Deep Freeze 

By February, we're always anxious to get back outside, wear a few less layers, and finally be done with shoveling all the snow in front of our gardens. This winter has been particularly snowy and we're looking forward to seeing crocus, daffodil, and tulip bulbs coming up soon, regardless of what New York City's resident groundhog, Chuck, has to say. Instead of spending time in the garden, we're talking seeds with neighbors at swaps, planning our Annual Meeting, making sure we have all sorts of networking and educational events on our calendars including the Land Trust Alliance's New York State Land Conservation Summit.  We're even planning our own celebration and fundraiser in May, so stay on the lookout!  See you in Spring!

An Education - Dispatch from India

Farming Lessons Hold True from Brooklyn to Dehradun, India

Board Member Meera Bhat wrote from the Navdanya Organic Biodiversity Conservation Farm in rural northern India, near the city of Dehradun.

I have been staying here since early November. I have spent the last two months learning about agricultural land rights and traditional farming techniques here – it’s been quite a trip! Navdanya Farm was founded in order to demonstrate an alternative to corporate agriculture for farmers in India. Crops are grown here in a completely organic fashion, using seeds saved from the previous year, natural fertilizers (cow manure!) and plant-based pest control methods. The farm sends regional coordinators to every state in India, where they work with farmers interested in organic techniques and demonstrate how to grow enough food to healthily feed a family of four with just one acre of land. Navdanya also purchases any surplus of organic crops from these farmers at a premium.  

So, you may ask, what is your intrepid board member doing out here, awash in newly-irrigated fields and amuck in cow dung? I’m here as an ambassador for BQLT, bringing information about community gardening in New York and coming back with new tools for sustainable agriculture that we can use even in Brooklyn and Queens. I have been pleasantly surprised at how much overlap there is between the work they do here and what we need back home. After all, most rural farmers have very small land holdings – not dissimilar to our own urban growing spaces. They do most of their farming by hand, using small sickles and shovels. Of course, occasionally they can use cows to plow or smooth out a field, which might not be too practical in Bed-Stuy, but other than that I’ll be bringing back irrigation techniques as well as strategies to increase soil fertility that are low-cost and low-maintenance.

Forget buckets and watering cans. Once plants have progressed past the seedling stage, fields are flooded with well water and that water absorbs deeply into the soil. Of course, the sun is much more intense here, so worries about mold and other fungal diseases are not as prevalent as they would be back home. I do love the idea of digging trenches from water sources (rainwater harvest, well pumps) straight to garden beds, though, and kicking back and enjoying the sunshine while gravity does the watering work!

Rural India generally does not have our concerns with heavy metals (lead, cadmium, mercury) and other industrial pollutants. Several farmers I’ve met, though, do worry about insufficient nutrients in their soil, which then leads to many of the issues we are familiar with, such as blossom-end rot in tomatoes, increased susceptibility to pests such as white flies and spider mites, and low yield. One technique that helps to ameliorate soil quality is called Bara Naja, or 12-crops. This is a general multicropping system that can be used to engage soil in any garden bed at several depths, and is effective in fixing nitrogen and adding nutrients to soil. After the bed is prepared, a mix of 12 different kinds of seeds – grains, legumes, vegetables, and rhizomes – is seeded simultaneously, and then allowed to grow to maturity. Each plant is harvested when it’s ready, and the leftover grain and lentil stalks are mulched back into the soil. I have been told that if this is done for three years, in the fourth year the quality and fertility of the soil is greatly improved and can be used for planting even crops with high nutrient demands, like tomatoes and corn.

Meera Bhat is back from India and excited to get her hands back into the earth after this Winter's deep freeze.

Cows on the farm

Bara Naja seed mix


Save the Date - BQLT Annual Meeting, Saturday, April 5th

Save the Date for the upcoming Annual Meeting! Saturday, April 5th, from 9:30 am to 12:30 pm at CNR CenterLight Health System 520 Prospect Place (enter at Classon Avenue).  For more information please email us at

Board Members and Gardeners with State Senator Velmanette Montgomery at LTA's Lobby Day and below with State Assemblyman Joseph Lentol, State Assemblywoman Annette Robinson, State Assemblyman Walter Mosley, and State Assemblywoman Barbara Clark.      

I Remember

Irene Van Slyke Remembers the founding of David Foulke Memorial Garden.  
I remember the year 1971 when I joined the group that founded David Foulke Memorial Garden. I lived across the street from a city owned lot that a neighbor used as a parking lot and repair station. The block association wanted to clean it out and asked the neighbor to leave. He obliged and moved the cars out.  

Ida Oliffe, the block association secretary, wrote to Mayor Lindsey’s office and asked about a city program he had started that would work with block associations to maintain what they called a “vest pocket park.” The block association president, Julio Delatorre, organized the clean-up party. Meetings followed to discuss future features of our park such as a grandiose water fountain. The process truly began when Cornell University Extension, a valuable resource, helped the garden by supplying a truckload of soil paid for by Congressman Fred Richmond. 

Once soil was delivered, a few neighbors and I planted our first vegetables which led us to learn to try crops we had never tasted before. I traded my squash for my neighbor’s exotic beans. Cornell’s John Ameroso had trees planted. The willow oak in the garden today is the only tree that endured. It is forty years old. In the late 1970-1980s, with money raised by the association, the garden bought a second-hand wrought iron fence and had it professionally installed. International food tastings were held as fund raisers representing the gardens diverse cultural groups and social classes at block parties.  

Years later we partnered with Magnolia Tree Earth Center and defined and landscaped the areas for the different purposes they now serve; a seating area, a vegetable growing area, flowers in front. A path was laid out using old railroad ties back then. A year later the ties were removed as they had been treated with creosote. In the 1990s Carol Yorke coordinated a makeover in the garden and re-created a meandering brick path and brick circle, our current seating area. I chose to work on the children’s sandbox with a landscape architect and it's still a popular spot for parents and toddlers. The garden was named in memory of David Foulke after his death. He was the first individual that had pride in creating a flower garden and took responsibility in diligently watering and caring for the plants and the garden as a whole. He took an active part in organizing block parties, parades, and enticed neighbors to bring out their chairs, and a favorite dish and created potluck gatherings. 

I remember…after David died the garden was neglected. But when then-Mayor Giuliani threatened to sell the gardens, I stepped up to the plate. I rallied the neighbors, got support from organizations and organized meetings to gather like-minded citizens to stand up to the challenge. Trust for Public Land contacted various garden leaders to ask them if they would support a lawsuit. We immediately signed up and raised funds to help meet legal costs. Now the David Foulke Memorial Garden is part of the Brooklyn Queens Land Trust. Robert Florin, the garden horticulturist, plants interesting exotic and native plants and also manages the compost pile with Steven Nieman. He holds demos on how to compost on occasion.  Parents and toddlers use the large sandbox and we still hold block parties and a sidewalk sale every year to benefit the garden. Our garden is highly active.

Visit David Foulke Memorial Garden at 248 Bergen Street (between Nevins and Bond) this Spring!  David Foulke Memorial Garden maintains a beautiful 
garden website and a Facebook page.  

I Remember is an ongoing collection of interviews of the founding of BQLT Gardens as told to Nitza Wagoner by the gardeners themselves.

David Foulke Memorial Garden in 1999, and today, below


Conservation and Advocacy

BQLT Supports the Land Trust Alliance

One key part of BQLT's mission is to support advocacy for land conversation here in New York City and around the nation. We gladly support the Land Trust Alliance (LTA) and their advocacy and fundraising campaigns to save acres throughout the nation for open space, gardening, and recreation. This winter, BQLT gardeners helped to kick-off LTA's New York Launch of Together: A Campaign for the Land, a multi-million dollar campaign to support land conservation throughout the United States. We also supported an important lobby day in Albany with LTA and hundreds of other land advocates from across New York State. Ever heard of the Environmental Protection Fund (EPF)? It is incredibly important for New York's environment and for community gardening. The fund supports farming, forestry, public parks, botanical gardens, and community gardens. We personally asked legislators and Governor Cuomo to allocate $200 million to the fund, more than the $157 million planned. Part of the ask is educating legislators why urban community gardening is important, so we remind them that even a small plot of land can give communities sustainable ways to grow food and come together, while also harvesting rain water, composting, and conserving soil in our neighborhoods. We also remind them that a clean and healthy environment and community open space is good for our economy as well. A 2012 study by the Trust for Public Land found that for every $1 invested in land and water conservation the State (and taxpayers) receive $7 in return, in part because of the thousands of jobs the EPF supports in outdoor tourism, agriculture, forest products, and drinking water protection. We thank State Senator Velmanette Montgomery and Assemblywoman Barbara Clark for honoring LTA and BQLT with a legislative resolution for this work and look forward to continuing to spread the word about community gardens and conservation. 
Copyright © 2014 Brooklyn Queens Land Trust, All rights reserved.
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