Tuesday, October 6, 2015  |  0 Comment(s)  |   Email   Print

PUSH Buffalo Nursery

by Ryan Mackin with Josh Smith

Part of Vacant to Vibrant is the creation of urban nurseries that will supply native and project-ready plants for future greening installations in each community. The idea of a community nursery is motivated by the need for but lack of native and specialty plants near urban centers, underutilized vacant parcels, and the possibility of workforce development to perpetuate urban greenhouse operations.

Our partners at PUSH Buffalo were the first to finish construction of their local V2V nursery. To get a closer look at nursery plans and operations, I spoke with PUSH’s Landscape Manager Josh Smith about the creation, maintenance and future of the new greenhouse on Buffalo’s west side.

Here’s what I learned:


Getting Started

Like V2V green infrastructure (GI) sites, the nursery is quite a front-ended project. If planned correctly, the setup should require low maintenance and little added cost down the road.

The nursery startup cost is relatively inexpensive. PUSH’s nursery cost around $14,000, with about $4,000 of that total allocated to the hoop house kit. The rest of the funds covered gutters, rain collection cisterns, watering equipment, plants, soil, containers, hardware for bench structures, and compost startup. Considering PUSH spent about $20,000 on plants for recent greening projects, the nursery should pay for itself soon enough.

But there are many other motivations beyond cost. PUSH now has control over the exact species and cultivars that it would like to use in future GI installs and other greening projects. Sometimes these options, especially select native options, are hard to come by when they’re needed. Too often the nurseries stocking choice species and cultivars are a long drive away from the city.

On Buffalo’s west side, and in all V2V communities, local community nurseries make a lot of fiscal and logistical sense. PUSH is already proving this.

Because the PUSH nursery site had already been used as PUSH’s landscaping headquarters, the site selection process was simple. Before adding the nursery, the site had a concrete foundation and perimeter fencing, and its corner location provides ample sunlight for a healthy growing climate.

With a prime location, dedicated funds and a sensible plan, our Buffalo team was ready to roll.


Nursery Elements

PUSH has some experience operating nurseries. In the past they worked with in-ground plantings but found the transplanting process to be limiting. The old setup was more labor intensive and had a higher risk of compromising the vitality of unearthed plants. Learning from their experience, PUSH decided to go with a container-method nursery this time around. Advantages include less labor, healthier plants and greater efficiency in water and resource use.

The current setup was influenced by Will Allen’s Growing Power, after Josh and Company visited their multi-layer systems in Milwaukee.

The multi-layer bench model is one where plants are positioned at a comfortable working height. Underneath the middle bench lies a newly inoculated vermiculture bin that will likely produce all compost material needed for next year’s operations, if not some to spare. Under the side benches, Josh has just begun to cultivate oyster mushrooms. The mycelium from the fungus will help to break down the petro hydrocarbons in roadside stormwater management systems, and further encourage urban soil remediation on all projects.




Oyster mushrooms (left) and vermicompost (right)


 Gutters on both sides of the hoop house run harvested rain water to five re-purposed, food-safe IBC totes inside the structure. The totes lie at a lower level than the plant benches, so water is pumped up to feed the plants twice a week using a battery-operated pump. Other systems may use soaker hoses to pump harvested water throughout the hoop house, with either grid or solar power. 

Mosquito larvae began to appear in the stagnant water, a problem that was easily resolved by adding minnows and duckweed to the tanks. Now the rain harvesting setup functions more like an aquaponics system!



Plants and Maintenance

The rain garden cornering the lot existed before the nursery installation, treating a large amount of flow from all impervious surfaces on site. Because of the pitch of the site, the 2-foot-wide bioswale on the side is used to convey stormwater back to the larger rain garden at the front of the parcel through a perforated pipe.

Inside, Josh wanted to start with easier container plantings: shrubs, sedges and rush. These take up the bulk of space inside the hoop house, and more flowery plants like iris, joe-pye weed and turtlehead round out the rest of the nursery. He plans to stick with more ubiquitous plant varieties found in many types of designs, ones that are low-maintenance and can survive many types of weather conditions and urban situations.

Again, maintenance at the Nursery only needs to occur twice a week. Standard maintenance includes pumping water to plants and checking their health and progress. Compost maintenance is even less demanding—only requiring seasonal attention. Once the compost operation picks up, yielding a stable usable product, it will still only need monthly maintenance.


Future Work

By the next growing season, the PUSH crew will probably grow more plants than necessary for their own projects. In that case, they could become a supplier to neighboring people and organizations doing similar work. This would include custom growing for others depending on their projects’ needs.

Josh would like to utilize composting heat systems to control the nursery climate over winter months—something similar to that of a project out of the University of Vermont. This would serve to extend the growing season though the current nursery infrastructure is not built to grow at full-force year-round.

In the space outside of the hoop house, Josh would like to grow larger trees and shrubs. The Missouri Gravel Bed method is a particular inspiration that focuses on extensive feeder roots—the ones that are mostly cut off during transplanting operations. Current advantages to trees and shrubs are their low cost and low weight. Current disadvantages include their limited seasonal availability and mediocre quality from large-scale nursery sources.

Josh is personally interested in edibles like the Paw Paw and American Persimmon, native to the eastern United States. Maybe one day west side Buffalo residents will all feast on these unusual fruits!


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