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How to Compost

Composting involves mixing yard and household organic waste in a pile or bin and providing conditions that encourage decomposition. The decomposition process is fueled by millions of microscopic organisms (bacteria, fungi) that take up residence inside your compost pile, continuously devouring and recycling it to produce a rich organic fertilizer and valuable soil amendment.

Sound complicated? It’s really not. All you need to know about composting is a basic understanding of a few simple principles, and a little bit of elbow grease. Nature does the rest.

Note: Decomposition, or the composting process, occurs constantly and gradually around us everyday. The dark, rich soil covering the forest floor is an excellent example of this. When we compost, all we’re really doing is speeding up Mother Nature.

Location & Appearance

First you’ll need to select your location for composting. Where you put it depends on function and aesthetics.

In terms of appearances and good relations with your neighbors, you probably don’t want to place your bin on your front lawn next to the mail box. (Your neighbors, and not to mention your mail man, will also appreciate a more behind-the-scenes location.)

Instead, opt for the backyard, or, if you don’t have one, then a compost bin located in your basement can do the trick.

Want to build your own? Here’s one simple solution: convert old shipping pallets (which you can usually pick up for free) into a compost “repository.” Use one for the bottom. Pound in metal support poles and then add pallets by slipping them over the support poles to make your bin’s walls and you’re all set.

You can also skip the bin (a structure isn’t essential) and just have a compost pile or heap. In terms of appearances — and if your homeowners association is fussy — you may want to screen the pile from view by planting shrubs or a fence. You’ll also probably not want it by your picnic table or other areas outdoors where you entertain.

From a functional standpoint, you’ll need a place with good air circulation. Don’t place it next to your home or other wooden buildings as the decomposing scraps and resulting compost may cause the wood to rot. Partial shade is a good idea so the compost doesn’t get overheated. Also make sure the spot of land where you place your heap gets good drainage.

Close to the garden and to a water source are both good places for building your compost pile since it will be easier to move the materials to and from the garden and easier to water it. Another idea may be to place it near your kitchen to make it convenient to place table scraps on the pile or in the bin.


Make your pile no smaller than 3′ x 3′ x 3′. In fact, this is probably the perfect size. It’s sufficient enough to “cook” your waste and transform it into compost, but not so large that it will become unmanageable and hard to turn.


The microbes that do your dirty work in the compost pile require water for survival, but it can be hard to judge how much water to add and when. Too much water means your organic waste won’t decompose and you’ll get a slimy and smelly pile that could well answer to the name “swamp thing.” Too little water and you’ll kill the bacteria and you won’t get your compost.

One rule of thumb: the more green material (cut grass, weeds, leaves) you put in, the less water you’ll need to add. In fact, if you need to add dry ingredients such as straw or hay, soak the material first in water so it won’t dry out your compost pile. In general, your compost should be moist, but not sopping wet.

If you are backyard composting and you get a lot of rain, build a roof over the pile. This can be as simple as a tarp. The reason you want to give your compost pile more shelter is because nutrients, or leachates, leak out when it rains. That’s not such a problem in a place where rainfall isn’t heavy, but if you get a lot of rain where you live, it can make a big difference. Too much water in the pile will slow down the process and can also make it slimy and icky.


Oxygen is also required by many of the microorganisms responsible for successful composting. Give them adequate ventilation and they will take care of the rest. You can make sure that the bacteria in your compost gets sufficient air by turning the pile often and well. Use a pitch fork, spade or compost aerator to mix your pile. If you’ve got a compost tumbler, you’ve got it easy. Just crank that lever. Don’t aerate your compost and it will break down slowly, resulting in a slimy, dense, stinky pile. It’s also a good idea to turn the contents since it rearranges the decaying material. With a little care, you can move the less decomposed material on the edges to the middle of the pile to heat up.


As they eat, the organisms responsible for composting generate large amounts of heat, which raise the temperature of the pile or compost bin and speeds up decomposition. A compost pile that is working well will produce temperatures of 140-160 degrees Fahrenheit. At these temperatures almost all weed seeds and plant diseases are killed. A “very hot” compost pile will generate temperatures of up to 170 degrees Fahrenheit for up to a week or more. Use a compost thermometer to measure the exact temperature at different locations inside the pile. Note: As organic material in a compost pile heats up, it breaks down and takes up less space. A compost pile can shrink up to 70% as it “cooks.”

Adding Materials

When adding organic waste to your compost, don’t squash the materials down to make more space. Squashing the contents will squeeze out the air that microbes in the compost pile need to turn your garbage into gold. (Instead you’ll be promoting the anaerobic microbes, which also do a good job converting carrot peels and other organic matter into compost but tend to be a lot smellier.)

Also be strategic about filling your bin. Include a mixture of brown fibrous ingredients and greens. A well-balanced “diet” will ensure that composting doesn’t take too long and that you don’t end up with a slimy, smelly heap. Also shred, dice or otherwise make scraps smaller, which will help the resident bacteria do a good job in converting the garbage into compost.

Finally, after you’ve added kitchen vegetable waste, throw some leaves or grass clippings on top of it. This will help keep things balanced, reduce smells and make your compost bin less attractive to critters who are trying to sniff out a free meal.

(original source)

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Soil — The Final Frontier

We know less about life in the earth under our feet than we do about the far side of the moon. Yet every plant and animal you can think of depends on this vast hidden ecosystem.

Each shovel of soil holds more living things than all the human beings ever born. Lots of species are still waiting for scientists to identify and name them. This is a world where fungi lay traps for thread-like worms. Bacteria dine on toxic chemicals. The smaller the creature, the stranger are its habits.

Dig into this underground universe and meet its tiny but helpful residents.

Call Us Today! 631-726-0469

337 Montauk Highway Water Mill, NY 11976

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How to Start an Organic Garden in 9 Easy Steps:

You’ve been trying to eat more organic foods, both to decrease the amount of pesticides you and your family consume, and to help protect the environment from overloading with toxic chemicals. But organics can get a bit expensive, we know. Luckily, there’s a way to grow your own fresh produce while having fun and learning at the same time: organic gardening!

Don’t know where to start? It is possible to hire someone to install and maintain a beautiful organic garden for you. But most of us can roll up our sleeves with a surprisingly small amount of effort. Remember, you can start small, even with just a single plant or two. Don’t worry if things aren’t perfect right away.

Organic gardening means you won’t be using synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, but that doesn’t mean your plants are left to fend for themselves. There are an array of tools you can use to bolster plant health and ward off pests. Organic gardening also isn’t just about what you don’t do, it’s about trying to foster a more holistic, natural ecosystem. Read on for specific tips, taken from The Daily Green’s expert garden blogger, Leslie Land, her New York Times book 1000 Gardening Questions & Answers and other sources.

Preparing the Soil

In order to get the best results with your new organic garden, you’ll want to make sure the soil is properly conditioned. You have to eat, and so do plants, so make sure your veggies get lots of fresh nutrients. Good healthy soil helps build up strong, productive plants. Chemical soil treatments can not only seep into your food, but they can also harm the beneficial bacteria, worms and other microbes in the soil.

The best way to gauge the quality of your soil is to get it tested. You can get a home testing kit, or better, send a sample to your local agricultural extension office. For a modest fee you’ll get a complete breakdown of pH and nutrient levels, as well as treatment recommendations (be sure to tell them you’re going organic). That way you can tailor your gardening program. Typically, it’s best to test in the Fall, and apply any organic nutrients before Winter.

Even if you don’t have time for testing, you’ll want to make sure your soil has plenty of humus — the organic matter, not the similarly named Mediterranean spread. According to 1000 Gardening Questions & Answers, you’ll want to mix in compost, leaf and grass clippings and manure. Manure should be composted, unless you aren’t going to harvest or plant anything for two months after application. Preferably, get your manure from local livestock that have been organically and humanely raised — and never use manure from animals that eat meat.

How to Make Good Compost

All gardens benefit from compost — and preferably you can make your own on site. Hey, it’s free! Compost feeds plants, helps conserve water, cuts down on weeds, and keeps food and yard waste out of landfills (where it produces methane), instead turning garbage into “black gold.” Spread compost around plants, mix with potting soil, use to bolster struggling plants…it’s hard to use too much!

According to Country Living, the best compost forms from the right ratio of nitrogen- and carbon-rich organic waste, mixed with soil, water and air. It might sound like complicated chemistry, but don’t worry too much if you don’t have time to make perfect compost. Even a minimally tended pile will still yield decent results.

  1. To get started, measure out a space at least three feet square. Your compost heap can be a simple pile or contained within a custom pen or bin (some can be rotated, to improve results).
  2. Add alternating layers of carbon (or brown) material — leaves and garden trimmings — and nitrogen (or green) material — such as kitchen scraps and manure, with a thin layer of soil in between.
  3. Top off the pile with four to six inches of soil. Turn the pile as new layers are added and water to keep (barely) moist, in order to foster microbe action. You should get good compost in as little as two months (longer if it’s cold).
  4. A properly maintained compost pile shouldn’t smell. But if it does add more dry carbon material (leaves, straw, or sawdust) and turn it more frequently.
  5. Even if you live in a city, you can do some composting under your counter with a tidy worm kit, or partner with a community garden.

Choose the Right Plants

It really pays to select plants that will thrive in your specific micro-conditions. As a general guide don’t forget to check the USDA’s Hardiness Zones (which have recently been updated by the National Arbor Day Foundation due to climate change). Choose plants that will be well adjusted to each spot, in terms of light, moisture, drainage and soil quality. Most gardens have gradations in these variables. The happier your plants are, the more resistant they’ll be to attackers.

If you’re buying seedlings, look for plants raised without chemical fertilizers and pesticides. A great place to look is at your local farmers’ market, which may also have native plants and varieties well suited to your area. It’s better to buy stocky seedlings with few, if any blooms yet, and with roots that don’t look overcrowded.

Many things are best grown from seed, including sunflowers, annual poppies, evening-scented stock (Matthiola bicornis), coriander, dill, annual phlox (Phlox drummondii), larkspur, annual lupine, morning glories, sweet peas, squash and cucumbers.

Plant Crops in Wide Beds

Plants that you will be harvesting, such as vegetables or cutting flowers, should be grouped tightly in beds that you don’t walk on (raised beds work great). Grouping reduces weeding and water waste, and helps you target compost and nutrients. Easier path maintenance helps lead to healthy soil. Ample space between rows helps promote air circulation, which repels fungal attacks.

Remember that seedlings won’t always stay diminutive, and you do want to try to limit over shadowing. It’s a good idea to thin crops based on nursery suggestions.

According to Leslie Land, if you have limited space and time, and want the highest returns of fresh organic produce, these plants are typically winners:

  1. Indeterminate Tomatoes. So named because the vines keep getting bigger and producing new fruit until they are felled by frost.
  2. Non-Hybrid (Old-Fashioned) Pole Beans. They keep growing and producing ’til frost — assuming you keep them picked.
  3. Zucchini. Everything they say about avalanches of zucchini is true, especially of hybrid varieties.
  4. Swiss Chard. You can keep breaking off outer leaves for months, and every picking will be tender as long as plants get enough water.
  5. Tall Snow Peas and Sugarsnaps. They grow readily and produce delicious rewards.

Proper Watering

The best time to water plants is usually in the morning. Why? Mornings tend to be cool and without strong winds, so the amount of water lost to evaporation is reduced. If you water in the evening plants stay damp over night, making them more likely to be damaged by fungal and bacterial diseases.

Ideally, you want to water the roots, not the greenery, which is easily damaged. A drip or soak system can work great, or just carefully water the bases of plants by hand.

Most experts recommend substantial, infrequent watering for established plants, typically a total of about one inch of water per week (including rain). One or two applications a week encourages deeper rooting, which promotes stronger plants. To avoid shocking tender greenery, try to use water at or near air temperature (collected rainwater is best).

With population growth and climate change putting increasing pressure on our precious freshwater supplies, it is becoming more important than ever to save water.


Ah weeding. Even if you live in the Biosphere, you’ll still get weeds, since their tiny seeds are pervasive. Pulling weeds by hand may sound like hard work — and it can be — but it also can be good exercise, and gets you outside in the fresh air. You don’t want to pour toxic chemicals on your food, or where your children and pets play, right?

Reduce the number of weeds you have to contend with by applying mulch (which also helps protect the soil). According to Leslie Land, organic mulch that will rot down into the soil is almost always preferable to landscape fabric, although burlap and other materials can work in a pinch. Straw is cheap but doesn’t last long. Wood chips are nice, but can get pricey. Many people opt to use lawn clippings, although it should be noted that because they are high in nitrogen, clippings should only be used on plants that need a lot of the nutrient, such as squash and lettuce.

If you get tired of weeding or aren’t able to bend over, consider hiring some neighborhood kids. It’s a good way to get to know others in your community. Remember too that raised beds can be made wheelchair accessible, and others can take advantage of wheeled stools, arthritis-friendly gardening tools and other equipment.

Protect Plants Without Toxic Pesticides

If your plants are being assaulted by pests, it may be a sign of other problems, so the first thing you should do is make sure they are getting enough light, nutrients and moisture. Also remember that a diverse garden helps prevent pests, by limiting the amount of one type of plant offered up to enemies, and boosting biodiversity.

It’s a good thing to foster natural predators in your garden, such as frogs, toads, lizards, birds, and even bats. Beneficial insects can be your best friends, especially lady bugs (many nurseries even sell cans of them, though it’s true there’s a high probability they won’t stick around). Leave a small source of water out to attract friendly predators. It’s also a good idea to grow plants with small blossoms, such as sweet alyssum and dill, which attract predatory insects. Nets and row covers can also work.

It may sound surprising, but homeowners use more pesticides on their lawns and gardens than farmers do, acre for acre, according to EPA data. But there are organic alternatives that are much safer for you and our environment. Find out what problem you have (an agricultural extension service can help), then look for alternatives.

Organic weapons include Bacillus thuringiensis, a naturally occurring bacteria that disrupts the digestion of caterpillars and other leaf-eaters. You can also use horticultural oils, insecticidal soaps and garlic and/or hot pepper sprays.


Don’t forget to harvest the fruits of your labor! Fresh organic produce also makes great gifts, educating your friends, neighbors and coworkers. Generally, the more you harvest, the more your plants will produce for you.

During peak harvest season, you’ll likely find that it’s best to check your garden every day. Got herbs? If you use them fresh pick them right before you need them. But if you’ll be drying and storing them, it’s best to wait until just before they flower, since they’ll have the most flavor. Gather all herbs except basil in mid morning, shortly after dew has dried. Harvest basil in the late afternoon, since it will last longer after some time in the sun. It’s best not to wash herbs before you dry or use them, since that can leach flaor (extra incentive for growing organic!).

When harvesting leafy greens pick sporadically from the entire crop, a little from each plant. For broccoli, wait until the central head is as large as it will get, before sending off buds for flowering. Cut it off right above the leaf node, and you’ll likely get better production from the rest of the plant. In general, it’s best to cut produce off with a sharp knife or scissors, versus ripping with your fingers, which can cause more damage to plant tissue.

If you get too much bounty, remember you can also freeze, store some types of produce in a root cellar, or take up canning. Enjoy!


If you have sick plants to remove, either during the season or at the end of the year, make sure you pull up the entire organism. Don’t forget to rake up underneath, since diseased leaves can harbor problems for a long time. Put all infected material deep in the woods, in the ground at least a foot deep, or on the bonfire.

Most healthy or expired plants can actually be left in place over winter. You’ll provide some food and habitat for birds and other wildlife, and plant cover can help protect your soil from eroding. It’s better to chop off annuals then yank them out, because that way you’ll leave soil intact, and help prevent weeds from gaining a foothold.

(original post)

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Recycled materials provide both environmentally friendly and economically favorable options for sustainable landscaping.

Another key to a highly successful green landscaping project is the use of recycled materials such as mulch, other soil amendments, and landscape construction materials. With high lumber costs and forest land in short supply, recycled materials provide both environmentally friendly and economically favorable options for sustainable landscaping. For instance, recycled plastic bender board never rots, it’s less costly than redwood, and it’s faster to install for decks and landscape edging. The same goes for recycled mulches—they’re inexpensive, easy to come by, and applying them will not require much of your time.

Recycled materials can be incorporated into the hardscape as well. The term hardscape refers to the stonework portion of a landscaping project, typically including flagstone paths and patios, and stone retaining walls. Broken-up concrete, which is widely available from construction sites and always free, can make an attractive substitute for flagstone, and many people also build retaining walls from this material. Recycled brick is another great option for creating beautiful paths and patios.

Using recycled materials in the hardscape ensures that the consumer is not inadvertently supporting environmental degradation by buying stone and rock trucked from far away places. Instead of using expensive lumber that risks damage to the environment, use one of the many recycled plastic products that can be substituted for decks and landscape edging. These recycled materials also last longer because they are not susceptible to rot, like wood, making them a highly attractive option for the hardscape.

Green landscaping offers the homeowner a chance to save money, time, and resources while establishing healthier plants and soil, and adding to the diverse ecosystems of the planet. The future of sustainable landscaping lies in our capacity to accurately mimic the processes of nature for maximum efficiency—not with short-term, quick-fix, chemical solutions that push our plants and poison our earth. Look for organic fertilizer for your plants and follow our tips for the cleanest and greenest landscape solutions.

(original source)

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Eco-Friendly Landscape Essentials

Organic matter is the most basic element that determines soil fertility, and compost is the best organic matter source that you can offer a landscape, so compost is an essential part of any green landscaping project—its job is to nourish your plants by infusing the soil with life and fertility. “Feed the soil, not the plants” is a common adage among landscapers and gardeners, and if this goal is met, plants will not require supplemental nutrients in the form of fertilizer. If the native soil on a project soil does not have adequate organic matter, compost will need to be added. And what exactly does compost do? Let’s take a ground-level look at the process:

  • It insulates the soil and helps it to retain moisture longer than usual.
  • It adds a complex web of microorganisms to the soil that can be thought of as nature’s “fertilizer factories.” Chemical fertilizer can prove to be fatal to many of these sensitive organisms, and overuse of non-natural products can kill all life in the soil.
  • Most of these little bugs eat organic matter in the soil and turn it into nutrients that plants need in order to thrive.
  • It provides a complete nutrient base that facilitates the symbiotic relationship between the microorganisms and the plant. Plants produce sugar (carbohydrates) through photosynthesis and send this energy down to the roots. Roots collect nutrients like nitrogen, calcium, and magnesium, and will often make a trade exchange with microorganisms—sugars for nutrients.

Bagged compost can be purchased at any hardware store or nursery, but the best quality compost is often found at your local compost facility (sometimes located near your local dump). This facility compost material is usually for large projects only—the minimum purchase is generally a truckload that will run an average of $20 per truckload and $100 per dumptruck load.

The green landscaping industry takes its cues from various horticultural viewpoints such as permaculture and organics. These methods emphasize emulating nature by creating a complex web of soil life to sustain plants, rather than constantly applying harsh petrochemical fertilizers to push growth. Compost is a great alternative to these harsh treatments because it contributes to the desired soil complexity and one application can sustain plants for at least a year, while the effects of harsh chemical fertilizers last a month at most.

There are many debates surrounding how to incorporate compost into the soil, most of them centered on rototilling, a process that creates some damaging effects by contributing to soil compaction and erosion. Unfortunately, rototilling happens to be the only economical way to thoroughly mix compost into soil. Most green landscaping companies aim to avert considerable soil damage by rototilling a substantial amount of compost into a site’s soil before planting, and thus, very littler fertilizer is needed.

The process of adding any beneficial material to the soil is called amending the soil. Once the soil is properly amended with organic matter, let the planting begin! Sustainable landscaping companies generally place very small plants in 4-inch pots. These small plants will grow faster than larger plants, and they usually prove to be masters at adapting to wherever they are planted by quickly spreading root systems deep into the soil. Smaller plants also require less energy for growth, further reducing the carbon footprint of a green landscape.

(original source)

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New Generation Discovers Grow-It-Yourself Dyes

When you are a practicing alchemist, as Sasha Duerr is, strangers will often ask you to demonstrate your powers by heating up a caldron in the yard. It’s a living, and Ms. Duerr is usually happy to give it a try. On a recent Monday afternoon, she had arranged to spark up three propane camp stoves and scavenge a few things to boil.

Ms. Duerr, 36, intended to show how easy it is to transmute common plants into natural fabric dyes of rare beauty. The formula has been an open secret since the days of Pliny the Elder: fill a pot with water, add a basket of leaves and a square of silk, bring the potion to a simmer. Then wait for the magic to happen.

Ms. Duerr had set up her folding table on the Oakland grounds of the California College of the Arts, where she teaches textile design. “Two years ago, we started this garden,” she said, walking into a shady corner near an earthquake supply shed. Before that, the unkempt space “was kind of a home for wayward art projects.”

In three or four beds ringed by salvaged bricks, Ms. Duerr has planted a “rainbow row.”

The root of the madder plant creates a true red. “Poppy roots make a yellow-orange,” she said. A light green comes from fava bean vines. “You know you can eat the fava leaves, too,” Ms. Duerr said. And she snapped off some foliage for a quick snack.

Across the street from the garden, a Wendy’s was advertising a crispy chicken sandwich at a shockingly low price. Ms. Duerr believes the equivalent of fast food is fast fashion: an industrial process filled with joyless overconsumption and noxious byproducts.

Today’s batch of botanical dyes, by contrast, would be safe to brew during Ms. Duerr’s pregnancy. (From the looks of it, she was about 48 weeks along.) As for wastefulness, Ms. Duerr said, “I almost never buy anything new.” This afternoon, for instance, she was wearing a pre-owned lime-yellow maternity top, which she had dyed with sour grass (a k a Bermuda buttercup), an invasive California weed.

A honeybee alighted on her shirt. “When you’re working with natural dyes, that happens all the time,” she said. “I’ve had hummingbirds come and sit on my shoulder. I’m sure there are plant pheromones. They see the color and it’s alive.”

In truth, the art of natural dyeing has been near dead since the mid-Victorian era. Yet in Ms. Duerr’s experience, the last couple of years have seen a new bloom of interest in growing botanical dyes.

In a formerly derelict lot in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, a new dye garden and Community Supported Agriculture program will begin this spring. The Textile Arts Center, which is helping to start the garden, will offer not just plant material, but a workshop and access to its Gowanus studio. All 10 of the offered shares sold out in mid-March.

Natural dyes exist all around us, said Isa Rodrigues, 26, who organizes the center’s Sewing Seeds program, yet “people are not aware of them.” Colors can come from common flowers (like dahlias and marigolds); tree leaves (Japanese maple, sweet gum); berries (blackberry, elderberry); herbs (mint, rosemary); nuts and shells (acorn, black walnut hulls); and barks (birch, madrone).

If you’re looking at a plant, you’re looking at a potential dye.

In old manuals, you can often spot the traditional dye plants — madder, woad, true indigo — from the word “tinctoria” or “tinctorum” in the botanical nomenclature. Yet Pamela Feldman, 58, has always needed to identify these mysterious specimens for the other community gardeners who share the grounds of the old Chicago Municipal Tuberculosis Sanitarium.

This spring, though, her weedy-looking plants may become a less exotic sight. At the annual planning meeting, Ms. Feldman learned, “there are four other people at the garden growing natural dye plants.”

Knowledge about sustainable dye techniques seems to be blowing around like so much pollen. For 17 years, Ms. Feldman has published the Turkey Red Journal (turkeyredjournal.com), a twice-yearly periodical that addresses recondite topics like Japanese mud dyes and Scandinavian mushroom coloring. But most dyers seem to learn through workshops or apprenticeships….



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Suffolk County Tests Wastewater Treatment Technology in Sag Harbor

On Monday, August 27, Suffolk County officials in conjunction with Sag Harbor Village and the Southampton-based Evergreen Wastewater Treatment Systems, Inc. installed Global Water’s Wastewater Recycling Test system at the Sag Harbor Wastewater Treatment Plant on Bay Street.

According to Damon Futterman of Evergreen Wastewater Treatment Systems, Inc. the “green” wastewater recycling system is one the United States military has used for over a decade. The system produces potable effluent, said Futterman, and no sludge — the byproduct of most wastewater treatment facilities which smells and can be potentially damaging to the environment when sold as fertilizer after being processed.

“It’s a totally green system,” said Futterman, who will have the rights to sell the system on Long Island if Suffolk County officials find the test in Sag Harbor is indeed successful.

Futterman said he learned about the technology after trying to find a solution for Southampton Village’s business district. Once the county heard about the technology, it was suggested that it be tested in Sag Harbor to see if it would be an effective method for local governments to explore as the county pushes for more environmentally sensitive wastewater methods — both in traditional wastewater treatment plants and in home septic systems.

According to Futterman, Suffolk County and an independent environmental testing firm will complete the study on the system’s effectiveness by the end of September.

(original post)