Practical Permaculture – The Art Of Planting A Fruit Tree

Plum

“perfectly Plum” – © chriscondello 2013 – Hamnett Place Community Garden – Wilkinsburg, PA – Plums may have been one of the first fruits domesticated by humans… Three of the most abundant cultivars are not found in the wild… Only around human settlements… Plums have even been found in Neolithic age archeological sites along with olives, grapes and figs…

 I have touched on the subject of planting fruit trees before…

https://chriscondello.wordpress.com/2013/03/16/practical-permaculture-planting-and-early-care-of-fruit-trees/

That is the article if you are interested in reading it. This post is meant to be a detailed description of all of the steps involved on the actual day that your tree will be put in the ground. Given the popularity of my last couple of tree related posts, I figured a new post about trees would be a suiting 20,000 views celebration.

So when is the right time to plant a tree? I typically answer with 10 years ago… But the second best time is right now… That statement is surprisingly accurate… Though there are “best”, or recommended times to plant trees, it is always best to put a tree in the ground instead of letting it sit in the pot. I am a realist, I recognize that not everyone is able to purchase, yet alone plant a fruit tree in February. I want to be very clear here, you can plant a tree anytime of the year… There are times of the year that are better than others though… But regardless of season… You can plant trees…

Trees come from the nursery in three common forms, bare root, balled and burlapped (B&B), and potted.

Bare root trees are commonly purchased through the mail to facilitate cheap shipping. I have found that when you order a bare root tree, they will only ship it early in the spring in accordance with the proper planting time. If you happen to receive your bare root trees before you can plant… You can put it in a bucket of water for a short period of time… Like a week or two… Any longer than that and I would recommend potting it up… Or burying the roots in a temporary mound of soil… Don’t leave it to long though as it will take root and become very difficult to remove…

Balled and burlapped trees are dug from a field taking care to not damage the roots, afterwards the roots and soil are wrapped in burlap for transport. As long as the rootball is kept moist they can be held for a year or two… Though I don’t recommend that, it is possible. Balled and burlapped trees can be planted anytime of the year, anytime you plant a tree with leaves on it you can expect some stress… Every effort should be made to ease the trees transition when planting off-season… Or anytime other than spring before the tree has leaved out…

Potted plants are probably the easiest way for the home gardener to buy trees, when the roots slip out of the pot easily, stress to the tree is at a minimum. Often times, nurseries will run sales on trees during the middle or end of the summer. For me to tell you to hold that tree in the pot for the entire winter would be a joke… No matter what form you buy your trees in, just plant the thing.

Choosing the proper location for your fruit tree is a relatively easy process, though much of the literature available tends to convolute the shit out of it. If you follow a few general rules, you will plant it in the right spot each and every time.

Start your observations early in the morning, pay attention to where the sun rises in your specific location. In urban environments, all day sunshine is at a premium, the choice is almost always between sunshine in the morning or sunshine in the afternoon. Morning sunshine is always better as the heat has a chance to accumulate all morning, then slowly dissipate in the afternoon and night. Afternoon sunshine on the other hand only starts heating the surface around lunchtime, this results in solar warmth affecting the tree for the latter half of the day, this energy is then quickly zapped from the earth after the sun goes down. Whenever it is an option, always choose morning sun… Always…

A common question I am asked is whether or not a tree can be planted in shade, and as always my answer is yes. But it is extremely important to remember that a tree intended for sun, will never produce as much fruit as that same tree would produce had it been planted in full sun. Some permaculturist would argue with me until the cows come home, but many old-timer farmers would agree with me 100%… In my own personal experiences with gardening and farming… When given the choice between “old-world” and “new-age”… Always go with the old-world… They knew their shit…

I was at one time going to write an article about how to dig a hole, believe it or not, people google it all the time. Well, you start with a shovel, and you end with a shovel… Depending on location, you may need an axe for roots, or a pick mattock to remove stones and bricks. Either way, you just stick a shovel in the ground and move dirt… Remember… Manual Labor is not the president of Mexico… A little old-timer advice for yah…

Tree planting depth is another common question, although the answer is simple… There are a few variables to consider. Seed grown trees will develop a root flare where the trunk meets the soil. Regardless of how deep you think you should plant that tree, if a flare is present, that needs to be at the surface of the soil.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

“DogLeg” – © chriscondello 2013 – Hamnett Place Community Garden – Wilkinsburg, PA – This is a photo of the graft union on a pear tree… The bottom is the root-stock and the top is the scion… This union needs to stay exposed for the life of the tree… As this tree grows… This union will eventually look like a straight trunk… But it will still need to remain exposed…

Grafted trees are a little different though, they have a special requirement that is absolutely detrimental to the overall survival of the specific tree. A grafted tree is made up of two distinct parts, a rootstock and the scion, or top of the tree. The rootstock is an entirely different tree than the top part on a grafted specimen, typically a tree that does not produce good fruit… But instead is dwarfing, disease resistance, or a combination of the two.

Where the rootstock joins the tree is known as a graft union, it will look like the knee of a dog. It is absolutely imperative that the graft union be planted a few inches above the soil line, and do not mulch above this line a few years down the road. The top of a grafted tree does not necessarily enjoy having to suck its water and nutrients through a foreign body, when given the opportunity, the top of a grafted tree will almost always attempt to root itself… If it happens to be successful… The tree will ultimately reject the rootstock… And all of the traits of the rootstock will be lost… An example would be a dwarf apple tree that is only supposed to get 11 feet tall… Could possibly grow to 40 feet… I have seen it happen on more than one occasion…

A common permaculture practice is to plant stuff under trees, a fine practice though I do have a caution to consider when planting under your fruit tree. Any plant that gets close enough to the trunk to touch it has the ability to cause great damage. Not only does the shade and moisture created heighten the possibility of fungus, disease or rot, it also greatly raises the possibility of your tree sending roots out from above the graft union. groundcover and thick vegetation will act the same as if you simply mulched over your graft union, this will almost always cause your scionwood to root… Ultimately rejecting your dwarfing root-stock…

If you are having issues sighting your tree planting depth, place a branch or board across the hole, then place your tree accordingly. Take into consideration mulches that will be applied in the future, you can never cover the graft union… ever… It is important to remember that a rootstock is just a rooted cutting, there is no root flare. As long as the roots are underground on a grafted tree, it will grow fine… You could technically plant a bare-root grafted tree with the union 12 inches above the soil line… As long as the roots are buried… Also a grafted tree does not send out a tap-root… So temporarily take that word out of your vocabulary…

When you put your tree in the hole, do your best to spread the root out around the inside of the hole. If all of your roots grow to one side of the tree, and that side takes on a heavy load of fruit, the tree will probably topple. I personally like to fill my hole with as much original material as possible, I may amend slightly, but never more than 20%… And I really wouldn’t do more than this unless it was completely stone.

My thinking behind this is simple… Lets say you are planting in 100% clay and stone… Extremely lifeless stuff… If you refill your hole with black gold… When the tree hits the clay it will go no further… Would you?.. I feel it is much better to only mix in a little bit of organic material to your fill, and let the tree get used to the conditions at hand. In the long-term, work on your soil with organic mulches and phytoremediation…

https://chriscondello.wordpress.com/2013/03/18/practical-permaculture-plants-and-phytoremediation/

A young tree should not be overly nursed, it should be allowed to settle into your location. If your soil is clay, then replacing the soil in the small hole you are planting it in is really doing your tree no favors.

Another scenario worth mentioning, I actually observed recently. A local nonprofit planted 500 trees in Wilkinsburg, many of which are planted in the hell strip next to the road. They actually brought in heavy equipment and excavated these areas, replacing the soil with what I believe to be the 40% manure to 60% topsoil mix available at Ag-Recycle in Pittsburgh… At first I thought this was absurd, then I remembered I could only manage to dig about 9″ into our local hellstrip… Then I hit solid slag gravel… Or fill… I then realized they had absolutely no choice but to do this… Moral of the story… If you can excavate and replace a large portion of the soil with an ideal replacement, then by all means… Dig away…

But for the rest of us, replace with what you have, and slowly add to the soil… occasional leaf mulching during the summer… Comfrey and other legumes… Yarrow… Hell… I already made a list…

https://chriscondello.wordpress.com/2013/02/25/practical-permaculture-planting-under-fruit-trees/

When you have finished planting your tree, water it immediately, and thoroughly. The tree will be entering into a period of stress, the simple act of moving a tree is enough to put it into shock. You see… Conditions in your yard are rarely the same as at the nursery, wind speed, temperature, sunlight and humidity changes will affect your tree negatively… Every attempt should be made to ease the transition from nursery to yard… A good rule of thumb is to consider your tree extremely vulnerable until it resumes active growth… When you see new leaves… You can expect equal root growth… A good sign that your tree is beyond the stress phase of its eventual journey to a pie on your table… Or as I like to call it… Fruit tree Nirvana…

To sum this post up briefly… Plant your trees when you can… Spring is best… But any time will do… Likewise… Sun is best… But shade will do… Just expect to alter your approach a bit… Dig your hole twice the size of the roots you intend to stick in it… And fill it with as much of the original soil as you can… Remember to keep the graft union exposed… And water immediately after planting… And until you notice fresh growth… Fertilizers should never be applied… If a tree or plant is absorbing high levels of nutrients during a time it cannot process them… They will build up and could eventually cause damage or death due to toxicity… And that is really all there is to it… Until next time…

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

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Practical Permaculture – Keeping Cats Out Of The Garden

Jingles

“Miss Jingles” – © chriscondello 2011 – Whitney Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA – One of my favorite kitty cats on the street… I have chased her out of my garden a million times… Then I feel bad and end up calling her over for some “purrrrrs”… I’m a sucker for kitties…

I love cats… And I have three of them… Cheech, Chase and Callie… They are our house kitties and I wouldn’t trade them for any animal in the world… I understand why people have kitty cats, and I would never want to harm a cat in any way. But, I absolutely hate when they crap in my garden… Which has become an every night occurrence in my neighborhood… As it always seems to be this time of year…

The problem seems to be the worst during the winter months when the plants are still hibernating, this is the season I find the most crap. Spring tends to be a difficult month as well because it is when I find the remains of the winters craps. Basically it will remain a problem until my plants grow over every square inch of garden space in my yard.

First off I want to stress that if you live in an urban environment, there is ALWAYS a leash law. Animals are not allowed to roam freely through the streets, they are required to be contained to the owner’s property. People seem to universally understand this law as it applies to dogs, what they don’t realize is it also universally applies to cat owners as well… As far as the law is concerned… Cats and dogs are one in the same… They need to be contained to your own property… Always…

Dicentra

“Dicentra formosa” – © chriscondello 2013 – My Garden – Wilkinsburg, PA – This was also originally a photo of cat damage… But who in the hell wants to see photos of that… Instead… Here is one from my garden…

Now, this isn’t always possible… I get it… People like cats… People rescue cats… If you have more than a few cats, it is impossible to keep them inside all of the time… But there should be a reasonable expectation that they will be inside at night… Which is when they seem to do the most damage… Alley cats are a different story… You can’t kill them… But I don’t think you should feed them either… We just kind of have to live with them… And their crap…

Last night… I lost a $30 plant because a cat decided to take a crap right where I had it planted… So please don’t tell me they do not cause damage… I have probably lost hundreds of dollars worth of plants to cats in my neighborhood over the past 4 years… But it seems to only happen at night… So I really have no idea which cat is doing it… They are like little crapping ninjas… I swear to God… I have no idea how they do it…

So how do you deal with the cats without hurting them in any way? A quick search of the internet brings up a million products claiming to be safe and non-toxic. I have tried a few of these without any results, I think alley cats senses are already so screwed up that these products have no effect. The neighborhood cats around here, probably drink nastier shit than any of these products on a daily basis… They don’t even notice them.

AbandonedQuince©

“Abandoned Quince” – © chriscondello 2013 – Whitney Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA – This was originally a photo of a steaming pile of cat crap… Shot on a cold February morning in the first rays of the winter sunlight… But it just wasn’t doing it for me… So I chose this unrelated photo of a quince bloom behind a 100-year-old abandoned Victorian home…

Some websites recommended using black pepper or cayenne pepper applications in the offending areas. I would put this on the same level as spraying a cat with MACE… I would be livid if you sprayed my kitties with MACE… Therefore… I don’t do it to other cats… Besides the possible nasty physical effects of pepper treatments, they require a new application after every rainfall… And in all honesty, are not the least bit effective. Keep your spices off the neighborhood cats and in your food where they belong… Alley cats don’t need to be tasty… The last thing I need is a dozen “Cajun flavored” cats running around the neighborhood…

Fences are not really effective either, as my backyard is fenced in with 4′ cyclone fence… And I still find fresh crap in my garden EVERY morning…The cats in my neighborhood regularly jump higher than 4′ to snag birds out of the trees. I had a bird feeder 6′ off the ground and had a cat jumping up and snagging birds out of the feeder… Essentially my bird feeder had become a cat feeder… And the occasional hawk… 

I have a few methods that have worked for me to some degree… None of them are impervious though… If a cat has to go to the bathroom… Well… No amount of chicken wire will stop it… I have recently been finding the crap right on top of the garden without any attempt to even bury it… I don’t know what to do about that one, as I have no idea which cat is doing it… All I know is it is getting really old…

If you catch cats in your garden during the daylight, squirt the fucker with your hose or chase it out of your yard. This method has a certain level of novelty and stress release, but, it really isn’t the least bit effective. Cats in my neighborhood prefer the over-night sneak attack, they know when my guard is down. They will wait till I am sound asleep, then rip plants out of the ground and piss and crap everywhere. They even like to wait till I plant something new, then go to town in the freshly worked soil.

The most effective, and immediate method I have found of keeping cats out of your garden for good is simply… Wait for it… Burying chicken wire under every square inch of your garden… It sounds ridiculous… But it kind of works… Cover your garden in chicken wire fencing before you plant, then simply plant through the holes in the fence.

ChickenWireGarlic

© chriscondello 2011 – Whitney Avenue Urban Farm – Wilkinsburg, PA – Old photo… Sorry about quality… Raised beds oddly resemble massive kitty litter boxes and will almost always attract local cats… I put chicken wire down on the beds to deter them… And it makes a very handy planting grid for garlic…

If you already have an established garden and just have problems in a few areas, spot treat with the fencing. Cats don’t like to dig through the chicken wire and will typically find some other place to crap if they encounter difficulty digging. If the cats are focussing on one specific location, put a rock or other hard scape item right on the spot where they poop… The cats typically seem to get the idea… Plants will also work for this… If you find poop… Scoop it… And plant something in the same spot… Eventually they will no longer have anywhere to poop… And you will have a full garden…

The method that I try to practice is what I call “saturation gardening”, basically I like to fill every square inch of my garden with plant life. If a cat can’t find soil in your garden, it will go somewhere else to poop. Groundcover, especially strongly scented ones work wonders in keeping cats from digging in the garden… Think creeping thyme or creeping oregano, the herbal oils alone are often enough to repel many animals.

In the end… I will just keep chasing the cats out of my garden… The chicken wire worked for a year… But the cats have just started going on top of it… My garden is actively growing and I am actively planting so the problem will soon be someone elses… Until then… I’ll just keep on scooping it up… That’s really all I can do…

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

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Practical Permaculture – Permaculture is NOT Trademarked

big pumpkin

I grew this 2000 lb. pumpkin in my ass using the principles of permaculture… Moving it was the easy part… Take my $1000 class to find out how…

Permaculture is not vegetarianism… It’s not veganism… It’s not new-age… It’s not even peaceful… To me… It’s the heavy metal of gardening… Bill Mollison, the father of permaculture is a bad ass… The man has the ability to change climates… He is a self-made millionaire… And the man has composted human bodies before…  On a different note… Bill Mollison is a brilliant business man… If you don’t realize how “big business” permaculture has become… Then I’m going to seriously disappoint you with this post… I’m starting to see permaculture and permaculturists as “the man”… And occasionally… The man needs to be brought to his knees…

In my city, Pittsburgh, the permaculture people who I have met so far have for the most part been elitist, condescending, and downright rude… Now I’m not saying that all permaculturists are like that… I’m just saying… If my perceptions of a movement that I deeply believe in are this swayed… What in the hell do you expect other people to think… 

The permaculture design certificate course… Supposedly life saving information… Proprietary… Bullshit… Read any detailed gardening book and you will find the exact same information… Just with different terminology… Permaculture had to separate itself somehow… They want there $1000 dollar course to actually mean something… I did not have to spend $1000 to learn how to garden… Why should I pay a grand to practice something that I was doing long before I knew the word permaculture?.. And long before most PDC recipients had ever touched a shovel… To be honest… I don’t… And I won’t…

So here it goes… And I know I am going to piss people off with this… Permaculture is NOT a trademarked word… I can use it all I want… Permaculture… Huh huh… Permaculture… Permaculture… Look here… I’ll even alter it… Permabastard… Permabitch… You can’t do a thing… The fact that you would even try to trademark these principles is a vulgar testament to your greed… If you people were so interested in saving the world… Trademarks would be the last FUCKING thing on your mind… Not a single country in the world was willing to grant “anyone” a trademark on permaculture… Think about that…

CherryJeanette

“Welcome Home” – © chriscondello 2013 – Jeanette Street – Wilkinsburg, PA

Let’s talk about permaculture books for a second… I have read as many as I have been able to get my hands on… I have watched all of the propaganda films… I have even watched 2 72 hour PDC courses… One taught by Bill Mollison… And one taught in a university setting in North Carolina… This does not make me an expert by any means… But I will say there is very little proprietary information in any of these books… I find the exact same information in my Better Homes and Gardens books… But since reading any book that mentions pesticides is taboo with the permaculturists… They will never even know…

I see the PDC on the same level as a 2 year associates degree school… You know… The kind you see commercials for at 2 AM on TV… I have some bad news people… That course doesn’t mean a god damn thing… It is a pyramid scheme… You get taught information by a teacher… Then given a certificate to teach other people… The pyramid keeps growing as more people learn… And ultimately… Bill Mollison sells books… While sitting at the top of his pyramid… Laughing…

Never put more energy into something than you can get out of it… I know people who spend more time in the compost heap then they spend in the garden… Don’t be one of those people… Permaculture is about using resources wisely… Sadly… Money is one of those resources… I just don’t see how a class that costs $1000 dollars is solving any problems… To me… That is helping the elite few who can afford to pay that… Not the people who need this information to survive… If you can afford to take that class… You can afford to feed yourself…

I’m not saying I wouldn’t jump on the opportunity to take the course… But I “literally” can’t afford it… I would take every class that I could… But I can’t afford it… So I will just have to live with all the PDC recipients calling me a hack and refusing to talk to me… Even though they talked to me before they were the elite few…

Earth Care… People Care… Fair Share… My rosy red ass… More like… Bottom Line… Bottom Line… Bottom Line… Get real people…

Now I’m not saying permaculture or permaculturists are bad people or have bad intentions… What I am saying is we all need to get off our high horses… This is not special information… It is standard information… Just organized in a brilliant way… By a brilliant businessman… With an awesome name… That’s it people… Get over it…

Plum

“Perfectly Plum” – © chriscondello 2013 – Hamnett Place Community Garden – Wilkinsburg, PA

The deeper I have gotten in the permaculture world… The less I have liked it… And not so much permaculture… But the people involved… When someone asks a permaculture question… The answer should never be… “Take my permaculture course and I’ll tell you”… You know what I have to say about that… ASK ME… I’ll tell you anything you want to know about permaculture for free… Anytime… Anywhere…

In the past year… I have received a bunch of emails from people asking me about permaculture gardens that they had installed by the so-called permaculture designers… People are not typically happy with these systems after a year or two… They typically do not look nice… And permaculture is starting to get a bad name… Just because a plant is native… Does not mean it is not invasive… Just because a teacher tells you about a plant that did well in one location… Does not guarantee it will do good anywhere else…

So keep making those mistakes PDC people… Because your mistakes… Are my future work… Because fixing your mistakes… Is slowly becoming my business… Dont hire a permaculture designer when what you are really looking for is a Gardener with a solid understanding of what is good… And what is absolute SHIT in the permaculture world…

I am not the only person with this sentiment… There are a lot of us… Typically we are explained as disgruntled… Or unsuccessful practices… I have had nothing but success… My gripe does not come from permaculture… It comes from the people involved… When the permaculture people show me love… I will show them love… But until then… This is how it has got to be…

Again… I am not saying permaculture is bad… In fact… I think just the opposite… What I am saying is… Do not fall for the lie that the only way to be a permaculture designer is through a $1000 dollar course… I get that PDC’s need to make money too… It is a sentiment that has been plastered all over the internet by them… But they shouldnt be making money with a scam gardening course… Just saying…

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello – sans pdc since 1981 and proud of it

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Practical Permaculture – Albedo and Absorption of Solar Energy in the Garden

albedo

First of all let me say that Spring is almost here, but it is still very cold outside… I am running out of photos to use and I’m sorry,  but for now these will have to do… I promise I’ll be taking many new photos as soon as I can… But I am starting to run out of steam as far as Winter is concerned… I really need Spring to get here…

Albedo, or reflection coefficient, is the diffuse reflectivity or reflecting power of a surface. It is defined as the ratio of reflected radiation from the surface to incident radiation upon it. Being a dimensionless fraction, it may also be expressed as a percentage, and is measured on a scale from zero for no reflecting power of a perfectly black surface, to 1 for perfect reflection of a white surface.

The opposite of albedo is absorption, which is defined in this case as the interception of radiant energy. Either one of these principles can benefit the garden when working alone, but when you team the two principles up, you can bend the rules… If not break them…

Essentially, it all boils down to bright colors reflect light, and dark colors absorb them… Simple enough… Now the question becomes, how do we adapt these effects into the permaculture based garden? 100_1798Since forests are generally attributed a low albedo, (as the majority of the ultraviolet and visible spectrum is absorbed through photosynthesis), it has been wrongly assumed that removing forests would lead to cooling on the grounds of increased albedo. Through the evapotranspiration of water, trees discharge excess heat from the forest canopy. This water vapour rises resulting in cloud cover which also has a high albedo, thereby further increasing the net global cooling effect attributable to forests.

In seasonally snow-covered zones, winter albedos of treeless areas are 10% to 50% higher than nearby forested areas because snow does not cover the trees as readily. Deciduous trees have an albedo value of about 0.15 to 0.18 while coniferous trees have a value of about 0.09 to 0.15.

pine-trees-in-the-snowIn winter landscapes, conifers can also be heat magnets, they provide a relatively flat surface that is often the only dark color in a snow-covered area. Conifers can absorb enough heat to melt the snow around them, this is often evident in the amount of bird nests you will find in a conifer in the winter. Properly selected and planted conifer trees can help you cheat zones, this will allow you to experiment with plants that may not be suited to your area…

A variety of factors influence the ability of plants to reflect sunlight. At the most simplistic level, dark coloration provides the greatest absorption and hence the lowest albedo. However, leaf shape is quite important, with leaf shapes that are planar providing a higher reflectivity. Furthermore, leaf aspect is also contributory, with leaves that have surfaces parallel to the ground surface having the highest albedo.

A common way of hardening off seedlings and extending the growing season is the use of cold frames, in the Northern Hemisphere these structures should always face south to take advantage of the low winter sun. A few properly placed concrete pavers, when situated on the ground to the south of your cold frame, will reflect energy onto the cold frame that would have otherwise been lost…

Furthermore, a semi-circle of conifer trees, with the opening facing south, creates what is known as a heat dam. The conifer trees not only reflect the energy towards the center of the circle, they also absorb some energy to be released over night and serve as a wind break from the cold winds that commonly blow from the north. A cold frame or garden can be placed inside of the heat dam, that is just one example of how a thrifty permaculturist can get away without having to purchase row covers or other expensive season extending products.

100_1772I have always dreamed of having a south-facing stone face, the possibilities would be immense. I am not going to have my own cliff any time soon, but my house does have a south-facing wall… And I’d be willing to bet yours does too… The reflected energy from the sun can and will melt snow in the middle of winter, I have a patch of canna Lilies in my front yard that keeps surviving through the winter… The roots have become so massive that I wish it would die just so I could remove the damn thing…

Some objects have variable effects dependant on season. Ponds for instance, have a reflective quality that can focus the low winter suns energy in a specific location. This same pond, in the Summer, absorb the sun’s energy creating a cooling effect to the area directly around it. Think of it like this… If you take a rock, and throw it at an angle to the water… It will skip… But that same rock… When dropped in the water… Falls right through… Sunlight basically does the same thing…

Several years ago I had a permaculture epiphany while sitting on a hillside… What I found was that the hill I was sitting on had slopes that equally faced both East and West, the side of the slope that faced East was bone dry… But the side that faced West was wet and swampy… Both of these slopes received equal hours of daylight, but one side was considerably drier. What I realized was that the side that received the morning sun would absorb that sun for the first part of the day, then have the afternoon heat to help retain that warmth for the rest of the day. The side that did not have the morning sun only received direct heat in the afternoon, the night air makes quick work of eliminating the heat absorbed in the afternoon.

So you may be sitting there scratching your head wondering what in the hell does this have to do with my garden?.. When looking for a property for your farm or homestead in the northern hemisphere, never buy on a slope that faces north or west… The morning sun is the key element when designing your garden…

Many of the older houses in my neighborhood have the majority of the windows facing south and east, this is not by accident, it is by design… West and north facing windows are very inefficient, losing more heat than they absorb… Avoid them in your designs when possible…

Furthermore, many of the local houses have aluminum awnings overtop of the windows, believe it or not, these often tacky additions serve an ingenious purpose… In the winter when the sun is low on the horizon the awnings let the sun in the window… But in the summer, when the sun is high, it shades the window and reflects much of the heat away…

A proper understanding of albedo and absorption can be powerful tools in any gardeners repertoire. It will allow you to grow what I like to call “WTF” plants, turning the heads of your garden visitors every time… This is the type of information that will set you apart from the rest, and that is what I hope to build on from now on… The stuff that will set you apart from the rest…

home

This graphic is just a simple example of using the reflected heat from the pond, as well as from the conifers behind. The conifers also block the wind when it is blowing from the north, typically cold wind blows from the north and warm winds blow from the south.

Not bad for a dude who barely graduated high school… I hope you find this information helpful in your garden this year…

peace – chriscondello

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Practical Permaculture – The Art of Weeds – Reprise

Weeds require nutrients to grow just like any plant, some of them require a massive amount of nutrients to grow as large as they do. When you remove a weed you are removing a capsule containing all of the nutrients that weed has absorbed from the soil. If you remove that biomass from your garden than you are throwing those nutrients out, eventually you will have to restore those nutrients somehow. The problem becomes chronic if the habit persists, requiring constant fertilizer applications to sustain healthy growth. Permaculturists either create, restore or sustain the natural systems at hand, while removal is sometimes necessary, it should be a last resort.

Once a weed has gone to seed there is very little you can do to kill those seeds, this is one of the times where it may be best to carefully remove them from your site. Weeds that have not gone to seed or gotten to big should be left near the garden, I like to leave them in the grass and run them over with a mulching lawnmower till they disappear. Larger weeds can take years to break down if left intact, either shred them or break them up as small as possible and compost them. One of my favorite techniques is to simply bury the weeds in your garden, I like a cleaner garden and don’t like to see piles. I once had to remove an old dead pear tree from a front yard, I dug out the root ball and dropped the tree, then burned the entire thing in the hole it came from. I was lucky to be able to burn on site in this community, most urbanites don’t have that ability.

If you don’t mind the look of the weed mulch in your garden then I would absolutely use them, it wouldn’t hurt anything. If you have a large area of concrete then I would use it to dry them out in the sun first, it only takes a day to dry them out enough to kill the roots. While on the subject if you save grass clippings, they should be dried first before applying them to your garden. Your blueberries thrive in highly acidic soil with a pH between 4 and 5, woodchips would actually be the prefered mulch in order to lower the pH.

Compost barrels bug the hell out of me, rarely do they work as intended I find them irritating and ineffective. Environmental aspects determine the rate at which an organic biomass breaks down into compost, temperature, moisture and air all play a major role. Compost barrels tend to be sealed environments, air holes are incorporated but never in the quantity required. Moisture is required for compost as well, with rain being one of the main factors in the decomposition of a pile, the lid on the compost barrel impedes this. Compost can reach internal temperatures of 160 degrees on its own, the black color of the barrel increases the internal temperature of the compost. Temperatures exceeding 185 degrees can slow the decomposition of your compost and damage bacteria and insects, compost barrels should be placed in full shade.

With that said I prefer piles when it comes to compost, three of them to be more specific. I like to build three bays out of concrete blocks, each bay should have three walls and a removable front. You start by filling the first bay for 6 months to a year, then do the same to the next bin. One compost pile is never enough, you constantly put new stuff in it and in turn it never gets a chance to fully break down. If you have three then you can fill a new one while you wait for the old ones to fully break down into a useable product.

Compost is one of the great yields we as gardeners could be harvesting, but it does require a little space and devotion of time to get it right. I am not saying urban gardeners are left out of the compost world, but consideration should be taken as most compost piles can smell pretty foul during the hot days of summer. Compost that has been fully decomposed will not have a foul smell, it will smell organic and pleasant. An ammonia smell is almost always a sign your compost pile is not ready, flip it, water it, and check on it in a week. Compost piles should be turned at a minimum of once a month, but once a week is preferred.

peace – chriscondello

Three bay compost bin built for the Hamnett Place Community Garden in Wilkinsburg, PA. This one is made out of recycled pallets and was finished with hardware cloth, assembly was simple and the entire project was completed in just one day. I believe they recently harvested the first load of compost from the bins this year

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Practical Permaculture – The Art Of Weeds

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I used to consider pulling weeds tedious work, this was before I learned how to properly manage them. The weeds that are growing in your garden have a story to tell, it’s up to us to figure out how to translate what they are saying. I have found countless websites that focus on identification, but when it comes to the basic stuff “like how to pull them”, I find the internet to be lacking. Not many people realize how much thought can go into weeding a garden bed, yet alone how to pull weeds out of an entire vacant lot. This post will focus on weeds, what they mean, and how to pull them.

Weeds can tell you massive amounts of information relating to the land you are planning on working, you just have to know how to read the data growing in front of you. What you and I consider weeds, play an important role in reclaiming disturbed lands. Whether having evolved as a legume, replacing nitrogen where none existed, or creating quick shade to aid in the establishment of bio-diversity… All weeds have their place…

Permaculture isn’t really so much about weed eradication, the weeds are going to grow one way or another. The simple act of composting the weeds you pull instead of throwing them away is a basic permaculture principle, learning which ones to leave in the ground, and for how long is an art. Many weeds are perfectly acceptable when left in the ground, and often play a major role in the overall eco-system of your garden. A little bit of experience will tell you which ones have seed heads that when ripe, explode, sending seeds 20′ into your garden! Sometimes all the weeds need, is some selective pruning, and diligent dead heading before the end of August to stop the spread of new weeds.

As a gardener who had no money to invest, I found myself learning ways around… well.. anything that costs money… I have never really been able to afford soil samples on my own so I had to learn the natural indicator plants in order to get a mental map of what I was working with. Every vacant urban lot you come in contact with is “disturbed” land and will almost always shows drastic signs of this. Bind weed, Thistles, knotweed and grasses are all commonplace, what interests me is many of these weeds tell a story about your soil.

Bindweed – One of the most common exotic invasive I find in Wilkinsburg and the Pittsburgh region, this plant absolutely thrives in hard-pan clay. Bindweed can take years to effectively eliminate from a lot, owing to its ability to rampantly sprout from the roots, and the extremely long viability of its seeds lasting up to 20 years. Pull it or mow it and stay on top of it until you have choked it out. Bindweed can take years to eliminate from your garden but it is by no means impossible.

Dandelion – When they flourish, you have acidic soil.

Russian and Canada Thistle – I hate thistles due to the difficulty of removing them when they get to the size of a christmas tree, I have seen Canadian thistles 10 feet tall. Thistles absolutely love acidic soil and will usually only thrive in disturbed acidic soil, I find if you can neutralize the acid in the soil the thistles will disappear on their own.

Clovers – All – Sign of low nitrogen in your soil, the solution is as simple as leaving the clovers, when clover is present don’t remove it unless it is in the middle of a planned bed. When you remove it, bury it on site or compost it.

Pennycress – Highly alkaline soil

Yarrow – If you have this growing on your vacant lot, good for you. Our native versions of this plant are white and yellow and absolutely stunning when growing in a massive clump. Yarrows are one of the best indicators of potassium levels in your soils absolutely thriving in potassium deficient areas. Although I wouldn’t remove yarrow unless absolutely needed, it still is one of those plants that could help indicate fertilizer requirements for other plants.

Wild Strawberry – Fragaria sp. – I am not talking about the large, delicious strawberries we grow in our gardens but the little red strawberries growing in vacant lots that have little to no taste at all. Food wise the only use for these berries is survival but as an indicator for the acidity of your soil these guys are top-notch surviving in HIGHLY acidic soil. Neutralize the acid in your soil with a little lime and the strawberries will go away when they’re ready.

dandelion

This list could go on, but many other people have already done that… Go to Google… Type in “weeds as indicators” followed by your state… You will have so many lists it will make your head spin.

I do want to stress the importance of identifying weeds, and learning the deeper meaning of why they grow where they do, or why they thrive. Removal is the part of gardening most people hate, and to be honest with you as a gardener I would bet 75% of my job is removal. Pulling weeds is an art in its own right, relying more on finesse and technique than sheer force and strength. When working on an entire lot, break the whole thing into manageable squares on an imaginary grid, start by pulling or cutting the big stuff, then move on to the smaller things. I find if I remove as much material as possible during my initial clean-up then the smaller stuff is easier to focus on.

Pulling weeds is an art in its own right, if a weed is hard to pull your soil sucks, you need to add organic material to your existing soil structure and future weeds will pop right out of the ground. You see, weeds are not hard to pull when they are growing in healthy, alive, loose soil, it’s when they are growing in hard-pan clay that they break off at the ground, leaving the roots. When you grab a weed, grab it as close to the soil as you possibly can, you want to remove the entire root structure, not break it off at the surface of the soil. Pull the weed straight up and away from you to loosen it, then finish by pulling towards yourself, apply steady pressure and do not jerk or rip it from the ground, you want to steadily apply pressure freeing the weed from the ground. Some weeds require a little more work, don’t be afraid to break out a shovel and dig out a huge weed, just remember to remove as much of the soil from the roots as you possibly can to aid in disposal.

bckyrd

Sometimes trees need to be removed, im not stupid, I love them but sometimes they are in the way. Everyone wants to chainsaw the thing off at the ground and either forget about it or dig it out. I had an old-timer tell me the right way to drop a tree, without ever touching an axe or chainsaw till after the tree was on the ground. The only tool he used was a shovel, and could drop any tree under 20 feet in under an hour. The secret is to use the weight of the top of the tree as your muscle, and dig the roots out while the tree is in tact. As you free the roots of the tree, it will eventually fall under its own weight, this way you drop the tree and remove the root ball all in one controlled drop.

Trees are a great source of nutrients and biomass, if you have access to a shredder than they should be utilized. Most of the nutrients that are readily available in a tree are focused in the top half of the tree, branches under a 1 1/2″ specifically. Branches of this size have the most cambium layer for the amount of overall biomass and should be shredded and applied fresh and allowed to de-compose in place, larger wood is either firewood or mulch. Certain trees and plants will tend to inhibit growth like artemisia and the common black walnut tree, these trees should be avoided in mulch at all costs.

One of the absolutely fastest ways to clear a bunch of weeds and create a bed, and my personal favorite method is sheet mulching. This method starts in a dumpster hunting newspaper or cardboard, the amount you need will vary but my rule of thumb is 12 layers of newspaper, or 1 layer of cardboard. Mow the area where you intend to put your bed, I like to line the outside of my beds in bricks so I place them around the newspaper. Now you want to bring in a whole bunch of compost, topsoil or whatever you have on hand. Depending on what you use you can most likely plant in it immediately, plan on building up your layers at the end of every year. Newspaper and cardboard are utilized because of their ability to decompose in place lasting long enough to smother out the weeds underneath.

by any means necessary – chriscondello

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Practical Permaculture – Rooting Fig Cuttings

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This fig tree was propagated by cutting, it is roughly 2 years old.

One of my favorite parts of gardening is propagation, very few situations in our lives affords us an opportunity to truly play God. But in gardening, although the plants sometimes tell us what they want to do, for the most part we get the final say. The idea that every plant can be easily reproduced just boggles my mind, gardening truly has the potential to be the ultimate poor mans hobby.

Plants, like humans exist in a world of survival of the fittest, only the strong survive. Most permaculturists, although aware, have no idea how to make these principles work for them. Sometimes, the impending death of a plant can trigger a reproductive response that is unlike anything the plant does in life. In nature, when a living branch falls to the ground, it wants to survive, as a last-ditch effort the plant will redirect all of its energy into “forcing” root production. Just one of the ways plants asexually propagate. I have no intention of giving away all my herbaceous voodoo magic in one post, though I do take requests…

It is safe to say, if I can get my hands on just about any part of a plant, I can, and will propagate it… A very large portion of my garden is made up of plants that I personally propagate in one form or another… Figs happen to be one of my favorite plants to propagate, and probably one of the easiest hardwood cuttings to root.

The purpose of this post is to go through step by step, what goes into preparing a hardwood cutting for rooting. There are two ways plants are propagated, Sexually and asexually…

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Some plants like it when you watch…

Sexual Propagation

Seeds are typically produced from sexual reproduction within a species, because genetic reproduction has occurred, a plant grown from seeds may have many different characteristics from its parents. Some species produce seeds that require special conditions to germinate, such as cold treatment. Seeds from many plants in the American Southwest require fire to germinate, designed to only germinate after a wildfire has prepared the land. Some plant species, including many trees do not produce seeds until they reach maturity, which may take many years. Seeds can be difficult to acquire and some plants do not produce seeds at all.

Asexual Propagation

Plants have a number of mechanisms for asexual or vegetative reproduction. Some of these have been used by gardeners to multiply or clone plants quickly. People also use methods that plants do not use, such as tissue culture and grafting. Plants are produced using material from a single parent, and as such, there is no exchange of genetic material, therefor vegetative propagation methods almost always produce plants that are identical to the parent. Vegetative reproduction uses plant parts such as roots, stems and leaves. In some plants seeds can be produced without fertilization and the seeds contain only the genetic material of the parent plant. Therefore, propagation via asexual seeds or apomixis is asexual reproduction but not vegetative propagation.

Propagating figs

Now that you know a few of the basics, we can get into what this post is all about… Propagating figs, or any plant for that matter, as easily and cheaply as possible. I would like to “destroy” the common misconception that this stuff is difficult to do… Honestly, a monkey could prepare cuttings, the hard part is remaining vigilant in the upkeep of the tender cutting while it is attempting to root.

Materials

Pruning shears, paper towels, water, knife, rooting hormone, growing medium.

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Simple diagram of what the cuttings should look like, all three of the examples are fine for this purpose.

Locate fig cuttings

Talk to the neighborhood Italian or fellow gardener, although figs at one time were uncommon, they have become popular in recent years and are no longer that difficult to find. A common misconception is that figs will only root before they have broken dormancy in the spring, I have no problems rooting figs in any life cycle. The time when you acquire the cutting is not nearly as important as how you take care of it.

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Notice the bark has been carefully scraped away exposing the cambium layer.

Prepare fig cuttings

With a sharp pair of pruning shears, cut the branch at a minimum of 45 degrees being careful to keep the cut clean and free of tears. The reason the cut is at a 45 degree angle is to expose as much inner surface as possible, this is one of the areas most likely to produce roots. Using a very sharp knife or razor blade, carefully remove strips of bark along the bottom 1 or 2 inches of the cutting, this is to expose the cambium layer and create more places for root formation.

 

Root Hormone

After completion of the first two steps, I recommend placing your cuttings in a glass of water until you are complete with your prep steps. I occasionally use a powder rooting hormone, this stuff is available at any garden center and is highly recommended. Dump some of the rooting hormone onto a piece of paper, and roll the prepared end of the cutting in the powder shaking off any excess. Do not stick a wet cutting into your container of root hormone, it will introduce moisture into the container and ruin it… Never put the powder you have been using back in the container either, this will also ruin it.

Planting

Use a medium-sized pot filled with clean potting mix, make a hole in the soil slightly larger than the cutting, and insert. Try to avoid removing any of the rooting hormone from the cutting when inserting it, that is why the hole is slightly larger than the actual cutting.

Italian brown turkey fig ready to be planted.

All of your hard work to get to this point in the process, now depends on what you do for the next month. The planted cuttings should be kept moist at all times, a greenhouse covering like a plastic bag will help keep moisture contained. If your soil dries out, you will most likely lose your cuttings…

Once normal growth resumes, remove the plastic covering. For the first year of your cuttings life it is important to remember that it is extremely fragile, problems that would normally have no effect on an established fig tree, will have fatal consequences.

Voodoo

Many of the methods and procedures I use are often considered “voodoo” in the permaculture world… Fuck the permaculture world… Permaculture is about using your resources appropriately… Not spending your resources talking shit on other people… I love permaculture, but am growing increasingly wary of many of the people who I meet in the permaculture world…

Fly by nights… Hipsters… Radicals… Everything I strive not to be…

People in my eyes that have no love… Can’t see the forest or heaven above… Sitting in a circle banging a drum… Talking shit on those you think are scum… – Like me… Proudly…

peace – chriscondello

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