Friday night date with the environment
Friends of Bellport Bay sponsored Perfect Earth founder and landscape architect Edwina von Gal, who discussed the nitrogen harm synthetic chemicals cause, which affects our waters.


Friday night date with the environment


Edwina von Gal, founder of the Perfect Earth Project, enthralled the crowd at the Bellport Community Center.

“Boy, does Bellport Bay have some great friends,” she said, looking over her audience. Every seat was taken.

It was a shimmering Friday night, the kind you want to kick up your heels, knock back a margarita, and party with, but folks traded it for ice tea and lemonade to learn how they could personally take steps on land and quell the toxic overloads affecting their waterway, a mission of Friends of Bellport Bay. Many had to be turned away, said FoBB president Thomas Schultz. “We were at capacity, 160,” he said.

Before von Gal, a noted landscape architect, provided her tips about simple environmental methods that foster great lawns and flower beds, a number of officials spoke, including Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine. Romaine gave an update on the town’s environmental efforts, including Town Hall’s recent initiative, replacing their back lawn with native grasses. He called FoBB a great partner and said the town will plant another 100,000 seed oysters (on top of the 40,000 already planted) in Bellport Bay. But his ultimate hope is to add 30 million of these hard shell animals with funds from New York State.

Legis. Kate Browning’s chief of staff Josh Slaughter updated everyone with the county’s new Reclaim Our Water Septic Improvement Program, which will help homeowners purchase county-approved advanced nitrogen removal septic systems, the first of its kind in New York State, to help reduce the nitrogen load. There are 360,000 homes in Suffolk County with outdated septic systems.

A new system could cost a homeowner $11,000 with grants and special loans. Approximately 400 were selected for the initial program. “We applied to New York State for another $50 million,” Slaughter said. “That means another 2,500 homes.”

Research professor Charles Flagg of the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University, who is monitoring the Great South Bay project, provided his 30th presentation on the state of the Old Inlet breach that occurred in December 2012. “The flood delta is now dry at low tide and many of the little islands are dry even at high tide,” he said. “Lots of sand has moved in over the last few months; the sand replenishment project at Smith Point County Park is showing up.” The good news was that there was a decrease in nitrogen and phytoplankton in the area; salinity was at 25 to 28 parts per thousand. “The ocean is 32 parts per thousand,” Flagg said.

Von Gal’s talk was revelatory and her suggestions are simple: Get rid of the synthetic chemicals you use. They’re absorbed into your skin, your kids’ skin, your pets’ skin, as well as aquatic wildlife and those on land, and cause all sorts of havoc including disrupting the endocrine system, kidney and liver damage and reproductive effects. (In pets and wildlife, they’ve caused death.) They also cause algae blooms. “We address the synthetics,” she said. “Pesticides haven’t been addressed; they accumulate in your system and in the waterways and they’re dangerous.” Studies show they’re also killing pollinators and wildlife.

She made people laugh with this one: “People are walking across their toxic lawns to get to their organic kale.”

So what do you do?

  1. Engage your landscaper. Get a list of chemicals his or her company sprays. Find out why they’re applied, make it clear you want a toxin-free landscape, and ask if the company will work with you. Test the soil; if your lawn needs nutrients, feed it with slow-release organic fertilizers, compost and compost tea and only do it in the fall.
  2. Organic fertilizers for flowerbeds should be applied in early evening after the beneficial insects have left for their nests.
  3. Overwatering promotes mosquitoes. Water twice a week for longer periods so the grass can dry out in between, in the late early hours of the morning, and use drip irrigation on plants only when needed.
  4. Pesticides are anathema to ladybugs and other beneficial insects including pollinators. Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup grass and weed killer, is now listed as a carcinogen in California. (Monsanto is fighting it.) You can use natural weed killers that include vinegar. “What’s wrong with pulling them out?” von Gal asked.
  5. Trees and shrubs don’t need sprays or fertilizer programs. And trees don’t need those dirt volcanoes; they smother the roots.
  6. Mowing high is the best defense against weeds. “Weeds want lots of sun and water,” she said. “If the grass is tight and dense, there’s no way for weed seeds to get in.”
  7. Leave grass clippings on the lawn after mowing; it acts as a natural fertilizer.
  8. Keep the leaves down on plants when the season changes; they act as a blanket for the cold weather.
  9. If your property abuts the water, create a natural buffer.

“We have 218 synthetic chemicals in our aquifer, so that means they’re in your bay,” von Gal said. Many landscapers she knows have stopped using synthetic chemicals. “If your landscaper has questions, tell him or her to call us,” she said.


Sidebar: For more information, visit For The PRFCT Yard Handbook, contact Perfect Earth, or Friends of Bellport Bay.