, at the Salt Lot from 11 am to 3 pm. Email Natasia at to get more details.

With all the hard work, a break was truly deserved; here, our resident education and composting expert Christine Petro gets creative.

For more pictures, visit our Facebook!

UPDATE: Although the flooding during Hurricane Sandy did contaminate much of the work that was done this day, the compost was deemed salvageable–however, we will be using it only our Salt Lot site. The rain garden that was built mostly remains intact, highlighting the native species’ adaptability to a saltwater/freshwater inundating environment.

This Sunday, GrowNYC dropped off 8,000 lbs of food scraps at our compost site (on the Salt Lot at 2 Second Ave.).  Volunteers were ready and willing to meet them, and we got right down to business!

It was a beautiful day to be outside, so it’s only natural we’d spend it working on one of our favorite projects.  Thanks to everyone who came out on Sunday!

We’ve been working with our partner citizens’ group, Brooklyn Neighbors Composting, to develop the ¡Composting Gowanus! program over the last year.  Thanks to their hard work, they were awarded funds for composting equipment through City Councilman Brad Landers’ participatory budget initiative.  If you’re interested in reading more about the projects that were awarding funding, you can visit the site.

Now that we have the funding, we need to decide on the right supplies–so we’re doing our research!  We had a great tour of the compost facilities at Lower East Side Ecology Center this week, where we learned about their process for composting.

Our gracious host was Executive Director and Co-Founder, Christine Datz-Romero–she gave us a wonderful tour of the facilities!

The Lower East Side Ecology Center uses in-vessel composting units for the first stage of the compost process.  When they get a new delivery of food scraps, the scraps are layered with sawdust in these containers.  In the first stages of decomposition, a waste liquid called “leachate” is produced–this is drained through the pipes, keeping excess moisture out of the compost.

After a few weeks of sitting in the in-vessel compost unit, the compost is transferred into windrows to cure.  Once the compost has cured, the last step is to sift the final product.  Our interns and volunteers constructed a sifting table for our compost–but if you’ve made it to any of our recent Compost Days, you’ll know that sifting by hand can be a time-intensive process!  The Lower East Side Ecology Center has a great addition that makes this step much easier: a compost trommel.

The compost trommel rotates as it sifts, resulting in a fine end-product… ready to be spread on any garden!

Thanks to our friends at Lower East Side Ecology Center for the tour!  All in all, it was a great learning experience, and we’re more excited than ever about ¡Composting Gowanus!