Category Archives: Blog

Compost 101


Compost is decayed organic material that can be used as a plant fertilizer. By composting leftover food, yard waste, and a variety of other ingredients, you create a nutrient-rich fertilizer and minimize the waste that is sent to landfills. Your garden plants and landscape will grow healthier and stronger. The ideal “recipe” includes: air, water, “brown stuff” (dead and dried plant parts, such as pine needles and leaves), and “green stuff” (grass clippings, kitchen vegetable scraps, and other plants).  The benefits of adding compost to your garden are extensive, and include such things as:

  • Enriching soil with nutrients for plant growth
  • Improving soil structure
  • Inhibiting erosion
  • In clay soil, it promotes drainage and aeration
  • And in sandy soil, it enhances moisture and nutrient retention

You can reduce the need for water, fertilizers, and pesticides, which offers many economic benefits. It is also a low cost alternative to standard landfill cover and artificial soil amendments. Composting diverts organic materials from landfills, helping to both extend landfill life and keep materials out of these dumping zones.

Watch this composting video on more tips!


Seed Saving

If you’ve ever wondered how today’s crops came to be, you have the the process of seed saving to thank. Humans have selected certain seeds for various traits over the generations, and have traded them across the world. This selection of seeds led to a genetic diversity of crops that’s been adapted to many growing conditions and climates, creating a large base for the world’s food supply. Saving seeds has been an essential part of our survival for thousands of years.

Seed saving is an important and vital part of food security worldwide. With saving seeds, we are able to preserve the varietal characteristics we want. The agricultural industry relies on food that meets consumer standards and withstands long distance shipping. The industry continually wants the best varieties, so it is important to save the seeds from the plants that meet these qualifications. Another reason for seed saving is to develop and preserve the strains that are adapted to your own growing conditions. If you want varieties and strains best adapted to your specific climate conditions, saving your own seeds is one of the only ways to ensure this. Over generations seeds have the ability to develop very specific adaptability to the climate conditions at your site.

Over time, genetic crop diversity has severely dwindled, meaning that our food supply is based on a very small selection of crops. This makes these crops more vulnerable to pests, diseases, and changes in climate. Saving, as well as sharing, rare, heirloom, and even native seeds will continue to be an important part of our worldwide food security in the years to come.

Over at our Bayonne Ecology Center we recently collected the seeds from a few of our kale plants. To make sure the seeds are viable, you need to make sure that the pods are left on the plant until they have dried up and become a tan color (such as the above picture). Once this happened, we picked the pods off of the plant and carefully broke the pods open, revealing the little gray/brown round seeds. The amount of seeds we collected might not look like a lot because they’re so tiny, but they can definitely grow a very large number of new kale plants

Kale seeds


Making the Switch to Sustainable Energy

As Rock n’ Renew supporters know, Jonny’s band became concerned with their fuel consumption while they were on the road touring, causing them to power their vehicles with the sustainable energy from french fry grease from fast food restaurants. This initiative is one that more people should be taking, especially when you consider the fact that we have used about one trillion barrels of oil and have one trillion barrels left.

This means that we have already used half of our oil resource, and energy demand is expected to increase in the coming years. We need to start thinking about sustainable energy resources such as wind, hydro, and solar energy. This won’t be an immediate change, seeing as some of the technologies needed for these renewable resources still need to be invented, with a considerable amount of time, money, and effort going into these projects. It is becoming increasingly evident that we must make this transition, and soon. Biofuel is one resource that has the potential to help us during this transition time, however it is not the end solution due to the fact that biofuel is not sustainable. A combination of wind, hydro, and solar energy will ultimately be needed, but it has been argued that out of the three, solar energy is our best and most feasible option at this point. A frequent gripe about converting to solar energy is the cost, but solar panel companies are making it easier for people to afford such renewable energy by lowering the cost of solar power by 10-20%. Solar energy is cleaner than fossil fuels, it is more cost-effective in the end, and it has the capabilities of supporting and sustaining upcoming generations



Penny Harvest

Ever heard of a Penny Harvest?

“The Common Cents Penny Harvest grew from one child’s desire to feed the homeless, and since 1991, children between the ages of four and 14 have been converting their natural compassion for others into action by collecting pennies and turning those pennies into grants for community organizations – $8.1 million in grants donated by children since 1991!

The Penny Harvest shows young people that they have the ability to make the world a better place by introducing them to the power of philanthropy and service during their formative years.  As children help others, they develop their generosity and moral character, and through practice they learn through practice the skills and responsibilities of democratic participation.”

Several New York City schools have graciously harvested pennies and chosen Rock ‘n Renew as their non profit recipient of a Penny Harvest Grant. One such school is the Mamie Fay School, located in Queens, NY. We traveled to this school, where the students put on an assembly for us in which they honored Rock n’ Renew as the recipient of a $250 grant. They spoke about choosing Rock n’ Renew because, in their school-wide poll, the majority of the students voted that saving the environment was one of their top priorities in assessing what organizations received grants. The Colonel David Marcus School was the other institution to award us with a grant, and we want to thank both this school and the Mamie Fay School for their generosity.

What’s Growing in Our Garden?

Our purple basil

Curious about what Rock n’ Renew is currently growing at our Bayonne Ecology Center Garden? We often update our garden by planting new vegetables, fruits, and flowers, so the layout and contents of the garden are always subject to change. Most recently we have planted peas, African marigolds, tomatoes, watermelon, squash, pumpkins, and various types of peppers and basil.

Planting marigolds and tomatoes next to each other is a good gardening trick, as marigolds help protect tomatoes against insect and nematode damage. We also have a variety of herbs growing in the garden, such as thyme, mint, and basil.  In order to make room for a new planting bed, we weeded out the mint near the entrance of the garden. Instead of letting this great-smelling herb go straight to compost, we hung bushels of it up to dry. After drying the mint leaves, you simply steep the leaves in boiling water for a few minutes and there you have it, your own fresh mint tea!

We also have many vegetables and fruit in the garden ready for harvest. We just picked some raspberries, blackberries, bell peppers, jalapenos, banana peppers, tomatoes, and swiss chard. We also have hundreds of peaches! Looks like we are going to have to make some peach jam.


The Bullitt Center

The Bullitt Center officially opened during Earth Day 2013, and it has been named the greenest commercial building in the world. This building boasts many sustainable feats, including creating 100% of its own energy as well as having no onsite parking for cars. No cars may seem like a challenge or even a deal breaker, but the Bullitt Center has 25 bike spots and showers on every floor, making it incredibly easy to quickly clean up after riding your bike to work. This building is also located on a bus route and is walking distance from a future light rail, so it is safe to say that getting around sans cars won’t be a problem. The Bullitt Center will create all of its own energy, mainly through the use of solar panels. There are few sunny days in Seattle, so solar panels were laid on the roof and the sidewalk of the building, in order to truly soak up every drop of sun possible. The building will have an overall net-zero energy result seeing as during the winter months it will draw energy from the grid, but it will not exceed the amount of energy that the building supplied to the grid in the summer.

Large windows on the outside of the building provide more than 80% of the building’s lighting needs, and unlike most buildings, the frame of the Bullitt Center is made out of wood (not steel). Not only is the frame made from wood that was sustainably harvested within a 600 mile radius, but in order to replace cement (which is responsible for carbon dioxide emissions around the world), the building uses a waste product of coal burning called “fly ash” to create cement. The Bullitt Center will put Seattle’s rain water to good use, harvesting it and using it for all non-drinking water needs. However, these uses may soon include drinking water, seeing as there has been a petition to change Seattle’s current codes regarding drinkable water. The building aims to make absolutely no use of the state’s public water supply, a remarkable goal for an age where water scarcity is becoming a huge global issue. The Bullitt Center will use only 83% of the heating energy required of most commercial buildings. This is due to the building’s multiple wells located far beneath the ground, which are heated and cooled by the fairly constant temperature of the soil

The Bullitt Center aims to achieve the goals of the Living Building Challenge, which has a long list of sustainable and ecofriendly requirements. Among other things, to fulfill certification a building must be self-sufficient in terms of energy and water for a minimum of 12 months in a row. Another requirement of the Living Building Challenge includes very strict standards for green materials. In order to meet these standards, it took the building planners of the Bullitt Center a whole extra year to find materials free of hazards and toxins.

Bayonne Mural Project

What once was a blank wall at Rock ‘n Renew’s Bayonne Ecology Center has been transformed into a colorful work of art. Six seniors from Rye Country Day School in Rye, NY chose to participate with Rock ‘n Renew for their mandatory service learning project, in which they have both designed the idea for the mural as well as painted the mural. The mural alternates between forest-y greens and bright, vibrant pinks, purples, and blues. The strips of brighter colors have somewhat of an ombre effect to them, starting off darker and then gradually lightening. The windowsills have been painted using various nature stencils, really adding to the overall (and colorful!) look of the mural. These seniors have so far completed the beginning stage of the mural project, not only painting the mural but decorating the garden’s fence with colorful duct tape and creating and hanging a Rock ‘n Renew sign to the front gate. They also helped decorate our rain barrel, which we recently set up to begin collecting storm water.

Mural Project at Bayonne Ecology Center

Two local Bayonne schools joined the mural project with the help of their 8th grade students, who came to the ecology center for a day full of art and environmental projects. They aided in painting the mural, making seed balls, and installing a new waterfall in the pond. The students painted their own wooden panels that will eventually outline the finished mural. The middle schoolers planted a variety of fruits and vegetables, including delicious watermelon, squash, and pumpkin, and they helped us in the maintenance of the garden by weeding and mulching the plant beds.

On May 31, 2013 Dr. Patricia McGeehan, who is the Bayonne School District Superintendent, joined Rock ‘n Renew to officially initiate our organization’s Public Art Project. The painted mural at the Bayonne Ecology Center is the kick-off to our one-year public arts project, where we will create several large sculptures made of rebar and organic materials, which will be anchored in Newark Bay, the Hudson River, and the East River. These sculptures will actually clean the watershed because we will incorporate our slow-dissolving effective microorganisms into the sculptures. Students from over 40 schools throughout the region will participate in the addition of even more sculptures, as well as watershed restoration projects that are developed, installed, and managed by them. The goal of this year long project is to shine light on the importance of environmental education and consciousness by participating in truly special and unique public art projects.



No Till Gardening

It is that time of the week to learn about the unique gardening techniques that we use here at Rock ‘n Renew. This week we will explore No Till Gardening.

Earth Easy tells us how No Till Gardening works, and the many benefits of this type of gardening.

“Gardeners traditionally dig, or turn over the top layer of soil before planting to get rid of weeds, and make it easier to use fertilizers and to plant crops. This also speeds up the decomposition of crop residue, weeds and other organic matter. Tilling the soil is often the most strenuous of a gardener’s tasks.

A complex, symbiotic relationship exists between the soil surface and the underlying micro-organisms, however, which contributes to a natural, healthy soil structure. Digging into the bed can interfere with this process and disturb the natural growing environment. It can also cause soil compaction and erosion, and bring dormant weed seeds to the surface where they will sprout.With ‘no-till’ gardening, once the bed is established the surface is never disturbed. Amendments such as compost, manure, peat, lime and fertilizer are ‘top dressed’, i.e added to the top of the bed where they will be pulled into the subsoil by watering and the activity of subsoil organisms. Weeding is largely replaced by the use of mulch. By adding material in layers, the underlying soil surface remains spongy, making it easy for the young roots of newly planted seedlings to work through the soil. This is similar to the way soil is formed in nature.”No Till Gardening

  • promotes natural aeration and drainage
  • saves water
  • reduces or eliminates the need to weed
  • saves time and energy
  • helps soil retain carbon
  • builds earthworm populations
  • helps reduce soil erosion

Here is a short video on the perks of No Till Gardening with Mulch!


Here at Rock ‘n Renew we teach students how to grow their own food, while exploring the differences between various agricultural practices such as, Permaculture, Biodynamics , Biointensive, Natural Farming, No Till Farming, and many others. Through scientific analysis, students make their own evaluations as to which systems work best. We will be making a post every week about each of these agricultural practices. This week we will learn about Permaculture and how it works.

What Gardening Know How says about this way of gardening:

“Permaculture gardens serve many functions. Rather than limit the garden to only one use, this style of gardening employs a variety of uses. This garden provides food and medicinal crops, wildlife habitats, crafting materials, an attractive appearance, and a private, relaxing atmosphere throughout every season. They are self-sustaining.

Nothing within the permaculture garden should ever be wasted. Garden waste is used for composting, which in turn, is used for soil amendment and fertilizer.

Water is also an important element with permaculture gardens. Not only does water keep the soil and plants hydrated, but it is also used to attract wildlife to the permaculture garden. Many permaculture gardens even implement recycling practices for watering. For instance, rain barrels are often used to catch rainwater coming from the gutter downspout. This not only saves on water but is especially

good for the garden as rainwater is loaded with nutrients.

There is no need for pesticides in a permaculture garden. Water features often encourage beneficial insects, birds, frogs, and other small wildlife creatures, and many of these will feed on pests in the permaculture garden. Companion plantings also help keep insect and other pest problems to a minimum.

Permaculture gardens require less maintenance. Once a permaculture garden has

established itself, you do nothing but water and harvest crops or add occasional mulch.Permaculture simply refers to a garden that can essentially take care of itself. Each plant in a permaculture garden has a specific purpose. Some are used solely for food and others for medicine. Some are planted to attract beneficial insects, while others are planted to deter pests. Then there are those that are strictly planted for improving the soil, and those that simply boost the permaculture garden’s beauty.”

Permaculture aims to combine the best of natural landscaping and edible landscaping that sustain itself and the gardener. It also emphasizes using native plants that are adapted to your local area. Every plant in the garden must serve a purpose. Go ahead and try to incorporate permaculture practices next time you are planning out your garden.
You can learn more about permaculture here:


It is spring, which means it is asparagus season! All you is cut the young shoots, and they keep growing for about 8 weeks.

Organic Gardening tells us what we need to know about growing asparagus.

“Asparagus is a perennial vegetable grown for its delicious young shoots. Rich in B vitamins, vitamin C, calcium, and iron, asparagus is one of the first crops of spring harvest. Fresh-picked spears are far more tender and tasty than store-bought ones.
Asparagus thrives in any area having winter ground freezes or dry seasons. The mild, wet regions of Florida and the Gulf Coast are about the only places where it’s difficult to grow.
Select and prepare your asparagus bed with care; this crop will occupy the same spot for 20 years or more. It can tolerate some shade, but full sun produces more vigorous plants and helps minimize disease. Asparagus does best in lighter soils that warm up quickly in spring and drain well; standing water will quickly rot the roots.”

We are still patiently waiting for our asparagus to shoot up out of the ground. We can’t wait to start cutting our shoots and having 8 delicious weeks of asparagus!

Check out these delicious asparagus recipes…