In the months after Superstorm Sandy swept through Southern Brooklyn, including Bath Beach, there was help for people and pets, buildings and businesses. But one victim flew under the radar: the soil.
When the ocean met the land, the salty water crept into the root systems of gardens and tree beds along the borough’s coast. While the Parks Department has been lopping down decaying trees and replacing them with salt-resistant varieties, most local gardeners have simply replanted, neglecting the quiet killer that lurks several inches under the earth, the salt deposits that formed in the flood’s wake.
What began as a project for a straightforward community garden in Bath Beach evolved into one with a focus on resiliency. It became a local laboratory for its planner, Laura Vladimirova, who had been granted control over a plot of land that was flooded by the storm. To make sure it survived the future, she had to become a quick study on tenacious flora that could withstand another Sandy.
“The premise of my project was to build a community greenspace with sustainable materials in Southern Brooklyn, with consideration of water usage, local and native plants, and with the idea that we all need a real green haven in our densely populated concrete jungles,” Vladimirova said.
Vladimirova’s project kicked off after she won a COJECO Blueprint Fellowship, a year-long program for Russian-speaking Jewish adults to undertake community projects. That covered the costs, but she still needed the land.
The former Bensonhurst Bean writer and Bath Beach resident reached out to SNAP to Grow! Urban Farm, another excellent community green-thumb program. They put her in touch with the Shore Parkway Jewish Center (8885 26th Avenue), which gave her the green light to develop a broad swath of their outdoor space, part of which is also where SNAP to Grow! is based.
Vladimirova hopes that teaming up with the local shul will be a win-win. It gives a ready base for volunteers, and will also help protect the building in future storms.
“This shul was hit hard by Sandy. By creating a local plant garden, I’m hoping this will effectively help drain rainwater if other large scale storms were to occur,” she said.
The garden doesn’t just have to prepare for the future; it’s still grappling with the effects of the past. It was slated to open in early September, but soil testing turned up a massive amount of those salt deposits left behind by Sandy.
Planting had to be delayed, and Vladimirova had to add “soil remediation” to her growing expertise.
“It’s so crazy how long Sandy lasts,” she said. “I imagine many lawns will that were flooded will face this issue.”
It’s a ticking time-bomb for local gardeners, she said. Many simply mowed their lawns, dug up the dead, and replanted their flowers after the storm. But as salt deposits sink deeper, gardeners are lulled into a false sense of security.
“When anyone plants, the rooting, the sprawling of the root system is just beginning and so it doesn’t go very deep,” she said. “Then they hit a salt pocket. And they die. It’s not immediate, but it damages long-term plant life and changes the pH of the soil.”
There are several types of soil remediation techniques, she said, including chemicals, worms and various holistic approaches. With sustainability a part of her focus, she avoided using chemicals, and instead opted for gypsum, a mineral compound. That was spread across the plot and given time to soak in to the soil, where it disperses deeply, breaking down and neutralizing the salt deposits.
Volunteers were finally able to plant the first batch of greenery last weekend during a soft opening. They’ll hold a grand opening this Sunday, October 19, at 1pm. During the greenthumb party, they’ll have more plantings, refreshments, and will host live music and art activities.