Daily Plant Masthead

Volume XXVI, Number 5470
Thursday, Aug 11, 2011

Arthur Ross Citywide Nursery

Originally there was a tree nursery on Rikers Island. Then the Citywide Nursery was moved next to the Bronx Nursery as their operations worked side by side within the Arthur Ross Nursery compound. Today the Citywide Nursery has undergone a huge metamorphosis. Last year the construction of 27 new hoop houses with automated irrigation systems was completed. Very soon, Phase II will commence with the construction of a state-of-the-art Greenhouse for propagation of Bronx and Citywide Nursery stock plants.

The Citywide Nursery is a great case study example of permaculture, organics and sustainability in practice, not just in theory. The term “Permaculture” stems from the words permanent and culture. It is a way of horticulture which works hand in hand and keeps things together that work well together. My mentor, Bobby Zappala, said to me one day that he was training us so that one day when he was no longer with Parks we would be able to take over the Citywide Nursery, and it was so.

Debralee Mercado is the Gardener and has been at the nursery since 1999. Over the years she has gained a very valuable experience of nursery operations, propagation, plant ID & is a very knowledgeable horticulturist. She also is essential in the day to day management of the nursery operations and customer service. Michael Carmody is the Assistant Gardener and has been here since 2001. Mike is our lead propagation person in the propagation house. He is excellent at propagation and is always in the # 4 house producing thousands of plants. L awrence Christian is our City Park Worker. He is the newest member of the Citywide Nursery family team and learning the new ways of horticulture.

As for me, my name is Richie Cabo and I came to the Citywide Nursery in May of 2001, a few months before the famous “9/11 Survivor Tree” arrived to the nursery for us to nurture back to health. Last December the tree was taken back home to Ground Zero as an American symbol of survival, recovery and strength after the 9/11 attacks. Today I am the Director of the Citywide Nursery.

Together Debbie, Mike and I work well together and bring permanence to the core of the Citywide Nursery staff with many years of nursery experience. This enables us to train new staff, increase the quality and production of nursery stock for use throughout the New York City Parks.

Last year on a staff research field trip we visited Stone Barnes and toured the Organic Farm. We observed many of their organic practices, and the one which stood out the most for me was the O2 Compost system which they built at a cost estimate of approximately $50,000 with tradesman costs and materials.

I designed a NYC Parks Dept. variation of that system with the help of the O2 Compost Company. Our cost was approximately $5,000 with the help of our Bronx district shops electrician Danny Moon, and we built it with the Citywide Nursery staff & our seasonal horticulture JTP staff. Now there is a plan to build Mega O2 Composters; one for each borough.

For the last three years the most important metamorphosis has been that we have been evolving to emerge as an Organic Citywide Nursery to help lead the way to a different way of thinking about horticulture. We do not use any fungicides, insecticides or herbicides and run purely on Integrated Pest Management and Organic methodologies which also include the employment of beneficial insects and hard work.

I was very much influenced by an organic strawberry farmer, Thompson and Finch in Ancrum , NY. When I asked him how he does it he pointed to a sign that said, “Organic Farming is not for wimps, it’s hard work!”

One of the most rewarding projects that we work on is supporting the children’s horticulture educational programs run by the NYC Urban Park Rangers in the NYC schools. We also grow vegetables for the Park Ranger educational gardens, and have hosted children’s educational nursery tours for classes which arrived in school buses at the Arthur Ross Citywide Nursery.

I have completed my new book “The Mystery of The Magical Cucumber Tree” and plan to donate 1/3 of the proceeds to The NYC Urban Parks Rangers Horticulture Programs and 1/3 to The Sargent and Downing Gardens and Nursery another non-profit horticulture program for children’s horticultural education which I founded in Beacon NY. Look for the book on amazon.com this September!

At the Citywide Nursery we work hard to support and provide good service to the gardeners and organizations that beautify NYC parks. Come visit us and enjoy our new Koi pond. We are a great resource to help you with your planting projects! Call 718- 231-3845 and ask for Richie or Debbie or email us at richie.cabo@parks.nyc.gov

Written by Richie Cabo; Director of the Citywide Nursery


“A book is a version of the world.
If you do not like it, ignore it, or offer your own version in return.”

Salman Rushdie
(1947 - )

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