Environmental news

It’s much, much too hot to be in the garden. Even the dog wants to get back in the house as soon as possible. So here’s a roundup of some recent environmental news about the topics of this blog–the local environment and sustainability .

The Welikia project is an ongoing effort to map the environment of New York City in 1609, the year of first European contact (if you have up in New York City, as I did, you know that Verrazano explored the harbor in 1524 and Henry Hudson, sailing for the Dutch, followed in 1609, made not especially friendly contact with the native people, and claimed the area for Holland, and that settlement followed only a few years later). Welikia, which will eventually cover all five boroughs of today’s NYC, follows the very interesting Mannahatta Project, which mapped and described the original topography and ecology of Manhattan Island. Mannahatta resulted in several fascinating museum exhibits as well as an excellent book. In 1609, Manhattan was such a beautiful and ecologically diverse place that it would have rivaled the places that later became our iconic western national parks. I encourage you to check out this fascinating project and learn more about the natural history of the area.

Last week’s NY Times food section–not usually the place to find information about gardening or ecology–included a fascinating article on a scientist’s quest to develop a new variety of broccoli suitable for small-scale agriculture. It seems that broccoli doesn’t grow well in hot temperatures, and most regions of the United States have very hot summers. So the vast majority of the broccoli we eat comes from just one place, a temperate area in California. The broccoli is then shipped all over the country. It takes about five days to reach us here on the east coast, and by that time it tastes nothing like fresh broccoli. The solution? Develop a variety that grows well in heat and that can therefore be grown all over the country, by small farmers, close to the eventual consumer. Once this variety is widely available, which will be in just a few years, it will be a great boon to small farmers who supply farmers markets everywhere.

Also from the NY Times, a recent article on a new way to reduce the number of deer plaguing our suburban environment. (Here in the northeast, because of a lack of natural predators, the ever-increasing deer population is a real problem. As a horticulturist, the first question most new clients ask me is, “What can I plant that the deer don’t eat?” And there are some good answers, but no perfect ones. There are a lot of deer, and in winter they get very hungry.) This new method involves a contraceptive made using the deer’s own immune system and it is both safe and effective. It’s being tested in several communities across the Hudson in NY, and I hope it’s in use here in New Jersey very soon.

Finally, news about the American chestnut tree, the giant of the northeastern forests that was felled by a blight introduced when Asian chestnuts were imported into this country early in the 20th century. Two teams of researchers are working to introduce resistance chestnut trees, one using conventional hybridization techniques and one using the tools of biotechnology. The chestnut once dominated our eastern forests from Georgia to Maine. Perhaps we will see these majestic trees once more in our lifetimes.

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