Practical Permaculture – People… Beneficial or Pest?..

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“The Garden Table” – © chriscondello 2013 – Rebecca Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA – To the person that stole all of our vegetables over the weekend… You pretty much stole our harvest party… Which is open to anyone in the community… Not Cool…

I am writing this post with a heavy heart, as the garden project I am involved in known as The Garden Table has been robbed of produce. My girlfriend and I stopped up on Friday before we went camping to grab a tomato for sandwiches, and all was well. I can only speculate what happened, and for this reason, and this reason alone, I will chalk it up to someone needing it more than us… Though they should have simply asked…

I have been urban gardening for 8 years now, and farming for 4 of them, and as long as I can remember I have had to deal with people steeling vegetables from my gardens. Occasionally, I have been able to isolate the problem and deal with it swiftly. Though not always pretty, I have had some success…

My first experience happened immediately after moving in to my current apartment. We had started a small vegetable garden at the end of our street a few months before we moved in. As a peace-offering, we told the immediate neighbors that we would share the produce with them. The thought behind this was that everyone would respect the garden enough to wait for us to harvest and share, this is not as universally understood of an ethic as I had originally thought.

Within a week of planting the zucchini plants, baby zucs started disappearing before the flower even had a chance to whither. At the same time I was finding MASSIVE piles of dog poo everywhere I looked in the garden… All signs pointed to the neighbors living next to the garden… These specific neighbors were pretty open about their drug problem, because of this, social skills were virtually non-existent. Any attempt at a civil conversation regarding their dog was met with very aggressive behavior, often times ending in threats of physical violence.

This went on for an entire summer, although I was able to get them to stop picking unripe produce… I was never able to solve the dog problem… The only certainty that I had to go on, was the fact that their problems were getting worse, and I knew from experience that it was only a matter of time before they screwed up their rent payments and would get evicted… Which is exactly what happened the following spring as I was preparing for my second gardening season.

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“The Forgotten Farm Stand” – © chriscondello 2011 – June 17, 2011 – Whitney Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA – One of my favorite photographs I have ever taken… Brings back good memories… The boys in the neighborhood who were helping out in our garden asked if they would be paid… I said sure… But not by me… This was the result…

In a separate incident… One evening, my girlfriend and I were enjoying dinner when we were interrupted by a flurry of knocks on our front door. As is typical Wilkinsburg protocol, I did not answer the door. I instead went to peek out the window in order to assure it was not someone from the neighborhood, looking to bum a cigarette. To my surprise, my buddy Brandon from down the street was standing in my front yard waving his hands yelling for me to come outside.

Upon reaching my front porch, Brandon informed me that someone had gone through the community garden that had recently been constructed behind my house, and thrown all of the produce into the alleyway. His annoyance of the situation was immediately apparent, and he insisted that I come check it out. I initially thought he was being a drama queen, but upon arrival I realized that, what seemed like all of the produce in the garden had been smashed in the alley, you name the heirloom variety, and it was crushed in the alley behind my house.

So while we were mourning the losses of our fallen vegetable soldiers, we hear a bunch of kids coming up the alley. To my surprise, Brandon insisted we hide in the garden in order to catch them in the act. A few moments later a group of really young kids entered the fenced in area, baseball bats in hand, and began setting up a game of vegetable baseball. Brandon and I confronted the kids, and they all started crying their eyes out and ran home.

I proceeded to send an email out to the gardeners, informing them of the slaughter that had just occurred. The overall consensus… Given the fact that we knew who the kids were, and their parents had not been cooperative in the past, the gardeners decided to call the police. A police officer arrived shortly thereafter, and after a short explanation, was off in his cruiser in search of the offenders. Twenty or so minutes later the police officer was back with the three boys in the back of his car, he asked if they were the ones, to which we replied they were… He opened the back door and said “then they are all yours”…

Those boys spent the next 2 hours cleaning up the alley… With the very same gardeners who they had taken the vegetables from… All the while the community gardeners taught the boys about composting… Still to this day that story gives me goose bumps… I am normally not a fan of the 5.0… But in this case… I’ll just make an exception…

Garden thievery is the biggest problem I face in my specific location, I have yet to plant a garden that was not robbed clean at some point… It is really sad… And often times disheartening… But in an urban environment… It is unavoidable…

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“Welcome Arbor” – © chriscondello 2013 – Hamnett Place Community Garden – Jeanette Street – Wilkinsburg, PA – Believe it or not… Community gardens with 25 gardeners are not immune to garden thievery… This garden has been experiencing some minor problems… Though in true gardener fashion… The gardeners chalked it up to the thief being needier then they were…

Earlier this summer, I received a call from one of the other gardeners informing me that the reverend of the neighboring church had witnessed someone stealing stuff from our garden. When I got on site, I was greeted by the reverend and my friend. They said the reverend had gotten the license plate and description of the woman who was taking stuff. It turns out that a woman had asked the reverend about the garden and he told her it was a private garden, and that it was a community oriented project. The woman apparently took that as free for all as she proceeded to walk in to the garden, and rip herb plants out by the roots in order to take them home for her garden.

Luckily, the reverend saw this happening and had the foresight to get her license number. My friend called the police to report the incident and the very same cop from the story above showed up, we gave him the license plate and he said he would call her up. The officer called a little later and said the woman was really sorry, and would be returning that evening to put the plants back… A few hours later… The plants were back in their respective holes… Though the trauma proved too much and the plants ended up dying anyway… Never the less… She won’t be taking plants from anyone’s garden again… Success…

Now I rarely endorse calling the police… And I would not personally call them for anything but the most serious of offenses… But in this case, I let it go… The reason being, plant and vegetable thievery are very common in my neighborhood, just a few days before this incident I had a very similar incident on my street.

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“Ditch Lily” – © chriscondello 2013 – Whitney Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA – This is the abandoned house garden that was targeted by a thief earlier this summer… You can see the hosta she targeted next to the steps… I don’t care who you are… This does not look like a neglected yard…

I was at home in my office writing, when I noticed an unfamiliar car park across the street from my house. The driver stepped out of the vehicle and was looking at the modest gardens we have planted in front of a few of the abandoned houses. She walked around for a few minutes looking at plants, making me think she was just admiring the gardens. Then, she walked back to her car, looked around quickly, and proceeded to unload a shovel and several 5 gallon buckets.

By the time I got to my front door, she already had a hosta most of the way out of the ground. At this point she realized I was coming. I asked her just what in the hell she thought she was doing. She angrily replied that it was an abandoned house and she could dig up whatever she wanted. I informed her that it was a community project that just happened to be in front of an abandoned house, but the garden was by no means abandoned and she had a better chance of winning the lottery then getting one of our hostas off the street. By this point she was yelling curse words at me as she walked back to her car… As she turned her vehicle around, she put down her window and told me she hopes I stay awake all night because she would be back… To which I replied that if she wanted to come to my neighborhood after dark… Well then… That’s on her… She has yet to come back…

The point is this… This problem is not isolated to my neighborhood. Wherever there is hunger, food will be stolen. The obvious solution is always a fence, and they do work, but I wanted to look beyond that… I want to change the behavior at the core of the problem.

Another common solution that I see as effective is the community outreach theory… Basically, you throw a party or two, and invite the entire community to let them know what is going on. This serves two purposes… To allow the community an opportunity to see what is going on in their neighborhood, and to inform people that the food grown is not free for the taking… I don’t care who the gardener is… We are always willing to share the harvest… Even excited to share the bounty that is often produced in our gardens… And usually willing to do it unconditionally…

So you see that word “unconditional”… That is a perfect example of how I thought when I was first starting to urban farm. Then I realized something… When financially stressed people find an unconditional source of resources, they will exploit the fuck out of that resource… Think about it… If you found a way to eat without ever having to pay for it… Or work for it… It is human nature to use it… This becomes the case with a large food source in an urban community… There is very little that can be done about this other than exclusion measures…

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“Berries Galore” – © chriscondello 2013 – Hamnett Place Community Garden – Jeanette Street – Wilkinsburg, PA – A shot of the community garden from earlier this year… I can understand people tasting… I will often pick a single fruit from a variety I have never tried… But I never clean house as is so often the case…

One of the very first things I learned in permaculture is that if you provide a large food source targeted by a specific creature, then said creature will proliferate and destroy the food source. In the case of people, often times if they see a bunch of unattended vegetables in a garden… That happens to be in a supposed abandoned and unprotected garden… Well then it must be free… Again… The only thing one can do is adopt the paradigm that whoever stole your food must be worse off then you… It is the only frame of thought I have found to quench the rage burning in my stomach…

Another permaculture practice that I am attempting to integrate into my urban gardens is species bio-diversity. I have filled the front quarter of the garden with tall ornamental plants, the idea with this is to attempt to hide the bounty growing immediately behind them. As far as the vegetables are concerned… I have found that a neat vegetable garden often invites thievery, when the tomatoes are easily accessible from the paths they tend to get stolen. But when I let the plants grow all over themselves and out into the paths, it tends to be too much work for a quick-moving thief… This often leads to them targeting more accessible vegetables… In the future… The front of this garden will be filled with “sacrificial” vegetables that will be very easily accessible… Basically… If the untrained eye can’t spy your vegetable supply… Then they can’t take them either…

After losing the two lots on my street, I have had to spread out my gardening efforts. When my garden was next door, security was surprisingly simple. Now my garden is 3 blocks away, and keeping constant tabs on it is impossible. I have yet to build an urban garden where I have not considered building a 10 foot tall electric fence with machine gun turrets and razor wire.

At the end of the day though… I want people to be able to see into the non-guerrilla gardens that I create… I create the spaces to be enjoyed and help brighten a neighborhood… A massive fence would have the exact opposite effect…

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“A Brandon Photo Bomb” – © chriscondello 2013 – The Garden Table Urban Garden – Rebecca Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA – Taken at 7:30 in the morning last summer… I had no idea he was walking up to me as I was concentrating on the shot… Only after the camera processed the photograph and I had a chance to check it did I notice Brandon standing right in front of me… That happy accident turned into one of my favorite photographs of 2012…

On the complete opposite end of this spectrum is the fact that as far as most community urban gardens are concerned, they would not be possible without human volunteers. People really are one of the great yields of the urban garden, I am constantly surprised by the people who seem to pop out of the woodwork. Most adults appreciate a garden, some appreciate them a little too much and appreciate them in the wrong way. I have had some of the scariest guys in the neighborhood come to ask me for home-grown vegetables to impress their girlfriends, even gangsters appreciate a home-grown pepper.

A simple harvest party once or twice a year is often all that is needed to eliminate much of the non-kid related garden damage. Kids are one of the great mysteries of the garden, in my experience, a kid can help you build a garden from the ground up… But the moment they are alone with their friends… Peer pressure will often take over with disastrous results… Having been a troublemaking kid… I actually get this and am a little more understanding of this type of behavior than most… A little compassion now… Will go a long way in the future…

Unless someone witnessed your garden being robbed, than there is little you can do. Some people get so disgusted that they give up, never to plant a vegetable garden again. I would recommend that you stick with it, in the city… Neighbors can change overnight… What is now a very hostile street, can change in a matter of a few weeks. Taking a summer off may be an option, or temporarily scaling down. But all things change… And this to shall pass…

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

This site… And all the photographs and information presented within… Are provided free by the author… Me… I sell prints of some of my photography online – www.society6.com/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 – 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/

Just Fix The Roof

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Sitting on the sharp side of a split rail fence, dreaming about my surroundings…
The other fence rails are not nearly as sharp…
Or nearly as structurally sound…
Water can sit on a flat post…
It rolls off a pointed one…
Flat tops rot faster…
Sharp tops repel asses…
Genius…

Almost an entire side of our one block dead-end street is abandoned…
The backyards have almost entirely reverted back to forest…
The memories that were shared in these back yards are long gone…
Flashes of energy visible only if one were to look with the right eyes…
One hundred years of memories happened in these homes…
Families came…
And the families left…
All that’s left is the traces of energy they affected…

Is it the orange glow of the massive park and ride parking lot situated behind these houses…
Sunset orange glow blends seamlessly with the orange of these street lights…
Like the sun never sets…
Right into the orange of the sunrise…
Twenty four-hour light wreaks havoc on some flowers as well…
Prohibiting them from blooming…
Imagine what it does to humans…

People are only as good as their mind, a house is only as good as its roof…
An abandoned house will remain in relatively good shape as long as water is not penetrating the roof…
As soon as the roof becomes compromised…
And water is allowed to penetrate…
The plaster melts…
And the rotted wood warps…
Ceilings become floors…
And the cycle repeats…
Instead of using money for demolition…
We should just repair the roof…

peace – chriscondello

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