Complementary Gardening – Gardening Without Borders

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“Tulip Behind Borders” – The Garden Table – Wilkinsburg, PA – This garden is a vacant lot that happens to be located in a rather high traffic location… I am actually planning on installing a fence and gate this summer… Something I said I would never do…

It is a long-standing practice in gardening to use a border to define the edges of our gardens. My preferred border material is bricks, they are plentiful in my neighborhood, have historical value, and help me keep my personal gardens neat and orderly. Borders are basically a line used to define where the lawn maintenance ends, and where the meticulous garden maintenance begins. Without borders, the neighborhood children would not know where my garden started… They also wouldn’t know the point at which I start yelling… Though… The kids are very good about not stepping in my garden…

As a garden installer, I spend a great deal of time thinking about garden borders… But as an artist/environmentalist… I also spend a great deal of time thinking outside my garden borders… To start this article off, I want to answer a simple question… What is a garden? A garden is typically defined as a collection of plants… In most cultures… To dream of paradise… Equates to dreaming of a garden… Or a lush landscape at the very least… This collection is typically contained within the confines of ones own yard… It just makes sense… Plants cost money… Why would you put them someplace you don’t own?

As my journey through the gardening world has progressed… I have found myself constantly looking to nature for inspiration… Over the last few years, I have left the borders of my garden… And gone in search of other gardens… My search has taken me into the forest in search of spring ephemerals… Into the fields to look for Echinacea… And up into the mountains to look for ginseng…

I have spent a great deal of time seeking out, and observing plants in their natural settings. Over time, my hobby has blossomed into an obsession. Now that I have been doing this for a few years, I have developed a bond with many of the plant patches I find… I have actually developed an emotional attachment to them… Oddly… I recently realized that I feel the same way about the woodland wildflowers I regularly seek out, as I feel about the plants in my garden…

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“300 Acre Garden” – Keystone State Park – Westmoreland County, PA – Can an entire state park be considered a garden… I believe it can be… A sunset photo of my newest garden…

Walking through trillium along the side of a mountain… I stopped to pick up some litter… It was at this exact moment that I realized my garden no longer had a border… Standing on the side of this mountain… I realized I was the only person who would ever pick up these plastic bottles… The Trillium certainly couldn’t do it… Not the jack-in-the-pulpit’s… Not the tasty Morels… Without me stopping to pick up those bottles… They would have been there for a really long time…

In order to garden, an individual must have an affection for plants… In my own experience, this rarely dies, in most cases it blossoms into an addiction and before you know it… You have more plants than you know what to do with… Some see this as a bad thing… But I personally see it as a good thing… It is at this point most people start looking outside of their own garden to scratch the gardening itch… When a gardeners mind finally steps outside of their own property… Only then does nature truly see a benefit… This is when the journey really begins…

Our gardens are a direct connection between ourselves, and the environment that surrounds us. Bees for example, collect pollen from the flowers blooming in your garden, although this pollen is then transferred among the other plants in your own garden, it is also spread to the plants surrounding your garden. This everyday transfer of genetic material is just one way plants communicate… The plants you plant in your own garden, affect the next generation of plants that will grow in your surroundings…

TroutLily

“Trout Lily” – Frick Park – Pittsburgh, PA – Frick Park is a place I have been spending a lot of time in… I consider it an urban garden… And I will care for it as such…

Although we will go to great lengths to keep animals and birds out of our gardens, nature always wins. Many seeds have evolved to survive digestion, after consumption, these seeds are then spread through “natural processes”. I have followed plant-covered deer trails through the woods, these trails can be hotspots for finding early spring wildflowers… I have followed trillium trails for miles… Likewise… The old ginseng hunters used to follow deer trails when foraging for medicine…

Humans have been pushing nature away for hundreds of years… We cap the earth in cement… Trap and kill anything we consider “wild”… We eliminate ecosystems… Then replace them ad-hoc in the places we deem suitable… We create gardens full of food in the middle of exotic monocultures of chemically dependent monocots… Organic vegetables growing among a sea of garbage… Food labeled as organic… Hiding behind a ten-foot fence… Taunting the deer… Torturing the rabbits… But in desperation… Will not stop a single one of them…

Man and nature can live in harmony… In fact… Nature only requires a small amount of compensation… I laugh when I hear stories of people living in these new plans of McMansions… Entire ecosystems have been destroyed to put these plans in… Yet the inhabitants still cry foul when their cheap landscaping shrubs get devoured almost immediately… If you tore my hundred-year old house down… And built a fire-hazard on top of it… You better believe… I am going to do more than eat your shrubs…

Living in western Pennsylvania, I am asked more questions regarding deer… Than any other garden pest you can think of… Everybody wants a magic bullet… When I answer by saying feed them… Most people scoff… But I stand by my word… The goal to keeping nature from eating your share… Is to compensate… More simply put… You need to make other food sources easier to acquire than your own… Depending on your situation… This is often as easy as a simple fence around your vegetables… And a feeder and salt block somewhere else… This isn’t really a secret either… Any old-time farmer will tell you this…

I guess what I am trying to say is this… Gardening is a skill that requires us to learn how to work with nature… In order to do this properly… We must think outside the borders of our gardens… We must allow our minds to seek out answers beyond the confines of our own property… The insects and animals surrounding you have no respect for the borders in your gardens… They do not see property lines… They do not know where nature ends… And where the garden begins… And that is my point… Nature doesn’t see where the wild ends… Animals don’t know where the garden begins… And neither should we… The entire earth is a garden… A paradise… Every square inch of it deserves protection… As gardeners… Our gardens have no borders… And Nature… Well that Is in fact… What we do…

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

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First Frost – Pavement and Stones

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“First Frost on my Creeping Oregano” – Whitney Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA

Walking streets of pavement and stones…
Potholes reveal that bricks are the bones…
Remnants of past that’s lost not forgotten…
History records the good and the rotten…
Someday the truth will result in a frown…
Build them all up then tear them back down…
Cover the memories under soil and ground…
Sow the bare land without making a sound…
Memories of the past make the garden grow…
Beneath the seeds that you and I sow…
Soon they will grow into peace and love…
Stretching toward heaven in the sky above…

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

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Morning to Evening – October Session

This gallery contains 11 photos.

Prints available @ http://www.society6.com/chriscondello plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

Practical Permaculture – Four-Legged Pests in the Urban Garden

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“Watching” – © chriscondello 2013 – Frick Park – Pittsburgh, PA – How you view squirrels is often based on what you grow… I know people who love them… And I know people who call them “tree rats”… A simple solution is to get a pet… You would be surprised what a dog will keep out of your yard…

I’m doing so much gardening right now… All day… Every day… The last thing in the world I want to do right now is write about gardening… But I’m going to try… Sort of…

Now… If you have a garden of any type… You probably have a few four-legged pests… In my neck of the woods… The issues are cats, dogs, raccoons, groundhogs, squirrels and rats… Options range from fences to traps… Your preference most likely will be based on beliefs that are really none of my business… The following post is meant to look at the subject from both perspectives… This article deals with the trapping and disposal of rabies vector animals… Or… Just getting along with them… With a few tips on the domesticated relatives…

I’m going to start this post on the subject of cats and dogs. To be completely honest, there is very little you can do to domesticated animals to keep them out of your yard without raising a few eyebrows. I have actually written about cats before, you can check it out right here… All you can really do is defend your garden…

Dogs are not typically a problem unless you have a neighbor that lets theirs run free, which is typically illegal in any populated area… A simple call to the police can fix this, remember they are pretty limited in what they can do to said dog, or dog owner. Fencing will typically have to be installed in an attempt to exclude the dog, little else could legally be done without bordering on animal abuse… My best advice for dealing with a troublesome dog… Become friends with it… You would be surprised how the simple act of befriending the animal will change the way you look at its in-discretionary practices… in short… You wont mind cleaning up after the beast so much if you are friends with it… Just saying… Perspective…

Squirrels were at one time a problem for me, but the great cat population boom of 2011 has limited the squirrels in number.  We still have a few of them, but their presence is welcomed as they are really enjoyable to watch. The problem with squirrels for other people is the fact that they like to rob bird feeders, and bury nuts in gardens when they are storing them for winter. You can either trap the squirrels and relocate them… Account for the squirrels in your budget and simply feed the things… Or eliminate all food sources for a few years… If possible…

In nature… A nut-tree can only sustain so many nut eating animals… Occasionally… A tree will have a heavy bearing year… This is an evolutionary response done in attempt to allow seed germination… You see… Most years the squirrels will have no problem cleaning the nuts up under a tree or two… Because of this… Only so many squirrels will live in an area…  Because a tree aims to reproduce itself… It will compensate by dropping extra seed every once in a while… You want to do the opposite… Eliminate the original habitat by practicing meticulous cleanup for a few years… I can’t stress enough how many of these problems can be solved with regular maintenance… It’s almost laughable…

© chriscondello 2013

“Groundhog Food” – © chriscondello 2013 – Hamnett Place Community Garden – Wilkinsburg, PA – Instead of mowing the food to the ground… Let it grow… Groundhogs and bunnies love clover… The trick is to make more clover available than your garden plants…

Groundhogs are the bane of the vegetable garden, wherever food is grown, groundhogs are not far away. Groundhogs tend to be territorial creatures, this territory is based on food availability. I have seen people build fences that go a foot into the earth, and the groundhog still finds a way into the garden. Another common practice is trapping, in my experiences a new groundhog will typically move into the old groundhogs hole within a week… It’s worth a mention that while it is perfectly legal to trap and relocate pests in the state of Pennsylvania, it is illegal in other states… Not to mention ecologically unsound…

Trapped animals are very commonly relocated by the trapper, great care should be taken in the disposal of these animals. Although it may be legal, I am against the idea of rabies vector relocation. which a groundhog is. Often times these animals get relocated to the closest park, where they encroach on the native species and often end up fighting to the death over territory… I just don’t see how this is more humane than simply ending the animal’s life… On the same note… I have attempted to kill trapped animals before… And I just can’t do it… No matter how big of a problem it has been for me…

So I’m sitting in my backyard earlier this summer… Momma raccoon is on the neighbor’s roof with three babies… Momma groundhog is in the backyard eating clover with her baby… And momma squirrel is running through the trees with her babies… I’m sitting in a chair watching the future garden chaos grow before my very eyes… Did I freak out?.. Absolutely not… Why you ask… Because I know how to work with these types of animals… And the first step… Is to make your neighbors available food easier to acquire than your own…

Another option… Is to simply plant a trap crop… A trap crop is simply a plant that you grow to distract the groundhog away from the plants that you grow for your own consumption. This can be as simple as a bunch of clover, sunflowers, sweet peas, or any of the Brassica. Plant them far away from your own garden, but close to the animals home. Make it easier to get to your trap crop than your vegetable garden, this can be accomplished using a small fence or tall border.

Raccoons are one of my neighborhoods biggest problems, I have had to super glue bricks to the bottom of my garbage cans before just to stop the damn things from knocking over the cans every night. If you live in an area with animal control, they should always be your first call. You never want to mess with a raccoon unless you absolutely have to, the danger involved can be life threatening.

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“Wand Flower” – © chriscondello 2013 – Whitney Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA – I love wandflowers… This has nothing to do with pests… Just a nice photo…

The neighborhood raccoon problem for me does not involve my garbage cans, it presents in small holes in my lawn where he was digging for grubs and worms. I actually caught him in my backyard one morning digging up my newly planted fig tree in search of grubs, I almost shit a brick… I had been staying up until 2 in the morning trying to catch this bastard in the act… And here he was coming in the first light of morning… Anyway I chased him up into a tree… And gave him a stern poking with a piece of bamboo… I did this three mornings in a row… And he still would come the morning after the garbage was picked up… I recently read somewhere that human urine can be a deterrent… Scientific fact or cruel prank?.. I’ll let you know soon…

On another… Cleaner note… I have personally had success using coffee grounds… I read about it on the internet a while back and being a daily coffee consumer… It fit the budget… I simply throw them out in the garden and yard after I am finished with my coffee… Of the three known raccoons living in my immediate neighborhood, I have had no recent damage… I thought the grubs had just all emerged and the food source was now gone… But after some digging… I have realized the grubs are still in my soil… It must be the coffee…

As far as garbage scavenger animals are concerned, it is important to remember that the animals can proliferate because of an availability of food. If you can eliminate a large portion of that available food, the animals will have to spread out over a larger territory, and the problem will solve itself. Remember that raccoons and rats serve an important purpose in urban environments… One that not many people are willing to do themselves… Cleanup… When someone throws their McDonald’s cheeseburger on the street, a human does not clean it up… So although they can be annoying… They are a requirement of the urban eco-system…

A wild animal will almost always take the easiest path to its food… If your garden has a fence around it… But your neighbors does not… The animal will eat your neighbor’s garden… If your garbage can has a lid on it… But your neighbors does not… It will be their garbage all over the street… Awareness and planning are often the key strategy… People always want a magic trick… I’ll give you a magic trick… Put the lid on your garbage can… If your cans are old and subsequently fall over… Spend $40 and get some new cans… Preferably ones with locking lids… And skip the wheels because they always fall off when the garbage men throw them back to the sidewalk… This makes them easily topple…

Now… I am not going to sit here and claim that I don’t have problems with animals in my gardens… I have not reached some kind of “hippy nirvana” as far as garden pests are concerned… What I have done is gotten to a point where I am able to isolate the problem… And in most cases eliminate the problem… And here’s the kicker… I have done it without killing anything… Mostly with persistence… But equally important is experimentation… Believe me… Some mornings I have wanted to kill something… But often it has been as simple as placing a few bricks over the soil in my garden where the animal likes to dig…

I would also like to add that 99% of the Raccoon related problems I am consulted on could be solved almost immediately by acquiring a new garbage can with a locking lid… Likewise… A groundhog really just wants food… You can either perpetually eliminate the things… Or account for his belly in your overall plan… Remember… Entering a yard or garden is often a risky move for a garden pest… At least it should be… If there is an easier source of food somewhere else… It will almost always go for it… The trick is often to make that easy source of food somewhere other than your personal garden…

This may be my last permaculture post for a while… I am gardening 10 hours a day… Five days a week… A guy has to eat… But because of this… I really don’t want to think about gardening when I get home… Sad… But true… We will just have to see what happens…

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

https://chriscondello.wordpress.com/2013/05/10/practical-permaculture-keeping-cats-out-of-the-garden/

Practical Permaculture – The Urban Fire Pit

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“Recycled Fire Pit” – © chriscondello 2013 – Whitney Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA – This fire pit is made entirely from locally found recycled bricks… The bricks pictured have been in place for three years now… As you can see… A few will need replaced this year… But other than that… The pit is in perfect condition…

A few years ago, I built a small fire pit in our backyard using recycled bricks found locally in my neighborhood. When we first built this fire pit, the legality of it was a big question mark, as time has passed, we have come to the understanding that it is perfectly legal as long as we are not burning trash. Before constructing a fire pit in your backyard, consult with your local government as to the legality of burning in your specific locality… I also recommend talking with your neighbors, smoke can bother some people… Remember, even if burning is perfectly legal in your area, a complaining neighbor can usually convince the fire department to make you stop burning…

Now I know what you are thinking… But Chris… What in the hell does a fire pit have to do with gardening or permaculture?.. My fire pit happens to be one of the secrets of my garden… I can make the equivalent of an entire garbage can full of garden refuse disappear in a single evening… A better estimate of time might be a six-pack of beer… The secret is to get your fire as hot as possible… Then slowly add material a handful at a time, only adding more when the existing debris has burned away completely… After a few fires… Clean the ash out of your fire pit and spread it around your garden… I think of this as not only feeding the garden nutrients… But feeding it good memories… I know… I’m a big dork… Get over it…

Deadfall branches are commonplace in my neighborhood, I can burn an entire evening, just with the wood I find on the ground within 500 feet of my backyard… And I live in a very urban environment… Much of that wood is not the best burning wood available… In my corner of Wilkinsburg… Mulberry and Sumac are commonplace… And believe me, they both are poor burners… The secret to getting rid of these types of wood is exactly the same as with weeds and leaves… Get a very hot fire going using other woods… Then sparingly add the junk wood… Taking care to wait for the previous pieces to completely burn… Junk woods not only emit more smoke… But that smoke often smells bad… Lilac is one of the worst smelling woods I have ever burned, comparable to plastic or rubber…

Food cooked over… Or inside a fire tastes better than the same food cooked on a gas range… Living in the city, cooking over a fire is a luxury… If that luxury is available to you… Use it… Cooking on a gas range is not doing the environment any favors… Not saying that I don’t use one… But it is important to remember where that gas comes from… In my area… It comes from the Marcellus Shale deposits and is fracked out of the earth… Any available opportunity to screw that industry out of an impending dollar should be embraced….

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“Kindling” – © chriscondello 2013 – Highland Park – Pittsburgh, PA – My girlfriend pointed this shot out… If you are going to keep a pile of wood on your front porch… Might as well stack it creatively…

Almost all of the big box stores sell some type of ready to use fire pit, these are all perfectly fine… And surprisingly… I have nothing negative to say about them other than they are a bit expensive… And essentially all you are going to do is slowly destroy the thing with fire… If you have the money to buy one… And don’t care to build one… Then by all means just go and buy one… But if you are looking to build one yourself… Then this article is for you…

The basic purpose of a fire pit is to contain fire, a common practice is to find an old truck rim and simply set it on the ground… You can also bury the rim… I personally prefer my fire pits to be sunk into the ground, it makes the fire a little more difficult to detect from the road. My fire pit is nothing more than a brick lined hole in the ground, and it has lasted for three years with very little maintenance.

As far as specific dimensions are concerned, it will depend on the size of your yard. I like the hole to be the depth of a brick standing on end, or around 10″. My pit has a 36″ opening to allow me to burn wood that is a bit bigger than what would normally be burned on a small urban lot. Most commercial firewood is cut around 16-20″ long, the extra room allows oxygen to reach the fire, otherwise the fire would smothers and smoke…

Let me talk about bricks for a moment, after all I do collect them… A common question I am asked when people see my fire pit is whether or not the bricks explode… The short answer is no… They will not explode… Bricks are fired at high temperatures during manufacturing, they have already been exposed to temperatures higher than anything you can throw at them in one night of recreational burning.

On the other hand… Some bricks have a tendency to absorb water, it is not inconceivable to speculate that a water logged brick could shatter when heated… Or likewise… Shatter when a heated brick is rapidly cooled… But a brick will not explode with any type of force… I had originally put the red bricks on the inside of the pit, although they didn’t explode… They didn’t last for shit… They would fall apart after a few fires… The yellow bricks have lasted for three years now… They are noticeably heavier… And much harder than the red bricks…

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“Red Passion” – © chriscondello 2013 – Whitney Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA – Another view of my fire pit… Just with a Red Passionflower…

The ring of bricks around the outside of the fire pit serves a few purposes other than just looking nice. The ring of bricks serves as an extra buffer between the flames and my grass… Which as you can probably tell from the photo… I take pretty damn good care of… The bricks also serve as a place to put your feet when sitting around the fire, without the bricks, feet would wear the grass down to bald spots. I no longer have that issue… And finally, the bricks serve as a place to set the smores sticks when you are roasting the marshmallows… If you wanted to put a grilling surface down, the bricks would work for that also…

The most difficult aspect of having a fire in an urban environment, is figuring out how to keep the smoke to a minimum. The only way I have found to accomplish this, is to keep your fire burning as hot as possible. Do not burn wood that is still wet, and I’m not talking about rainwater wet, but still green wet. Don’t let your fire smolder either, keep it fueled and flaming. Simply paying attention to your fire will typically be enough to keep it burning… Oh yeah… Excessive fire poking is not only annoying… It creates more smoke… And often sends sparks flying in every direction… Keep the fire poking to a minimum…

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

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I now have prints available to purchase online… You can find them here – www.society6.com/chriscondello – This site… And all the photographs and information presented within… Are provided free by the author… Me… At one time I had considered asking for donations… But that’s not me… So I have decided to sell prints of some of my photography… It is by no means a requirement… But it helps… If you have a few minutes to check them out… Then by all means… Please do…