Practical Permaculture – Design

We are all designers, design is nothing more than the arrangement of elements and flows in your life, we design our outfits, meals, homes, gardens and schedules. We design our lives around the problems or elements that shape our world. We design our outfits for form and function, otherwise, we would all be walking around in yellow and orange ski gear in august clueless as to why we were sweating. Design is one of those words that has been blown out of proportion to the point that most people think you need some form of higher education and fancy letters after your name to be included in the design club… I’m here to tell you that is just not the case. We have all been designed to be designers, and I would like to awaken your thought process so you realize it.

A permaculture practitioner has a spiritual and physical attachment to the land they are designing, we see things that others don’t. When you look at the site you are designing, think of it as a system. Study the watershed and airflow, and observe the animal and insect patterns. One of the first things I do is look at the list of variables that I will be working with.

1. Soil

2. Water

3. Sun

4. Temperature

5. Expected yield/type of yield

6. Animals and Insects

Once you have your variables, then all you are basically doing is plugging them into a sort of equation and weighing the results. The design equation is different in every situation, but a relatively sound minded gardener can responsibly solve any garden problem using permaculture basics. Remember that permaculture design is not only design, but also figuring out ways to rationalize keeping and working with/around existing elements in the landscape. Sometimes the hardest part of permaculture design, is convincing a client to keep that old oak tree they have been saving money to cut down for years.

Normally soil structure is a concern that is weighed, but when dealing with an urban lot you are rarely working with soil that has been in place for more than 100 years; usually it is less than 20 years old. When a house is torn down, fill is brought in to cover the demolition site, this is usually rocky, lifeless clay and absolutely no attention is paid to soil quality. For this reason, I say if you want to roto till the lot, go for it. Another option is to bring in mountains of organic material, and cover every square inch and basically start over… I am a supporter of working with what you have, which often means amending the soil you currently have to work with, but I have worked on lots that have so many bricks the only option is to work up from the existing soil surface.

Whiskey is worth drinking, but water is worth fighting for. Water is the all mighty equalizer, you either have too little, or way too much. The trick is to figure out a way to harness what you have, whether it involves clever drainage ideas or ways to shed it away. When I design the beds in a garden, I employ two different tactics involving raised areas designed to shed water, and depressed areas to channel and collect that runoff. This creates what I consider the two basic rain garden concepts… Gardens designed to shed water, and gardens designed to harness it. Location plays a role in the placement of these types of gardens, and differs on every single lot. Once again the principles of water and rain water collection are sound, the only thing that changes is scale and gradient.

The amount of sunlight is often a huge barrier in the urban landscape, a north facing wall can be shaded most of the day, while a south-facing wall can be so bright and so warm that it can raise your garden a zone or two. I have seen massive Brown Turkey Fig patches here in Pittsburgh that normally would need some protection not just survive, but absolutely thrive for 20+ years due to the fact that the homeowner knew the importance of having a brick south-facing wall with no obstructions to block the sun. Shade can be a good thing as well, creating cool spots to grow early and late season vegetables that would otherwise die when grown in the dog days of summer. Once again permaculture is about working with the conditions at hand, don’t change the environment… work with it and adapt to it…

Temperature and sun basically go hand in hand, just work with it, and know it well. Spend time identifying the hot, and cool spots and work with them. know and understand your specific micro-climates, and don’t be afraid to test the limits of your site and the plants used within it.

The amount, and type of yield that you are aiming for needs to be considered in your design. Things will change drastically, depending on what you want your garden to produce. Permaculture, although mainly food oriented, does not limit gardening and landscaping to food production. You could be working for a client that wants a permaculture landscape, but wants absolutely no food grown on their property… would you turn them down? What if they were your only job opportunity for the year… Would you really turn them down? A true permaculturist would take the job, and begin healing the land using phytoremediation tactics incorporating only ornamental plants, with the end yield being workable farmable land for future generations.

Pests and beneficial insects come in so many shapes and forms… On the pest end, we have everything from aphids to children. On the beneficial side, we have everything from honeybees to children. This is one of the aspects of design where a lot of experience, and a solid working knowledge of animal and insect life cycles and habits becomes necessary. So many gardeners, landscapers and farmers may know every plant name out there, but when it comes to animal and insect life… All they know is how to kill the thing with poisons. If you have a pest that bothers, you figure out what pest bothers it… And promote the hell out of its existence. Usually when you have a pest problem, it can be fixed by the promotion of beneficial insects… So in a way we promote the life of the good guys, in hopes that they will control the bad guys… Promotion not eradication!

I could never fit every little aspect of permaculture design into one little blog post, these are just meant to be some ideas to start with. If you are really interested in permaculture design, then I suggest you take the Permaculture Design Course wherever it is offered in your area. Though I need to stress that the PDC is far from a farming course, it is much more of a theory course in my eyes… If you don’t have a basic working knowledge of plant and farming basics, the PDC course will do very little for you… I would suggest talking to your local Extension office, and becoming a Master Gardener first. Get real “informational” backing from a university, then consider getting your Permaculture Design Certificate…

I will proudly admit that I have not taken the Permaculture Design Course, I think the price is ridiculous for what you get. I have been lucky enough to acquire several different versions of the PDC on video, taught by teachers all around the world… Including one by Bill Mollison and Geoff Lawton. I immersed myself in these 72 hour lectures daily for months on end, anything that could possibly be taken away from these lessons, I believe I absorbed. You guys read my blog, what do you think?

I chose to spend my time and money becoming a Penn State Master Gardener, I believe it was the right choice of the two. But my choice is not for everyone, and I would recommend and back the PDC as taught by any of the people currently practicing and teaching in my area. I just personally thought having Penn State backing me was a better choice, it made more sense to me.

If you only take one thing away from this post, then I would want it to be that you are a designer. When gardening you should think like a responsible designer, remember to always take a common sence approach. Remember every thing you change or affect, will have an effect on many other aspects of your garden… So when changing something, think it through and do it responsibly. If you are not 100% sure of something you are about to do… step back and take the time to properly think it through.

promotion not eradication – chriscondello

This is a photo from the Whitney Avenue Urban Farm, the bricks were used to absorb sunlight and heat, to help start my green seeds earlier. Notice how the seeds closer to the south-facing side of the bricks sprouted earlier, and are growing faster.

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The True Yield Of Trees

The other day I was having a conversation with some new friends at one of the great Wilkinsburg community gardens, the topic of the conversation was yield. You see… Community gardens are often plots of land with very few perennials, shrubs or trees… Recently some of the community gardens in my area have begun planting fruit trees. The issue we are running into is the fact that people want to plant things that will produce food “NOW”, they don’t want to wait 3 or 4 years, most of the time they don’t even know if they will still be living in the neighborhood in 4 years. Some grants will even specify the size of the trees that can be purchased and planted using their money, the idea is to get trees planted that are as close to fruiting as humanly possible… Once again we are being told to plant something for the sole aspect of creating food quickly, and the trees wants and needs are completely overlooked…

Physical

Obviously people expect a fruit tree to yield, well… fruit. Because of this the other qualities of the tree are overlooked, trees also produce wood for fuel and building materials. The leaves create a protective mulch in winter, and in the spring break down into nutrients that are not only taken back up by the tree, but also benefit all of the plants in the general vicinity. Trees with deep root systems have the ability to mine nutrients that would otherwise be too deep to benefit shallow surface roots, these nutrients are then released into the soil surface when the leaves fall and break down… kind of give a little, get a little system that continuously repeats itself until the tree dies… starting another life system…

A single tree has the ability to create a micro climate, many trees have the power to change climates. Once you travel in from the coast, forests comprise the majority of the surface water available, inland rainfall contains no traces of the ocean… It’s actually composed mainly of water from the trees… A forest can be thought of like a giant inland lake… Because of this trees, especially forests, can increase rainfall by as much as 40%.

Trees also filter dust and pollutants from the air, the simple act of a tree slowing the speed of the wind down is enough to allow it to deposit the heavier sediments it is carrying. Often at the edge of a forest you will find highly fertile small mounds located a few feet inside the tree line, this is a direct result of the wind being slowed down by the trees and depositing its payload. It is partly because of this phenomenon, trees on the edge of a forest are taller and stronger than the trees located within.

Mental

I can honestly say without a doubt, I have learned something before, during or after every tree I have ever planted. The simple act of planting a tree is an educational opportunity spanning all aspects of modern academia, everything I really needed to know in life, I learned while planting trees. Think about it for a second… Math, literature, science, history, they all relate to planting trees in one form or another. If you are reading a book to your class and a specific type of tree is planted, plant that type of tree (whenever possible) and I promise your class will never forget it.

Spiritual

Trees lift people’s spirits, an old tree can bring back fond memories of the past. I find planting a tree to be a highly spiritual act, it takes a bit of faith to plant something to benefit future generations… not just yourself. In my own personal “tree planting” experiences, I have noticed that when I am in good spirits, the tree or plant tends to do better. But when I am not feeling good, the trees and plants that I plant do not do nearly as good as they would have had I been in good spirit.

In my neighborhood when we plant perennials or trees it becomes a neighborhood event, people come out of their houses with their chairs and we all get together and garden. I can’t begin to tell you how much of a spirit lifter this activity is for the whole neighborhood, not only do we get a physical and mental yield, we also get a spiritual yield that most people don’t get to see, many of the yields I am speaking about may not be apparent at the immediate time of planting, consider them long-term yields… I still have people come up to me and tell me how good it makes them feel to walk past a garden or tree that we planted as a neighborhood… after hearing comments like this more times than I can count, the spiritual aspect of tree planting has become my current primary focus, with food closely behind it. My “focus” has a tendency to evolve over time, I like to embrace the evolution.

I used to consider myself a “food farmer” exclusively, when I built an urban farm all I was interested in was food. I was only interested in the physical yields that my plants could produce, it wasn’t until years later that I began to spiritually feel the power that a tree or plant can yield. I would like to see all gardeners recognize the true yield potential of a plant or tree, to look beyond the physical and begin looking at the meta-physical yields. We have a unique opportunity as gardeners to sculpt and shape the landscapes of our future, we are after all, installation artists.

Although I am a gardener and farmer, I am also an artist… the land is my canvas and plants and trees are my medium. I do not just create my artwork for the physical yield I receive, I do it for the mental and spiritual yield I receive from it… and that is one of the things that will set me apart from the rest… one day at least… I hope… being a starving artist is not easy… well I guess I can’t say “starving” artist!

If there’s a new way… I’ll be the first in line… But it better work this time… – Dave Mustaine

everything i really needed to know in life, i learned while planting trees – chriscondello

Originally posted to www.transitionpgh.org

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The true yield of trees

The other day I was having a conversation with some new friends at one of the great Wilkinsburg community gardens, the topic of the conversation was yield. You see… Community gardens are often plots of land with very few perennials, shrubs or trees… Recently some of the community gardens in my area have begun planting fruit trees. The issue we are running into is the fact that people want to plant things that will produce food “NOW”, they don’t want to wait 3 or 4 years, most of the time they don’t even know if they will still be living in the neighborhood in 4 years. Some grants will even specify the size of the trees that can be purchased and planted using their money, the idea is to get trees planted that are as close to fruiting as humanly possible… Once again we are being told to plant something for the sole aspect of creating food quickly, and the trees wants and needs are completely overlooked…

Physical

Obviously people expect a fruit tree to yield, well… fruit. Because of this the other qualities of the tree are overlooked, trees also produce wood for fuel and building materials. The leaves create a protective mulch in winter, and in the spring break down into nutrients that are not only taken back up by the tree, but also benefit all of the plants in the general vicinity. Trees with deep root systems have the ability to mine nutrients that would otherwise be too deep to benefit shallow surface roots, these nutrients are then released into the soil surface when the leaves fall and break down… kind of give a little, get a little system that continuously repeats itself until the tree dies… starting another life system…

A single tree has the ability to create a micro climate, many trees have the power to change climates. Once you travel in from the coast, forests comprise the majority of the surface water available, inland rainfall contains no traces of the ocean… It’s actually composed mainly of water from the trees… A forest can be thought of like a giant inland lake… Because of this trees, especially forests, can increase rainfall by as much as 40%.

Trees also filter dust and pollutants from the air, the simple act of a tree slowing the speed of the wind down is enough to allow it to deposit the heavier sediments it is carrying. Often at the edge of a forest you will find highly fertile small mounds located a few feet inside the tree line, this is a direct result of the wind being slowed down by the trees and depositing its payload. It is partly because of this phenomenon, trees on the edge of a forest are taller and stronger than the trees located within.

Mental

I can honestly say without a doubt, I have learned something before, during or after every tree I have ever planted. The simple act of planting a tree is an educational opportunity spanning all aspects of modern academia, everything I really needed to know in life, I learned while planting trees. Think about it for a second… Math, literature, science, history, they all relate to planting trees in one form or another. If you are reading a book to your class and a specific type of tree is planted, plant that type of tree (whenever possible) and I promise your class will never forget it.

Spiritual

Trees lift people’s spirits, an old tree can bring back fond memories of the past. I find planting a tree to be a highly spiritual act, it takes a bit of faith to plant something to benefit future generations… not just yourself. In my own personal “tree planting” experiences, I have noticed that when I am in good spirits, the tree or plant tends to do better. But when I am not feeling good, the trees and plants that I plant do not do nearly as good as they would have had I been in good spirit.

In my neighborhood when we plant perennials or trees it becomes a neighborhood event, people come out of their houses with their chairs and we all get together and garden. I can’t begin to tell you how much of a spirit lifter this activity is for the whole neighborhood, not only do we get a physical and mental yield, we also get a spiritual yield that most people don’t get to see, many of the yields I am speaking about may not be apparent at the immediate time of planting, consider them long-term yields… I still have people come up to me and tell me how good it makes them feel to walk past a garden or tree that we planted as a neighborhood… after hearing comments like this more times than I can count, the spiritual aspect of tree planting has become my current primary focus, with food closely behind it. My “focus” has a tendency to evolve over time, I like to embrace the evolution.

I used to consider myself a “food farmer” exclusively, when I built an urban farm all I was interested in was food. I was only interested in the physical yields that my plants could produce, it wasn’t until years later that I began to spiritually feel the power that a tree or plant can yield. I would like to see all gardeners recognize the true yield potential of a plant or tree, to look beyond the physical and begin looking at the meta-physical yields. We have a unique opportunity as gardeners to sculpt and shape the landscapes of our future, we are after all, installation artists.

Although I am a gardener and farmer, I am also an artist… the land is my canvas and plants and trees are my medium. I do not just create my artwork for the physical yield I receive, I do it for the mental and spiritual yield I receive from it… and that is one of the things that will set me apart from the rest… one day at least… I hope… being a starving artist is not easy… well I guess I can’t say “starving” artist!

If there’s a new way… I’ll be the first in line… But it better work this time… – Dave Mustaine

Everything I really needed to know in life, I learned while planting trees! ~ chriscondello

Originally posted to http://www.transitionpgh.org

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A Little Taste of Garlic

Fall is now upon us, for most people this is the time that the garden is being cleared out and put to bed for next year. Not many people realize how many crops can be grown through the winter… Garlic, Leeks, Collard Greens and Kale can all overwinter and in many cases grow and taste better after exposure to the cold. Garlic has to be one of the easiest plants I have ever grown and tends to keep for a long time if it is stored properly. This post is intended to be a guide to planting, growing, harvesting and storing garlic.

Allium Sativum, more commonly known as garlic is a species in the onion genus Allium, garlic’s close relatives include onions, shallots, leeks and rakkyo. Native to central Asia and dating back over 6000 years, garlic has been a staple of Mediterranean dishes, as well as a seasoning in Asian, African and European cuisine. It was known to Ancient Egyptians, and has been used throughout its history for both culinary and medicinal purposes.

Garlic is rather easy to grow and can be grown year around in milder climates, garlic is grown from the individual cloves. Each clove will produce one plant with a single bulb – which may in turn contain up to twenty cloves, growing garlic is therefore self-sustaining. While sexual propagation of garlic is possible, nearly all of the garlic in cultivation is propagated asexually by planting individual cloves in the ground. In cold climates, cloves are planted in the fall, about six weeks before the soil freezes and harvested in late spring. Garlic is very hardy, and is not attacked by many types of pests or diseases. Garlic repels rabbits and moles. Two of the major pathogens that attack garlic are nematodes and white rot disease, which remains in the soil indefinitely once the ground has become infected. Garlic can also suffer from pink root, which is typically a nonfatal disease that stunts the roots and turns them pink or red.

Garlic can be grown close together, you only need enough room for the garlic bulbs to fully mature and can even be grown in a container of sufficient depth. When selecting your garlic cloves for planting, it is important to pick large heads from which to separate the cloves. Large cloves, along with proper spacing in the garden bed will improve head size. When planting garlic, choose a garden site that gets plenty of sun and where the soil is not too damp. The cloves should be planted individually, upright and about an inch (25 mm) under the surface. Plant the cloves about 4 inches (100 mm) apart. Rows should be about 18 inches (450 mm) apart. Garlic plants prefer to grow in a soil that is high in organic material but is more than capable of growing an any soil and pH environment you can throw at it. It is traditional to plant garlic on the shortest day of the year. Whether this is for symbolic or practical reasons is unclear.

As garlic reaches maturity, the leaves will brown then die away. This is the cue that it is time to harvest your garlic crop. If you harvest too early the cloves will be very small, too late and the bulb will have split. Proper handling of garlic after it’s been picked is almost as important as looking after it while it’s growing. It’s essential that garlic is dried properly, otherwise it will rot. The bulbs are often hung up in a cool, dry place. After a week or so, take them down and brush the dirt off gently – don’t wash the bulbs at this stage.

There are different types or subspecies of garlic, most notably hard neck and soft neck garlic. The latitude where the garlic is grown affects the choice of type as garlic can be day-length sensitive. Hard neck garlic is generally grown in cooler climates while hard neck garlic is grown in warmer climates closer to the equator.

The scape or flowers of garlic are removed to focus the plants attention into producing larger cloves of garlic. The scape also happen to be delicious and is used both cooked or raw.

Garlic is usually stored in warm conditions above 64 F and dry to keep it dormant so it does not sprout and is almost always hung. Soft neck varieties are often braided in strands called plaits or grappes. Peeled cloves may be stored in wine or vinegar in the refrigerator. Garlic will keep longer if the tops remain attached. Garlic is also kept in oil, but the practice requires measures to be taken to prevent the garlic from spoiling. Untreated garlic kept in oil can support the growth of bacteria that causes the deadly illness botulism so care should be taken when preparing garlic for storage in oil. To reduce the risk, the oil should be refrigerated and used within one week.

Garlic has been used by many cultures as food and medicine for thousands of years dating as far back as when the pyramids were built. Garlic is mentioned in the Bible and the Talmud. Hippocrates, Galen, Pliny the Elder, and Dioscorides all mention the use of garlic for many conditions, including parasites, respiratory problems, poor digestion, and low energy.

In in vitro studies, garlic has been found to have antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal activity. However, these actions are less clear in vivo. Garlic is also claimed to help prevent heart disease (including atherosclerosis, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure  and cancer. Garlic is used to prevent certain types of cancer, including stomach and colon cancers. In fact, countries where garlic is consumed in higher amounts, because of traditional cuisine, have been found to have a lower prevalence of cancer. Animal studies, and some early research studies in humans, have suggested possible cardiovascular benefits of garlic.

In 2007, the BBC reported garlic may have other beneficial properties, such as preventing and fighting the common cold. This assertion has the backing of long tradition in herbal medicine, which has used garlic for hoarseness and coughs. The Cherokee also used it as an expectorant for coughs and croup.

Garlic is also alleged to help regulate blood sugar levels. Regular and prolonged use of therapeutic amounts of aged garlic extracts lower blood homocysteine levels and has been shown to prevent some complications of diabetes mellitus. People taking insulin should not consume medicinal amounts of garlic without consulting a physician.

In 1858, Louis Pasteur observed garlic’s antibacterial activity, and it was used as an antiseptic to prevent gangrene during World War I and World War II. More recently, it has been found from a clinical trial that a mouthwash containing 2.5% fresh garlic shows good antimicrobial activity, although the majority of the participants reported an unpleasant taste and halitosis.

Garlic cloves are used as a remedy for infections (especially chest problems), digestive disorders, and fungal infections such as thrush.  Garlic can be used as a disinfectant because of its bacteriostatic and bacteriocidal properties.

Garlic has been regarded as a force for both good and evil. According to Cassell’s Dictionary of Superstitions, there is an Islamic myth that considers that after Satan left the Garden of Eden, garlic arose in his left footprint and onion in the right. In Europe, many cultures have used garlic for protection or white magic, perhaps owing to its reputation as a potent preventative medicine. Central European folk beliefs considered garlic a powerful ward against demons, werewolves, and vampires. To ward off vampires, garlic could be worn, hung in windows, or rubbed on chimneys and keyholes.

Peace – chriscondello

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A little taste of garlic!

Originally Posted To http://www.transitionpgh.org

October 2, 2011 @ 12:00 PM

Guerilla Gardening Safety

I like to think that I write about experience, and experience tells me I need to write about safety! Most people probably don’t consider gardening a dangerous hobby, and it normally isn’t in the safety of your own property. Technically speaking, the moment you step on to property that isn’t yours you are guilty of trespassing, alter the property in any way and now it’s vandalism, remove anything… and it’s burglary… Which is a felony in PA! Most of the time what you are doing will be seen as a good thing and you will find support from the neighbors, but occasionally your presence will not be accepted and it’s time to do some serious soul-searching. As with any “wild” areas like a severely blighted urban community, you will encounter hazards that will need to be dealt with. This post is to relate some of the safety lessons I have learned while gardening in random places.

I would like to mention that while a lot of people believe guerilla gardening is a new thing, it has been around for a long time. Contrary to popular belief guerilla gardening roots have nothing to do with food, and everything to do with drugs. The first “guerilla gardeners” were pot farmers, the term was coined by them for the obvious “renegade” aspect of what they were doing. Wikipedia claims it was coined in New York in 1973, the term was used much earlier than that though.

I think the most important rule that I could possibly write about is “know your surroundings”, I seriously can’t stress this enough. When you are doing “anything” in a sketchy area be aware of everything, and everyone around you. If you are about to walk through an area that you think is suspect, it doesn’t hurt to be preparing a mental plan on what you would do if something goes wrong. I have been in several situations where I was obviously being followed for whatever reason, I don’t carry cash and only had garden tools on me. After identifying the situation I immediately made myself as visible as possible by walking in the street and heading for the closest, most occupied area I could. I know at least a few people on every street and was able to make it a friend’s house, the guy walked past the house and waited on the corner for me to leave. I was able to wait him out but this could have been so much worse, I am lucky to know someone in at least 50% of the neighborhoods in Wilkinsburg.

I think “keeping a low profile” is a logical rule, but just in case I’m going to cover it. Blending in with your surroundings can save your life, if you walk around looking like you have money… well… people will think you have money. Just the simple fact of looking “normal” can be the difference, skip the straw farmers hat! A great secret is to figure out what color shirts your local DPW wear, then buy several shirts in that color, makes you look a little more “official”. Sometimes the situation will put you in regular contact with people, always say hello and speak if spoken to… remember that they are now your neighbors, and will play a huge part in the success or failure of your garden.

Sometimes it is acceptable to garden in plain sight, in the case of food production you should consider hiding it. I have found that allowing people to freely pick is not always a good thing, people damage plants and often take unripe, or way more than they could possibly personally use. Now when I have non-gardeners on my sites I always spend time educating on the “harvesting” aspect of gardening. Gardens used as a protest, memorial or beautification should obviously be visible, public guerilla gardening efforts have issues as well.

Peace Garden AfterI pride myself on my ability to completely zone out while I garden, this was a tough one to break. If you have the ability to work as a team I would recommend a spotter, someone to have your back. Guerilla gardening requires you to be aware of everything around you, even while you work you should be aware of everything. I was taught this lesson by an 11-year-old boy, he was always trying to find me and sneak up on me. He got close enough to reach out and touch me on several occasions, one time I almost punched him in the face, this was a huge wake up call. If someone can get close enough to touch you while you are gardening, then they are close enough to rob you. When you do get approached by a stranger, stand up immediately, face them head on and NEVER get caught with your pants down. Consider a 6′ perimeter around yourself “personal space” and do not let them in it, if they do break that perimeter let them know you want “personal space”, they will normally understand, if they don’t “SOMETHING IS NOT RIGHT”, act accordingly!

Things you may find can harm you as well, caution should be taken with anything that you come in contact with. Guns should always be considered loaded and lethal, age weakens components and can make it very dangerous. If you ever find a gun leave it as you found it and immediately call the police, they will respond quickly. Drug dealers don’t keep their drugs and guns at home with them, they often stash them nearby in a vacant house or yard. If you ever find one of these stashes, “DO NOT TAKE ANYTHING!!!” 9 out of 10 times you ARE BEING WATCHED, they do not stray far from the stash. Your best chance of leaving this situation with your life is to walk away like you saw nothing, I would forget I ever saw it and if anything tell someone else what you saw and let them call the police. Basically I am saying if you ever find yourself in this situation the most important thing is to get as far away, as quickly as possible. What you do from that point forward is on you, but your physical safety should be considered.

GrapesAnimals can also be a serious problem with dogs being the most common, and often the most dangerous. I have always had an unexplainable thing with animals and rarely have problems, but it does happen. Dogs are almost always curious animals that don’t want to hurt you, extreme home environments are the problem. Starvation, neglect, fighting, abuse and torture of dogs does happen, this can turn an otherwise friendly dog into a killing machine. If you encounter an animal in this condition after you secure your own life you need to report it to the police, they can handle it. Mace can be a good dog deterrent, and is rather effective on humans as well. I was planting pumpkins in the backyard of the house across the street, I heard the barking before I even saw it. The biggest, scariest pit bull I have ever seen was hauling ass right towards me, I spent the next two hours chain-smoking cigarettes locked in the kitchen of an abandoned house.

Hypodermic needles can also be commonplace, with blight comes pain. Never ever touch a used needle, if you have to wear protection, talk to a doctor or hospital and acquire a used needle box with a safety lid. Paramedics and police will respond when called about a dirty needle, they have the equipment needed to recover used needles. Basically the safest thing you can do is dial “911”, they would rather pick up a needle than pick you up after stabbing yourself.

In closing I just want to stress how important being aware of your surroundings at all times is, this WILL save your life. The boy scouts have a motto “Always Be Prepared” that I think applies nicely here, keep your head up.

By any means necessary ~ chriscondello

Bulbs are one of my absolute favorite guerilla gardening weapons, I call them green land mines! You can hide them under the grass when you plant them in the fall, only to surprise everyone when they unexpectedly come up in the spring…

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Guns were designed to kill

Originally posted to www.transitionpgh.org on March 15, 2012 @ 4:00PM

I grew up in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, I was an avid sportsman and my family owned guns. We used to go to the local gun range for skeet and target practice. I took the hunters safety course when I was sixteen and know I could safely handle a gun if need be.  I do not personally own one or have any intention of ever owning one, but it is nice to know that if it came down to it I could hold my own.

I am sitting here writing and for the 4th time this week I heard a barage of gunfire followed with sirens. Guns do not scare me, people that do not realize the consequences of taking a life scare me…  People that do not value their own life or anyone elses for that matter scare me… Teens that think it is not safe to walk the streets without a gun scare me… Sadly sometimes I think they are right… I grew up around guns and was taught responsible and safe use… I was taught to keep the safety on, never point it at a human and never put your finger on the trigger unless you are ready to fire. Basically you do not point a gun at something unless you are ready to end it’s life. I think it would be safe to say that 50% of the gunshots I hear are kids who have found or bought a gun and are testing it in an alley…After all you would’nt catch a soldier going into battle without making sure his weapon fires first, right?

All neighborhoods and communities are in a constant state of transition, not just Wilkinsburg… We have a lot of apartments that have a high turn over rate. Things will be quiet one month and the the next month it will be hell on earth. To quote a close friend who has been shot in Wilkinsburg more than once “This winter has been way to quiet, when it gets warm there will be war in the streets.”

Two nights ago between 9:30 and 11:00pm there was an armed robbery on my street, 20 minutes later there was a shooting on one side of the borough and then 10 minutes later there was another shooting in the playground of the local elementary school… We heard the shots and immediately fealt something different in the air. You know how you can sometimes feel when something bad happens…  This was one of those times, the air smelled funny and the hair on my body was standing on end…  We knew this one was going to land close to home…  We soon heard people screaming in the street and immediately knew this was bad.

It turns out that we did know the person (I cannot and will not disclose the name of this person). The initial reports that we got from the scanner were that 2 people were shot, one in the head and one in the leg. When they said the location of the shooting we knew who it was and believe me it was friends that we consider family. It was like my little brother had just been shot, the only info we had was that he was alive and talking. This was the fifth person that we personally knew from Wilkinsburg that had been shot. Given the fact that I went 28 years without knowing anyone who had been shot and this was the fifth person in 2 years that we personally knew, it goes to show you how difficult it can be to insert yourself into a families life that has always lived like this.

My biggest fear is that I am going to be sitting on someones porch and get caught up in crossfire. it is the sad reality of living in a community like Wilkinsburg. Even though it may scare the hell out of you and I, it has an opposite effect on the youth in the area… You would think that getting shot would be a huge wake up call but it is far from the life changing event it would be for most of the population. They idolize gangsters and the thug lifestyle and street-cred is everything in this world. Getting shot only makes you cooler, it is like the line between being a poser and being the real deal.

My question is how do you reverse the effect of living under the gun your entire life. Soldiers coming back from war say that being shot at is the ultimate high and after living through it everyday civilian life is never the same. It is kind of the same way for the youth in Wilkinsburg. They talk about it like it is just an everyday part of life. How do you convince a 10 year old not to do what his older brothers and friends are doing.

The sad fact is that at school, church and every youth program these kids hear why they need to stay off the streets and keep off drugs. With out these programs things would be much worse, they save millions of lives a year im sure. So many people think that the only way to be successful is to graduate from high school and get a college degree. Sadly this is not an option for many of the youth I come in contact with on a daily basis. I see my role as a mentor to show the kids that are a part of my life how to survive without the things that might not be possible to accomplish in there lives. Believe me I think all kids should graduate from high school and go on to further there education, but I did not go to college and I have a pretty good idea what it takes to survive in this world with very little.

Shit happens around here, kids get in trouble and serve jail time effectively ending there education, girls get pregnant and have to raise a child, sometimes school is just not a priority for the parents and eventually the kids drop out. My job as a mentor often involves teaching life skills to kids that will not otherwise get taught to them. Sometimes it is as simple as teaching basic construction skills or as detailed as organic farming so they will atleast be able to feed their families someday, every kids abilities are different. I want to show them that no matter what decisions they make in there life with a little work anything is possible. So many of these kids have been shit on there entire lives that they start believing they are worthless yet every single one of these kids is amazing at something. Sometimes all they need is to hear it.

If you have a problem child in your neighborhood please do not scold them, instead try to control their energy through projects. I had a kid that liked to dig holes, and I mean anywhere… Instead of yelling at him I gave him a shovel and told him where to dig the holes and tought him to fill them with plants. It is amazing how he wanted to plant anything he could get his hands on. Made my life a little easier but more important is the fact that I may have planted a seed in this kids life that could be the hobby that keeps him from picking up a gun.

Saddly a lot of these kids have every reason in the world to carry a gun, as long as there is the fear that other people have guns then they will defend themselves. Imagine being at war with the next block over from YOUR house, even if you don’t hate them, they hate you, just because of the street you live on. Moving is not an option due to being poor and all it takes for you to be on someones shit list is for your FRIEND to say something and now you are a target out of association. Sometimes you do not even have to provoke an attack, it just comes down to trying to impress a friend or a girl.

All that it takes is one person to show a child a way out, insert yourself in their life and show them that they can do anything in the world. Take them someplace they would never get to go, a farm, the mountains or fishing…  It does not matter if you are not a saint, anyone can make a positive impact on a childs life. Especially when your competition could take their life!

Telephone pole gardening

Originally Posted to www.transitionpgh.org on April 2, 2012 @ 4:30PM

Utility poles create garden opportunities in space that would otherwise just be filled with grass and weeds. My street has a “Hell-Strip” also known as the little strip of grass between your street and sidewalk, it extends from one side of my street to the other… except in front of the house I live in for some reason. Anyway hell-strips create a unique gardening opportunity, there have been books written on the subject detailing many aspects of gardening in these strips.

One of my original “dreams” I had for our street was to garden the entire strip from one end to the other. This dream was soon broken with the realization that since we only have on street parking anything that I planted was soon trampled. This left me to the places you could’nt open a car door like utility poles and traffic signs.

I wouldn’t recomend planting anything you were planning on eating next to a utility pole given the fact that these poles are soaked in creosote which is a product obtained from the distillation of a tar that is heavier than water and is used to preserve wood. Creosate contains many toxic compounds and I don’t recommend eating anything grown in close proximity to it. Creosote was also used to treat railroad ties so caution should be taken any time you are working close to them.

 

If you have access to bricks use them to make a nice little defining border around the garden. This gives you a visible line showing where the garden is but also defines where the lawncare should end. Most landscapers fail to ever look down and unless you have a clearly defined line where your plants start then they will be destroyed. Another thing to take into consideration is the hardiness of your plants, even though people won’t be directly walking on the garden… dogs will still walk through it, they may do worse if their masters aren’t vigilant… Salt can wreak havoc on your plants as well… Also the creosote on the pole itself acts as an herbicide and keeps plants from growing to close to it. I dig and replace the soil closest to the pole to be safe and add as much organic material as I can fit.

Pick the hardiest most drought tolerant plants you can find like mints, lavendar, sages, echinacea, day lilly, iris or anything that is very hardy. Remember that these plants are really not protected by anything and other than the first month or two you will not want to be dragging water out to the garden daily. You want to only have to deal with it once or twice a year once it is built.

Another cool part of gardening in these long lost areas is they make great places to plant spring bulbs. I find tulips are the only plants that do not do good in these areas. They usually look stunted and never bloom. Daffodils on the other hand will take incredible amounts of torture and will bloom for years. Daffodils are also sold in bulk and if you wait for the right time to ask most places will have extras at the end of the year they will sell to you at a drastic reduction in price. If you want to plant bulbs in grass then just cut and tear up a section of sod, place your bulbs wherever you want them and replace the piece of sod. Sometimes I don’t remember all of the places I put them and find myself surprised every spring. Be creative with them, you can sneak them into somebodies yard and not tell them until they come up in the spring… Hence my nickname for bulbs “Hippy Hand Grenades”