Archives for category: Gowanus in Bloom

On May 19 6:30-8PM, our Living Things in an Urban Ecosystem series ended on a high note with Beyond the Honeybee: Exploring Critical Pollinators where we explored the role pollinators play in urban ecosystems and the ways in which individuals and community groups can support their habitats.

Ecologist Howard Ginsberg, Ph.D. from United States Geological Survey first presented a brief survey of native and non-native bee species typically found in NYC.  He found that our city has approximately 50 different species of bumble bees, compared to 100 found in more natural environments which is great news for our urban ecosystem. One fun fact is that bees tend to pollinate on specific seasons because they favor flowers in bloom during that time.  One example is Halictus ligatus, a communal or non-territorial summer bumblebee whose nests are typically found in holes in the ground and their workers are daughters of the queen, unlike honeybees whose workers are typically male.

Summer bee

Halictus ligatus – Summer bee

Our second panelist Tina Harrison, Ph.D. candidate from Rutger’s University Department of Ecology, presented some key ways to support our pollinators here in NYC.

Pesticides used in gardens

Chlorantranilliprole kills less worker bumble bees in a 2013 study

Gardeners and horticulturists should be mindful of the primary chemical used in the pesticide. For example, a study by Larson, Redmond and Potter showed that pesticides containing chlorantraniliprole kills only a small amount of worker bees, especially compared to clothianidin. So be sure to read those labels!

Effects of pesticides on bumble bee populations

Effects of pesticides on bumble bee populations

And finally, biologist Sam Droege, also from USGS, focused his presentation on the challenges of studying bumble bee populations.  He not only highlighted his work on cataloguing bee species (view the beautiful photography here), he spoke on the challenges scientists face when studying bees. One fascinating example was the attempt to study the Bombus bimaculatus, a bee species that, in natural settings, kicks out and takes over nests built by chickadee birds.  After scientists recreated these nests to attract this bee species, they were unable to replicate this occurrence in a controlled setting. Clearly there is more to be studied on attractive bee habitats, which, once successful, would lead to more effective methods of attracting and keeping them within our city.


We then segued into the panel discussion, moderated by landscape architect Hans Hesselein, where we were truly able to unpack the issue of bee colony collapse (which actually does not effect bumblebees), action steps we can take to support their survival, and the potential for future on bee habitats studies .  Listen here for the entire discussion.

We at the Gowanus Canal Conservancy send our heartfelt thanks to our venue sponsor Threes Brewing for generously offering their event space, our panelists, volunteer coordinators and most of all our audience for being part of such a vibrant season.  Stay tuned for the fall schedule!

Join us on our next Clean & Green July 18 11AM-3PM by signing up at where volunteers will participate in the Tree Census and other stewardship activities.

Follow us on Twitter at @GowanusGreen and on Instagram @gowanuscanalconservancy for GCC news, volunteer events and trivia.


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


A year and half ago, volunteers installed a green roof on top of our Salt Lot storage box using Gaia Soil as a growing medium. At a 4″ depth, the green roof could not retain enough water to support native grasses or asters. However, the Sedum has continued to successfully colonize the bed; even through last year’s hurricane, they are still flourishing in a vibrant red color.

May 2013:

March 2013:

Here are some photos of the green roof in different months last year (some require a keen eye), all taken using balloon mapping methods:

April 2012:

July 2012:

October 2012:

December 2012:

Our green roof is an excellent example of vegetation thriving in a less-than-ideal urban environment such as the Gowanus. Be on the lookout for a new green wall project, coming this Spring/Summer!

Since most of the plants growing around the Gowanus Canal are invasive exotics, one of our Conservancy projects for environmental health is repopulating the canal area with native species.  We’ve started gathering our own collection of native seeds to plant, so we decided to take a field trip to Staten Island and learn more about it from the pros!

Heather Liljengren and Judith Van Bers led our seed collecting tour–they manage the seed collection at the Greenbelt Native Plant Center in Staten Island.  Heather will also be speaking at our upcoming Urban Ecology lecture on October 17.

We started our tour at the beautiful Conference House Park at the southern tip of Staten Island.

We learned about identifying different species of plants native to the New York metro area, including gorgeous giant sunflowers and purple lovegrass.

Once we collected seeds, we headed back to the lab at the Greenbelt Center.  Collected seeds, like seeds in the wild, need to go through several processing stages before they can grow into new plants.  First, the seeds need to be dried out.  Some species cure well laid out on newspaper or a tarp.

Other species, like milkweed, are slower to dry… so a screened box with air flow on all sides is a useful contraption to have on hand.

Once the seeds are cured, we need to separate the seeds from the “chaff” (seed casings).

If you’re doing a whole lot of seed collection, one of these heavy-duty seed cleaning machines might come in handy!

After being cured and cleaned, seeds go into the cold stratification chamber–this chamber is the seed lab’s version of a cold winter, when a seed usually lies dormant.  Seeds need this period to prepare for spring growth.

Once the seeds leave the cold chamber, they’re packed up and stored until it’s time for planting!

Our seed collection field trip was a great learning experience, and we’re excited to try out some techniques on a small scale right here in Gowanus! If you’re interested in learning more about seed planting, join us at the Salt Lot (2 Second Ave) this Sunday, October 14, where we’ll be cultivating native seeds.  And don’t forget, Heather Liljengren will be speaking more about native plants at the BuildItGreen! Gowanus Warehouse on October 17 as part of our Urban Ecology Lecture series.

The Redbuds (Cercis canadensis) are still blooming their heads off in the 2nd Avenue Garden, right next to the Salt L0t.

Redbud in bloom at the 2nd Avenue Garden.