Practical Permaculture – Leaf Raking Alternatives

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“Be Different” – Hamnett Place Community Garden – Wilkinsburg, PA

Autumn, is steadily drifting towards us. The distant scent of leaves is now noticeable in the wind, signaling to me that the summer months are quickly coming to an end… A sign that my garden preparations for next year are just getting ready to begin…

During the winter months there is not enough light or water for photosynthesis to occur, trees rest and live off the food they stored in the summer months. The chlorophyll begins to disappear from the leaves as the bright green coloring fades, we begin to see yellow, orange, and even red colors. Small amounts of these colors have been present all along, we just can’t see them in the summer because they are covered by chlorophyll.

Leaves are just one example of nature’s food factories. Trees take water from the ground using roots, and carbon dioxide from the air using their leaves… When sunlight is added, the water and carbon dioxide are converted into glucose and oxygen… Plants use glucose as food for energy and as a building block for growth. The way plants turn water and carbon dioxide into oxygen and sugar is called photosynthesis. Chlorophyll helps make photosynthesis happen, it is also what gives plants their green color.

So now we know what all is involved in the creation of a leaf, and we know why they change colors. As summer ends and autumn comes, the days will continue to get shorter… And soon the leaves will begin to fall from the trees…

Knowing everything that goes into that leaf… It would be such a waste to bag them all up and send them to the landfill…

Trees mine minerals from the earth, and in exchange return starches and sugars in the form of leaf fall. To eliminate this organic material from beneath your tree will not eliminate the needs of the tree, it will increase the supplemental nutrient needs of your tree… And the gardens/lawn surrounding it.

Now, I’m perfectly aware that most of us can’t let our leaves lay on our manicured suburban lawns. Modern ordinances and neighborhood associations often strictly prohibit “yard waste” of any kind, creative thinking is often the only way around this.

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“First Frost 2012” – Whitney Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA

The supreme reign of the leaf rake as the autumn tool king is over… All hail the mulching lawn mower!

I cannot stress enough the importance… And versatility of owning a mulching/bagging lawn mower… As far as shredding leaves and garden waste is concerned, it will handle anything other than woody/shrubby material… That is where my urban hugelkutur link comes in handy…

The simplest method I use, is to simply run over the leaves with a mulching lawn mower set on its highest wheel height. Depending on the amount/depth of the leaves, this can be a very slow process. My suggestion is to mow on a regular basis while the leaves are still falling from your tree, this way your mower does not stress out under the extra load of the additional material. If the leaves do not entirely disappear during your first pass, simply continue to run them over until they do. I can typically reduce a yard full of leaves into barely noticeable, 1/2″ – 1″ pieces in a few quick passes when this is done on a regular basis.

Another option I have employed in the past, is to use the bagging option of the lawn mower to collect the leaves. Patience is often required using this method as you have to proceed very slowly, move forward a few feet, then drag the mower back over the same spot. As I fill the bags up with organic goodness, I simply dump them at the base of a tree… Or in a garden… When I am finished with the job, I carefully spread it around the base of the tree. By spring, this material will shrink considerably… Spread it out around your tree and mow as usual… Or use it to mulch/top dress your garden.

Yet another option is to place the material in a pile in an inconspicuous area of your yard. Regular flipping of this pile will speed decomposition, in the spring, you add it to your gardens before you begin to plant. I personally like to cover my gardens in this material immediately, and allow it to slowly break down in place. This serves several purposes including winter weed and erosion control, protection of tender perennials, and eventual nutrients… But most importantly for me. is that it discourages cats from crapping in my bare garden soil… Which in my neighborhood… Is priceless…

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“Community Aster” – Hamnett Place Community Garden – Wilkinsburg, PA

The colors of fall are something we all see as eye candy… But once those leaves litter our yards, we typically only see them as work. I believe we should see them as a valuable garden resource that just falls from the sky. The leaves in our yards are essentially gifts from the heavens… Like manna in the Book of Numbers… Arriving with the dew of the night…

As far as many of our urban shade trees are concerned… The leaves are the only physical yield we can regularly harvest from them…

Why would we send that to the landfill? At the very least they should be piled up and composted, if done correctly a pile of leaves can be garden ready by spring. Even if you do absolutely nothing to the pile, letting it sit all winter… It will still be great garden material… And that… Is one of the physical benefits of a shade tree… Likewise, when those leaves are placed in a vegetable garden… The nutrients provided affect another physical yield… Vegetables…

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

This site… And all the photographs and information presented within… Are provided free… I am not affiliated with any product or business… Only myself…

I do however sell prints of some of my photography here – http://www.society6/chriscondello… Or you can contact me directly at c.condello@hotmail.com for commissions or locally/personally produced prints… Thank you for reading…

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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.

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“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 – Tripping Out on Ecology

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Ecology is the scientific study of the relationships that living organisms have with each other and with their environment. People, animals, trees and plants are all examples of systems, or regularly interacting group of things. Groups that interact together in an ecological system are called eco-systems, examples include forests, fields, swamps and deserts.

A common misunderstanding or misbelief is that we are over and above our eco-system, when if fact we are part of or equal to the system. When you think about it, we really can’t control very many aspects of the system. So much emphasis is placed on competition in the eco-system, I think people fail to realize the key to understanding a system is cooperation.

An eco-system is a transference of energy from one place to another, the total energy in a system is called “embodied energy” or “emergy”… In manufactured items, this would include all the energy involved in manufacturing, packaging and shipping. The sun is not the only energy available, the moon has a gravitational pull that shapes and moves our tides, the earths core also creates geo-thermal energy… All of these energies in essence are considered solar.

These natural systems tend to be repetitive, problems often arise when these natural rhythms are disturbed. Energy from the sun is absorbed and translated into a plant… The plant is then consumed by humans or animals… Animals crap out that plant material which is ultimately consumed again by the plants… This system then repeats creating one big energy flow…

In a young eco-system a large portion of the energy goes into growth, and a small portion goes into maintaining the system. In an older eco-system a small amount of energy goes into growth, and a large part goes into maintenance. A young system is rapidly trying to establish and develop a system, think of the edge of a forest. An older eco-system has established itself, therefore new growth is not as important as sustaining what exists.

When you get into high energy growth, you get competition. In humans, high instability leads to a higher male birth rate, when living conditions improve you will have more females… This was mapped in humans only… Not plants or animals… Though interestingly enough, all competition or all cooperation does not work either.

Permaculture systems typically require a lot of energy during initial construction, as time goes on they require less outside energy. In a functioning forest system, energy is cycled as many times as possible. Conventional modern agriculture is the exact opposite, as energy is depleted from the system it is replaced through mechanical means. Elimination of our trees and native plants will only increase the amount of mechanical work we will one day have to do…

Every eco-system goes through stages in order to build a strong food web, this food web can often take thousands of years to create… Yet we can somehow destroy the damn things in a mere few hours. We need to spend a lot less energy destroying these systems, and a whole lot more on saving and fixing the ones we have left.

If we destroy the eco-systems that we do want, they will be replaced with the ones we don’t want…

peace – chriscondello

 
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Practical Urban Permaculture – Part 4 – People, beneficial & pest.

You can’t have a community garden without a community, they are one of the best ways to meet the people in your neighborhood. Gardening has brought all kinds of people into my life that I probably would have never had an opportunity to meet otherwise. One thing that I always find to be true with gardeners is the willingness to share, I would bet half of the plants I currently take care of were gifts from other gardeners. Representing the other end of the spectrum is the fact that people often lead to the demise of most gardens, sometimes resistance comes from the most unlikely places.

I think one of the great “variables” left out of most permaculture literature I read is the “human element”, and the fact that it is a variable. Children can be a great example of this, showing up one day to help, and then coming back another time and absolutely trashing the place. You can also have people who absolutely do not want a garden put in until well after you have had time to shower them in vegetables, every situation will be different. You can also have government officials who will be against what you are doing, be prepared for any situation.

I think as an urban permaculturist the human element will be one of the expected “yields” you are trying to achieve, after all you can’t have a community garden without a community. In the case of an urban permaculture garden that works with all systems of nature I believe the human element needs to be taken into account, whether considered a beneficial or pest. Relations may be something you are trying to cultivate and the design of the garden would maybe include a meeting area, and of course there may be a neighbor you need to block out and the garden design should incorporate that. I am hoping to include some of my own experiences and how I handled them or what I would have done different.

Children are one of my great garden mysteries, they can show up one day and be the most interested, helpful little creatures in the world. Then one evening when you are not around the garden, the kid will come to show some friends and one thing will lead to another, and you have a quick disaster on your hands. The hardest part of this kind of thing is realizing that you are dealing with kids, peer pressure is a cruel and heartless bitch. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t go un-punished, but it shouldn’t be a death sentence. Even when a kid has something in the garden that is personally theirs, they will still trash it when it comes to impressing a friend… I don’t know why… actually I do… I have done some pretty stupid things to impress girls before… come on ladies… I’m sure you all have stories… guys too…

Another interesting issue that I often run into is the neighbor that wants the overgrown lot to stay, well just that, an overgrown, abandoned lot. Some reasons for this include privacy, noise levels, parked cars and attention, care should always be taken to inform and include neighbors when safe or possible. Common courtesy should always be taken, but it is important to take a solid stance and make sure the neighbor knows they are not running the show. As long as you know what you are doing is a good thing for the neighborhood and you have control of the site, plans should constantly be moving forward while the neighbor is being mediated with.

Some of my personal situations dealing with disgruntled neighbors started at Whitney Avenue Urban Farm dealing with a crack head neighbor with a “giant” dog. The dog was the coolest dog but had no garden manners and was a poop machine, they did not clean up after the dog ever. This dog continued to tear up garden beds and poop everywhere I happened to need to walk, it got to the point of being really gross. Given the fact that they were crack heads money was always something they needed from me, or any guests I brought to the garden. I was assaulted daily with stories about babies momma, and needing money for a jitney to east liberty to talk someone out of suicide, it is crazy what they will come up with. Sometimes the answer to this is as simple as giving them a few dollars and telling them it is absolutely imperative they pay you back… they won’t… and usually won’t ask again, I call this “urban economics”. As far as the dog was concerned, they eventually were evicted as expected and the problem solved itself.

Another common situation is a nice neighbor who just doesn’t want to be bothered, this is so much more common than you could ever think. Sometimes they are just private people who don’t want any noise, or they don’t want added cars. The current farm/garden I am building with the master gardeners has a neighbor that just doesn’t want to be bothered, and doesn’t seem to want a grape arbor to block her sight of us. This is a touchy situation and had I not had sight control of this garden then she would have absolutely shut us down. In the end the solution she offered was for us to just leave her alone, often this is the best solution you can be offered,

People really are one of the great aspects of gardening that I really think WAUF demonstrated, it really brought together our neighborhood in a way that I think little else could have. Even to this day people talk about it, and some of the people who helped build it have moved on to help us build our new garden. WAUF was an odd situation relating to neighbors where the only option was to move the garden, dreams were different and a relationship was completely severed. To this day I don’t talk to the neighbor who forced us to move the garden, I feel I was wronged… but I wish I would have handled it differently… I might have been able to salvage the relationship… after all I do live next door to them… Life goes on, and if I have learned anything about guerilla and urban gardening/farming is you will never please everyone, but you gotta try to at least please a few of them.

If it wasn’t for the Whitney Avenue Urban Farm I never would have had the opportunity to sell veggies with these 3 kids…  I really hope they remember this some day, it was their first guerilla business.

Plant Seeds of Peace – Chris Condello

Originally posted to www.transitionpgh.org on July 28, 2012 @ 1:30AM

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