Saving the planet, in your backyard


The Central Long Island Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, an international nonprofit environmental organization dedicated to protecting the world’s oceans, recently constructed an “ocean-friendly garden” at Pennsylvania Avenue and Ocean Beach Park in Long Beach, with knee-high, solid-wood pine planter boxes for tomatoes, eggplants, peppers and herbs and paver paths surrounded by mulched beds.

Mulch will be created in the garden’s composter, essentially a plastic box with long slits where dead plants can decompose into rich soil.

The project is a demonstration garden, intended to inform the public about what’s possible in the small space of the typical Nassau County backyard. If you’re in Long Beach, stop by and take a look. We should all pay close attention to this garden.

If enough of us adopt the practices employed here, we could make a big difference in protecting the environment. The garden is laid out in such a way as to prevent rainwater from running off into the surrounding environment. If this were a backyard, it would stop rainwater from running into local streets and down into our storm drains and bays.

As rainwater sloshes over our streets, it picks up contaminants like dog feces, motor oil and all manner of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides and sends them straight into the bays. That’s why, during a downpour, there’s often a deluge of fecal matter in our bays, causing bacterial levels to soar and town authorities to shut down shellfishing.

Ocean-friendly gardens are based on three central tenets: conservation, permeability and retention. Conservation means planting non-invasive, drought-resistant plants that require relatively little watering, so we draw less water from our aquifers — ancient stores of water hundreds of feet below the surface — thus conserving them for future generations. The mulched paths are permeable, drawing water into the ground rather than allowing it to run off into the bays.

No one’s saying you should rip out your entire lawn. The basic concept is this: Fill your yard with many plants and trees that will keep water in rather than sending it out. Future generations will thank you.