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Nine Mile Run blog

10
Apr

Spring is here, and that means the return of invasive garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata).  

Flowering garlic mustard

Native to Europe, Asia, and Africa, this plant was introduced to North America in the late-1800’s as a culinary herb.  An edible plant, it has a potent bitter garlic flavor and can be used in pestos and salads. Research shows that garlic mustard was one of the earliest spices used in cooking – it has been found on prehistoric pottery from approximately 4100 BC!

 

A field of garlic mustard

Garlic mustard thrives in Western Pennsylvania and quickly outpaces native plants, as it has no effective natural predators in North America and a very effective means of reproduction.  When invasive plants crowd out native plants, the food supply for our native animals, birds, and insects is reduced.

This plant is biennial, meaning that it completes its life cycle in two years.  In its first year, it has dark green rounded leaves forming a rosette growing close to the ground.  In its second year, it grows up to three feet tall, has heart-shaped leaves, and produces clusters of white flowers.   These flowers are capable of self-pollinating, allowing the spread of the species under less-than-ideal conditions.

1st year garlic mustard

So – how can you help?  It is important to pull garlic mustard during the first year of its life cycle if you are able. Try to remove as much of the taproot as possible and when there are flowers present, bag the plants so that they are not able to seed.  This is not a difficult process, but it is time consuming. Plants will be especially easy to pull if you do it right after it rains and the ground is soft. Also – don’t be discouraged! It can take 2-5 years to eradicate a patch, but a little patience and a continued commitment can make a huge difference!

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02
Mar

Sh**t, scat, poo-poo, dookie, feces, crap, dog logs or my personal Pittsburgh favorite “Caca”,….whatever you want to call it, everyone agrees it’s disgusting and no one likes to have to handle it. But what’s even more disgusting, and I think you’ll agree, is poop in our streams, rivers, and drinking water. Consider these poop facts:

  • America’s 83 million pet dogs produce 10.6 tons of poop every year. (That’s a lot of doo doo.)
  • Only 60% of dog owners pick up after their pets!
  • A single gram of poop contains an estimated 23 million bacteria.

Pet waste contributes to poor water quality by adding harmful bacteria and nutrients to local waters. These bacteria lead to pathogens that pose public health risks. Fecal coliform bacteria, aka poop, can spread serious diseases like Giardia, Salmonella, e coli, Campylobacteriosis. For example, a Campylobacteriosis outbreak in 17 states this year affected 113 people. The bacterial infections proved to be resistant to seven different antibiotics!

Campylobacter

Nutrients from poo-poo, mainly nitrogen and phosphorus, contribute to excessive algae growth which in turn robs water of dissolved oxygen, creating low water quality and unhealthy habitats for wildlife. Our fish friends won’t be able to survive!

So what’s “tragic” about improperly disposed waste? In 1968, scientist Garret Hardin coined the term tragedy of the commons to determine what happens in groups when individuals act in self-interest. Here’s the scenario: There is a communal pasture shared by a number of herders. Some realized that they could add an animal to the pasture and reap great rewards for themselves. The tragedy is that the pasture is eventually ruined by overuse and the entire group and their herds are affected. Many environmental issues fit this notion because they are shared resources, provided by Earth. When one person neglects to clean up after their dog, we all suffer from poor water quality, compromised ecological systems, and public health risks. So the next time you pick up your dogs smelly dookie, remember that you are doing your part to avert the tragedy of the commons! That’s something the entire Nine Mile Run community can be thankful for.

 

 

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09
Feb

Vegetable Gardening in a Small Space

At one point in our lives we’ve always dreamed of having our own gardens, a place we can grow beautiful flowers, and even organic fruits and vegetables. But then it is not always easy as a full-sized garden demands too much maintenance. Fear not, you can always start with just a small space, and growing early spring vegetables are a good option to jumpstart your gardening journey. Whatever time of the year it is, you can always make use of what you planted in your garden, lessening the hassle of having to go out and buy produce from the store.

Growing a snack bar on the deck

Here are some gardening tips you may want to consider in setting up your mini farm:

#1. Grow what you want to eat.

This may seem like a no-brainer, but creating a list of what you plan on eating is an effective way to make the most of your small garden. Grow only what you want to eat as you do to want to use a space, tend the plant, and just end up wasting its fruits. There’s no sense of tending to a garden you do not want to eat. Make a list and identify which ones would make the cut.

#2. Leaves are always easy to tend to.

Leafy vegetables are always a good addition to your backyard, you can cut leaves off every time you’re making a salad, and after a few weeks these parts would just grow back another set of leaves. There’s little effort involved, and you’ll end up having fresh crunchy dishes in no time.

#3. Consider your location.

Vegetables need at least 6 hours of good sun exposure everyday. There are some that do well on shaded areas, but it may be too stressful for most fruits. If you’re working on a small balcony space, chances are only some parts of it is exposed to the sun. Look at which varieties would survive in your planting conditions. Find soil that is rich in organic matter to compensate for the small space, and as an addition, remember these need constant watering, so ensure there’s a steady supply of that.

#4. How much space are you working with?

Whether you’re working with individual pots or a whole strip of planting soil, being able to space your vegetables evenly to allow them room to grow is important. The space you’re working with can determine which ones you can grow- leafy, beans, peas, or bulbs. Most seeds take a lot of space to grow a full-size plant that can bear fruit, so if you’re thinking of planting tomatoes for example, then take note of that.

balcony garden 2016: kale

#1. Garlic

No dish is complete without garlic, it is a staple we add to almost everything we cook. That’s why this vegetable is first on the list. You only need one clove planted, and it will develop into a whole bulb. This is a great starter for your garden as it is easy to grow and maintain.

#2. Kale

Picking some of its leaves will allow a new batch to grow, hence a very efficient vegetable to keep around. It can be a source of food from late summer to early spring.

#3. Early potat

oes

These grow well even in containers, and are usually expensive when bought from stores. Early potatoes grow faster, giving you more use of your small garden.

#4. Lettuce

Another basic vegetable, this cut and come again plant comes in a lot of varieties. Like the kale, cutting a few leaves will not stop the plant’s growth, leaving you with fresh leafy vegetables everyday.

#5. Herbs

For such small plants, herbs are expensive in the store. This is why it’s the perfect pick to grow in your garden, they’re small, easy to maintain, and will make all your dishes tasting fresh.

Do not be afraid to try new things, gardening in a small space is still gardening. Once you got the hang of it, you’ll be surprised how easy it is and how much money you’re saving because of the simple effort you made of growing your own food. Leave a comment down below if you think you’re starting your small garden space with our tips. Also, please don’t forget to share this article so others may know the tricks of vegetable gardening in small spaces.

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24
Jan

Any Pennsylvania resident would agree that deicers (such as road salt) are a necessary tool for getting around safely throughout the winter.  PennDOT maintains nearly 96,000 snow-lane miles — enough to circle the globe nearly four times! In the 2015-16 winter season, they used 1.1 million tons of salt on Pennsylvania roads.Two winters earlier, 63,095 tons of salt were used on Allegheny County roads alone.  Not to mention the thousands of pounds of deicer used on sidewalks and driveways.

A road salt shipment arriving in Pittsburgh, PA(The Salt Factory, 2016).

 

While deicing is crucial in the winter months, what does this mean for our watersheds?  How is the mass distribution of road salt affecting our local ecology?

In 2015, Rob Rossi, a former NMRWA intern and graduate student in the department of Geology and Environmental Science at the University of Pittsburgh, wrote a blog post describing the relationship between road salt and freshwater ecosystems such as Nine Mile Run.

Runoff from both rain events and snow/ice melt transports salt from roadways, driveways, and sidewalks to the surrounding landscape. Once it is free in the environment, salt participates in cation exchange reactions, which release metals — in the form of plant nutrients and trace elements — from the soil. These mobilized metals join salt as it flows through the groundwater. Eventually, both excess salt and metals reach surface waters, such as lakes, rivers, and streams.

In freshwater streams such a Nine Mile Run, the addition of salt poses a threat to native plants and animals, which are not adapted to saline conditions. When the salinity of their environment increases, these organisms struggle to regulate the water and salt content within their cells.  Dissolved metals also pose a similar threat to aquatic organisms. When present in water, metals are taken up through the gills of fish, amphibians, and aquatic insects. Because many aquatic organisms cannot tolerate metals, this exposure can be toxic.   In the long run, continuous exposure to salt and metals may depress the biodiversity of a stream.

 

Exposure to salt and metals threatens species within Nine Mile Run (Nine Mile Run Watershed Association, 2014).

So now comes the big question: how can we minimize the negative effects of deicers without sacrificing our safety?

As it turns out, there are several varieties of road salt, some more environmentally-friendly than others. Unfortunately, the least toxic varieties are also the least affordable. This explains why PennDOT — already spending over $32 million on road salt annually — uses sodium chloride, the cheapest and most toxic variety of road salt, available at 20 cents a pound.

While PennDOT may not be persuaded against using sodium chloride, we are free to use environmentally-friendly road salts around our homes and businesses.  Luckily, there are several varieties available.

  • At 60 cents a pound, calcium chloride contains less cyanide than sodium chloride, and is therefore a healthier choice for our environment.
  • Magnesium chloride (52 cents/lb) contains less chloride than either of the two, making it safer for plants and animals, including pets.
  • Calcium magnesium acetate (CMA) contains no chloride, and is therefore the least toxic choice. In the 1970’s, it was identified as the only road salt to meet a standard of low environmental damage.
  • Because CMA costs 20 to 30 times more than sodium chloride, it is usually sold as part of an de-icer blend. Environmentally friendly blends like these can cost as much as $1.70 a pound.  Visit the Environmental Protection Agency’s Safer Choice Standard website and select “Deicer” as the product type to learn about specific brands to choose from.
  • An easy way to find less toxic deicer blends is to choose brands that are labeled as “pet safe” and do not list sodium chloride ( or NaCl) as an ingredient.  These blends are not only easier on our watershed, but on your furry friend’s paws as well.

Another way to reduce our winter environmental impact is to reduce or eliminate the use of chemical deicers altogether. Be sure to shovel your walkways and sidewalks as soon as you can after it stops snowing, and before foot or vehicle traffic has packed down the snow – this helps prevent the snow from melting and refreezing, or hardening into immovable ice.  This greatly reduces the amount of ice that forms and the amount of deicer that is needed.  Next, always follow the instructions on the product’s container. Consider using a salt spreader.  It will allow you to be more precise and even with your application.  Want to make your own?  Here is a great tutorial!  You can also opt to put down sand or cinders in limited amounts to help with traction.  A bonus:  this will be easier on your landscaping and concrete and brick walkways in the long run, leading to less maintenance and replacement.
So, if these products are going to make a bigger dent in your wallet, is it really worth it?  We would argue yes.  Think of how much deicer you use at your home on an annual basis.  Now multiply that by all the houses in your community.  That’s a lot of chemical deicer!  It is our job to make sure that we are using earth-friendly products and being responsible watershed stewards.  For more information on the science behind salinity and freshwater, check out this great article from the Allegheny Front. Have questions? Please feel free to contact our Restoration Stewardship Coordinator, Lindsey-Rose Flowers, at lindsey.rose@ninemilerun.org.

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29
Nov

This October, NMRWA was fortunate to strengthen our partnership with the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs (GSPIA) by providing a real-life learning laboratory for students and international visitors. In spring semester of 2017 we worked with Professor Marcela Gonzalez’s class, “City and Region, Theory and Practice”, as part of a group of nonprofits that hosted student-led projects. Two of our staff members, Michael Hiller and Maureen Copeland, coordinated a project that analyzed the Rosedale Runoff Reduction Project (RRRP) through a triple-bottom-line assessment. The resulting study provided a baseline to develop a custom calculator.

We were excited when Professor Gonzalez approached Mike Hiller again in the summer of 2017 to work more comprehensively with her fall semester of 2018 capstone class, “Policy Planning in Developing Countries”. The course was coordinated with a capstone course in the University of los Andes in Bogota, Columbia. The entire course of GSPIA students were assigned to work with NMRWA, specifically on the RRRP. The research projects include developing a triple-bottom-line calculator, analyzing the tree canopy, and comparison of other planning projects related to the RRRP. Additionally, the students were asked to think about how these problems and solutions could be translated on a global scale.  This question is especially important as University of los Andes embarks on a series of water quality projects in Villapinzón, a small community outside of Bogota. Villapinzón has heavy industry, with large leather factories that create polluted waterways.

The visitors and NMRWA staff touring the Center for Coalfield Justice in Washington, PA.

In the spring semester of 2019, GSPIA students will visit Villapinzón to learn about their local project.  However, the local community leaders, students, and faculty from University of Andes visited Pittsburgh first, in October, to learn about our work. So it was with great pleasure that we welcomed these international visitors to the watershed, giving them a tour of the NMR Aquatic Ecosystem Restoration Project and the RRRP. We also tagged along on a tour of the Center for Coalfield Justice in Washington, PA to learn about how the local waterways are being polluted in a rural area of Pittsburgh.

Thank you to Professor Gonzalez, University of Pittsburgh students, University of los Andes students and faculty, the community leaders of Villapinzón, and the Center for Coalfield Justice! We truly enjoyed our time together, and look forward to future opportunities to work together and exchange information on a global scale.

 

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