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15/4402. Look Beneath The Soil Surface

Summary of Show

Background Battery Park City
In the heart of Manhattan nestled among some of its tallest buildings is an urban paradise that brings nature right to the edge of a sea of steel and concrete. BATTERY PARK CITY spans 92 acres along the Hudson River and was created from land reclamation from the World Trade Center and other construction projects. It features 36 acres of meticulous parkland and is maintained by the Battery Park City Authority and the Battery Park City Conservancy.
For More Information Click here

Tear Drop Park
They next visit an area that Eric feels is one of the more uniquely designed park areas he has seen. This is TEAR DROP PARK. It was designed by Michael Van Valkenberg and Associates. It's a very interesting park in that it is designed with unique stone features that evoke the Hudson River landscape.
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A Shovel And A Soil Probe
And to do that his main tools are A SHOVEL AND A SOIL PROBE. The probe provides a good idea of what's really happening within the entire soil profile. With the soil probe T has pulled a plug from the soil that is at least 12 inches long, thus shows 1 foot of sub surface soil.
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Soil Sample
Eric and T take that SOIL SAMPLE and feel the soil, even smell the soil. T can't make a ball with it, it just falls apart. This is a sandy soil. By comparison the soil behind the rock wall has a whole different character. One can actually make a solid clump in their hands, and it stays together. It has a lot more clay and silt.
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Perk Test
Next they perform a PERK TEST to see how quickly water infiltrates through the soil. To do this dig a hole, fill that hole with water, determine how much water has been added, then let the hole drain for 15 minutes and refill. From that point you start measuring the amount of time it takes the water to infiltrate. This test is important and tells a lot about drainage and the type of soil you're working with.
For More Information Click here

Community Component
Eric and T next talk about the COMMUNITY COMPONENT of this Park. Urban park situations are always challenging because of the amount of visitation. In this neighborhood anywhere between 20 and 25 million people pass through this beautiful esplanade each year. Thus Battery Park City is extensively used, as mentioned it's a live-work space, and they've created a complete loop within this community.
For More Information Click here

High Quality Compost
But the challenge is to make HIGH QUALITY COMPOST and that is more like making a cake, there are a bunch of different ingredients and a lot of different factors that must be kept in mind. It's not terribly complicated as long as one has the right feed stocks. And they have all the correct material generated in this park system combined with the post and pre-consumer waste that they collect from the community.
For More Information Click here

Compost Tea
They next talk about what COMPOST TEA really is. Compost tea is really coaxing the beneficial organisms off a high quality compost and into a water station, then feeding those microbes with appropriate foods. Basically they are just taking some of the finished compost that has all the wonderful bacteria and fungus, all the good stuff and put it into something like a tea bag, if you will.
For More Information Click here

Microscopic View Of Compost And Compost Tea
The guys GO TO THE LAB to see how that is done. T feels this is really the heart of the program. T's assistant Adam is now verifying the quality of the compost and the compost tea to ensure, number one, that from the compost we have the organisms we need to balance particular issues in the soil and, secondly, that they have the quality needed for a good compost tea.
For More Information Click here

Applying Compost Tea
It's important to remember when APPLYING COMPOST TEA that one is applying a living material. It's not like applying fertilizer or some type of inert ingredient, you are applying living organisms. So it's important to apply at very low pressure. If those little organisms-bacteria, fungi and protozoans were to hit a leaf of grass at like 100 psi it would be like you or me hitting a brick wall.
For More Information Click here

LINKS:

Battery Park City
Battery Park City Authority

Eric T. Fleisher
F2 Environmental Design | Organic Soil Management Landscape Design | New York, New Jersey

15/4402. Look Beneath The Soil Surface

Complete Write Up

The most important factor in successful gardening is understanding what lies beneath the surface. In this Episode GardenSMART travels to the heart of Manhattan and meets one of the worlds leading authorities on soil ecology. It's a don't miss show from New York.

In the heart of Manhattan nestled among some of its tallest buildings is an urban paradise that brings nature right to the edge of a sea of steel and concrete. BATTERY PARK CITY spans 92 acres along the Hudson River and was created from land reclamation from the World Trade Center and other construction projects. It features 36 acres of meticulous parkland and is maintained by the Battery Park City Authority and the Battery Park City Conservancy. It is the 1st public garden space in New York to be maintained organically and their commitment to sustainability and developing rich, vibrant soil for plants to thrive in has been rewarded handsomely as Battery City Park has been recognized as one of the finest urban parks in the country. At the helm of this amazing endeavor is Eric T. Fleisher or as his friends call him - T. T is a pioneer in sustainable gardening and has been at the forefront of garden innovations such as composting in harsh urban conditions. His advancements have made gardening not only a possibility in these conditions, but a place where plants thrive. In this Episode we go behind the scenes to learn about compost and soil ecology, topics one needs to understand to make your plants thrive. And we do it with one of the worlds foremost authorities on sustainable horticulture.

Eric next welcomes T, it's truly a pleasure to meet. T has had a wonderful career, one that combines a unique marriage of soil ecology and urban park landscape management. Eric wants to know how T got to this place in life. T has always been interested in horticulture and the environment. And he has always had an ecological focus on managing the earth's resources in a responsible way. But he really got in the business through the back door. His undergraduate degree is in music, he studied jazz. But he does think all the different disciplines fit together, they all interrelate. Dr. Alex Shigo, the foremost authority on tree anatomy, was a big influence. Dr. Shigo looks at a tree as a system and T looks at soil similarly. T manages public spaces organically, he looks at the different systems within the park and studies how they work together. Eric asks T what he would like for people to know about Battery Park City. T thinks one of the most interesting aspects is the initial Park plan. That urban plan called for one third of the land to be designated public park land and that's very, very unusual in a large city. The Park brings the community here, it then creates an environment where people can live and work within the premises of Battery Park City. Interestingly one quarter of the clean fill in this Park came from material excavated from the World Trade Center Towers. Eric knows that the community is involved in very unique ways and that compost plays an important role in this Park. Because this park is built on landfill, compost does play a huge role. T's career here over the past 24 years has been based on building a living soil system, one that works the way a natural soil system would. So, composting and feeding that natural nutrient cycling system becomes incredibly important and key to how they manage the Park system.

They next visit an area that Eric feels is one of the more uniquely designed park areas he has seen. This is TEAR DROP PARK. It was designed by Michael Van Valkenberg and Associates. It's a very interesting park in that it is designed with unique stone features that evoke the Hudson River landscape. Combined with native plants one would find within those environmental conditions, it works beautifully with their approach to landscape management. They manage the Park organically. For example they leave the leaves on the soil allowing them to decompose naturally, this provides a diverse soil biology. It's the perfect marriage between design, function and maintenance.

One of the most important factors needed for successful gardening, whether vegetable gardening or ornamental gardening, especially in urban gardens where there is a lot of wear and tear, is understanding what's going on beneath the surface. Oftentimes we overlook the importance of correct composting, as well as PH, air, water and space, consequently ending up with unsuccessful plants. Eric wonders what tools T uses to make sure the soil is developing the way he wants and to ensure it's healthy. T feels that to have successful plants it's important to monitor what's going on beneath the surface. And to do that his main tools are A SHOVEL AND A SOIL PROBE. The probe provides a good idea of what's really happening within the entire soil profile. With the soil probe T has pulled a plug from the soil that is at least 12 inches long, thus shows 1 foot of sub surface soil. This makes it clear that the soil is consistently moist, and the type of soil they are dealing with at this location looks good. Then using the shovel he takes a really good core sample which is equally important. Remember 60-75% of a plants mass is below the surface of the soil. This soil looks good, it has been very effective at promoting root growth. This means the plant will use less water, will be more efficient in taking nutrients from the soil, and that ultimately means a healthier, more disease resistant plant.

The next area visited is a very different section of the Park, in fact in many ways it feels like they are in a totally separate venue and have been transported to the Irish countryside. It is unique and certainly doesn't give one the feel they're in the middle of New York City. This is a design build project. It was designed by Brian Toll and intended to evoke the feeling of a farm that has been abandoned after the Irish potato famine. One notices the potato furrows. It is a powerful feel. And, is also a great place to talk about different kinds of soils because there are different types of soil in this location. The pasture or meadow has a certain type soil which is very different than the soil behind the rock wall. In the meadow area they have a soil that people can walk on, it needs to take compaction. They take the shovel and dig a sample. Eric and T take that SOIL SAMPLE and feel the soil, even smell the soil. T can't make a ball with it, it just falls apart. This is a sandy soil. By comparison the soil behind the rock wall has a whole different character. One can actually make a solid clump in their hands, and it stays together. It has a lot more clay and silt. It even has a different smell. People can often make that assessment just by touch, feel and smell. From that one can get a sense of how that soil will perform.

Next they perform a PERK TEST to see how quickly water infiltrates through the soil. To do this dig a hole, fill that hole with water, determine how much water has been added, then let the hole drain for 15 minutes and refill. From that point you start measuring the amount of time it takes the water to infiltrate. This test is important and tells a lot about drainage and the type of soil you're working with. T considers the ideal percolation rate for good horticultural soil to be a minimum of an inch per hour. Anything less than that will result in too much water in the root system. In this case they come back in 15 minutes, look at their measuring stick, figure out how much water has gone down, multiply by 4, for an hour, and they know how much water has percolated down. If one finds it's too slow, then go back in and till the soil or add sand, gravel or other material to help it drain better. We oftentimes forget that soils should be 50% solids and the other 50% should be air and water. So we need to create that perfect situation for organisms, roots and beneficial micro-organisms to grow through the soil and thrive. Roots, in combination with microbial activity, are the only things that will break through compaction zones. And we want to create the optimal environment for that to happen.

To make his point T shows us one of the most challenging parts of a municipal landscape, the trees, especially trees surrounded by pavers and asphalt. He shows us 1 area that essentially is a small planter. It has a space or opening of maybe 5 feet for the roots to grow. Nearby is a much larger space, it is probably over 25 feet wide. And the size of the trees is noticeably different. The difference in soil volume, water availability, nutrient availability makes a huge difference in tree size.

Eric and T next talk about the COMMUNITY COMPONENT of this Park. Urban park situations are always challenging because of the amount of visitation. In this neighborhood anywhere between 20 and 25 million people pass through this beautiful esplanade each year. Thus Battery Park City is extensively used, as mentioned it's a live-work space, and they've created a complete loop within this community. This area is set up much like one might find a college campus and they utilize and benefit from the shops in this community. For example, they collect compostable materials and herbaceous materials from the shops and from residents as well as from the landscape itself. Everything that comes out of this landscape is composted. As well the herbaceous materials, the pre-consumer and post consumer waste from the shops goes into the compost. The compost then goes back into the soil. They are really creating a closed loop system within this community, the more they create from the resources that are here the less they have to bring in fertilizers and other materials from outside the community. This is a wonderful picture of sustainability.

Robert Wagner Park was one of the sections of Battery Park City that was most effected by the recent hurricane - Sandy. A lot of the nationwide TV reporting about the hurricane originated in Robert Wagner Park. She came through and left in her wake a huge encroachment of salt from the Hudson River. Eric wonders what they had to do to get it in the shape it is today, how were they able to get this beautiful lawn to the point it is today with so many people enjoying it. After the hurricane this area had about 8 times the amount of acceptable soluble salt in these soils. First they just flushed the soils. Within about 2 weeks they had flushed a lot of those salts out. Then with the proper biological amendments they were able to bring the soil biology back to where it should be. They chose not to do other amendments because they could have effected the biology detrimentally so they focused on flushing, then compost tea applications specific to what the needs were for this Park.

Another challenge they faced was there was an ice skating rink set up here for the winter. So once that came off which was about 4 weeks ago, they had to quickly replace it with turf and get the turf rooting quickly so people could get back on this field. This is a heavily utilized landscape. T and Eric look at a soil sample which shows about 4 inches of root development. Amazingly this happened in 4 weeks. For some gardeners compost is a somewhat generic term, many think of a pile of leaves breaking down and rotting. But the challenge is to make HIGH QUALITY COMPOST and that is more like making a cake, there are a bunch of different ingredients and a lot of different factors that must be kept in mind. It's not terribly complicated as long as one has the right feed stocks. And they have all the correct material generated in this park system combined with the post and pre-consumer waste that they collect from the community. It all gets put into a mixture that is placed in a vessel or earth flow system which then goes through a thermal process over 20 to 25 days, sort of a constant flow. They then decant it, on the other side of the vessel, cure it in a curing bin for another 20 days or so, then collect it, take a sample to make sure it's the quality they want for what they need, then either put it directly into the landscape or utilize it for compost tea.

They next talk about what COMPOST TEA really is. Compost tea is really coaxing the beneficial organisms off a high quality compost and into a water station, then feeding those microbes with appropriate foods. Basically they are just taking some of the finished compost that has all the wonderful bacteria and fungus, all the good stuff and put it into something like a tea bag, if you will. It's called infusion. They soak the compost in water, giving it some food so that the beneficial microbes will multiply. This method encourages the proper organisms to flourish which then balances the soil environment.

The guys GO TO THE LAB to see how that is done. T feels this is really the heart of the program. T's assistant Adam is now verifying the quality of the compost and the compost tea to ensure, number one, that from the compost we have the organisms we need to balance particular issues in the soil and, secondly, that they have the quality needed for a good compost tea. So part of what T does as a scientist is understand what he is looking at under the microscope because one is looking at all different sizes and shapes and moving things. We look through the microscope. T points out nematodes which are the longer worm like creatures, then they have the ciliates, a variety of protozoans, amoebas and flagellates which are the little roundish organisms that move very quickly as well as the bacteria and fungi. The microscopic view confirms they have a consistent high quality compost tea. It is necessary to constantly monitor this mix otherwise they could just be applying muddy water.

T has shown us how to make a compost tea but Eric wonders if there is a trick to getting the compost tea on the landscape. It's important to remember when APPLYING COMPOST TEA that one is applying a living material. It's not like applying fertilizer or some type of inert ingredient, you are applying living organisms. So it's important to apply at very low pressure. If those little organisms-bacteria, fungi and protozoans were to hit a leaf of grass at like 100 psi it would be like you or me hitting a brick wall. Keep that in mind. It's about getting living material into the soil in big droplets and letting them sink into the soil. Also you want to apply it as quickly as possible because once you take the aeration off the material it needs to be put out so it doesn't go anaerobic. Get it into the soil as quickly as possible. And handle it with care. These are living organisms, their cells can be easily damaged which would result in none of the beneficial effects. So, verify you are getting the material you should be, then get it from point A to point B safely.

Eric wants to know what advice T might have for home gardeners who are looking to improve the microbiology of their soil. T believes that a lot of what we talked about in this show was scientific but a lot was practical in terms of what one can do. Look at what's underneath the surface. If there seems to be coloration that doesn't seem right dig a hole, determine what's going on beneath the surface of the soil. Compost is an excellent food source, good compost with the right ingredients is an excellent amendment. If you need to improve drainage or any other aspect focus on that. But collect the right information, then make an educated decision as to what your landscape needs. Eric feels that's great advice. There is so much fascinating science behind building a great garden soil but there are some simple and practical things we can do at home to improve the soil your plants grow in. It's been a wonderful opportunity to speak with someone who is so knowledgeable on this subject. We've learned a lot. Thanks T.

LINKS:

Battery Park City
Battery Park City Authority

Eric T. Fleisher
F2 Environmental Design | Organic Soil Management Landscape Design | New York, New Jersey



   
 
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