A Plant A Day Till Spring – Day 34 – Watermelon

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“Watermelon Blossom – Male” – Summer 2013 – Hamnett Place Community Garden – Wilkinsburg, PA

“A Plant a Day till Spring” will highlight one plant a day, starting on the winter solstice (December 21, 2013)… And ending on the vernal equinox (March 20, 2014)… If all goes to plan I will be starting with old Snowdrop photos from 2013… And ending with new photos of Snowdrops in 2014…

I had originally intended this series to be written ahead of time… Scheduled… And released in series… Kind of like autopilot… Just in this case… Autoblog… A few weeks in I somehow managed to delete a few of them… So I wrote them on the fly… I like these better… So I have trashed the rest of the pre-written ones… I will be writing the rest first thing in the morning… I like the idea that each one is a reflection of a day… It allows me to choose a flower for the day based on my mood… I have been awake since 4:30 AM… I’m on my third cup of coffee… And I would have to describe how I feel right now as “Watermelonesqe”…

There is nothing in the world like a watermelon still warm from the field… Nothing… If you ever get the chance to harvest and immediately eat a watermelon… Take it… You will never be able to eat a store-bought watermelon again… But totally worth it…

Watermelon is a great plant to grow if you have some space… Though the bush varieties will work when space is at a premium… It is also a great “plant and forget” crop… It is also one of the best plants to grow with children because the fruits of their labor will almost always be among their favorite foods…

Watermelon is very easy to grow… Requiring three primary things…

1. Space… Lots of it… Depending on variety… We could be talking 50 square feet… Don’t be stingy… Watermelon requires breathing room because it is susceptible to a plethora of disease and fungi… It is important to not let the plant grow all over itself or others… Air-flow is key…

2. Water – Watermelon is like 90% water… Water requirements are relative to the size of the fruit you intend to grow… As a side note – I have noticed that you can sometimes taste “water based” fertilizers when used on watermelon… Probably best to not use them… Also – Don’t spray the entire plant with water… It just causes problems… Only water the base of the plant… This can be difficult when working with a large patch… In this case use survey flags to mark…

3. Sun/Heat – I am lumping these two together because I feel they go together… Watermelon requires full-sunlight… There are no ifs… Ands… Or buts about it… In the shade the fruit will never develop to the intended size… That is if it ripens at all… Likewise… Watermelon is sweet… The sugars required to make it sweet are reliant on heat… This is the case with most sweet fruits and vegetables…

As I write this I am dreaming of the garden… This year I am growing several varieties of melon… My options – “Bush Sugar Baby”, “Black Diamond”, “Black Diamond Yellow Belly”, and “Charleston Gray” for Watermelon… “Hales Best” Cantaloupe… And “Early Silver Line” Melon again (A small delicious gourmet Asian melon you won’t find at market)… This list will be added to in the next few weeks… That is just the seeds I have on hand at this point of the year… In a couple short months I will be swimming in seeds and plants as is the case every year… I would have it no other way…

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

If you want some science – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Watermelon

New To writing and never had to cite sources before… These “Plant a Day Till Spring” posts are simply intended to kill time until spring when I start writing more… My source (where applicable) is Wikipedia.org… The photography is all my own… And I am adding my own information…

This website and all of the information presented within is provided free by the author… Me… It is my sole opinion and is not representative of anyone other than myself… Although this website is free… I sell prints of my photography here – www.society6.com/chriscondello – or you can contact me directly with questions at – c.condello@hotmail.com – Although it isn’t a requirement… It helps…

Remember to tip… My Bitcoin digital wallet address is – 1JsKwa3vYgy4LZjNk4YmPEHFJNjPt2wDJj

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A Plant A Day Till Spring – Day 4 – Narcissus

DafCU

“A Plant a Day till Spring” will highlight one plant a day, starting on the winter solstice (December 21, 2013)… And ending on the vernal equinox (March 20, 2014)… If all goes to plan I will be starting with old Snowdrop photos from 2013… And ending with new photos of Snowdrops in 2014…

Narcissus… Better known by the common name Daffodil… Is a genus of hardy spring-flowering bulbs in the Amaryllis family… The name is linked to the Greek myth of Narcissus… Who became so obsessed with his own reflection that he knelt and gazed into a pool of water… Eventually falling in and drowning… The Narcissus plant sprang from where he died…

Narcissus is poisonous… Mostly in the bulb… But also in the leaves… Accidental poisoning is uncommon… But due to the bulbs resemblance to an onion… It is not unheard of… Daffodils also cause a skin irritation known as “daffodil itch”… Some cultivars more than others… It is probably best if those with sensitive skin wear long sleeves and gloves when working with this plant…

Narcissus

Daffodils have a long-standing association with fruit tree guilds in permaculture… Typical recommendations being to plant them in a circle around the tree based on what you believe the canopy will be in a few years… The belief is that the bulbs will prevent the grass from encroaching on the tree… Early flowering attracts important beneficial insects… And the poisonous foliage will prevent browsing…

The only one of these three beliefs that has any real merit is beneficial attraction… Grass and weeds do not stop advancing unless they encounter an impenetrable barrier… A circle of bulbs does not count as an impenetrable barrier by any means… Likewise… Although the foliage of the daffodil is toxic… Most of the poison is concentrated in the bulb… It would require a carpet of Narcissus below the tree to seriously have any possible effect on preventing browsing… But it would be really beautiful…

My recommendations are as follows… Daffodils should not be planted as a border around your trees… Although it will look pretty… It will not work exactly as advertised… It won’t hurt anything either… Daffodils should be planted in clumps at a depth of at least four inches… I like to throw a few bulbs in the air and then plant the clumps where each one falls… Daffodil bulbs reproduce on their own… Every so often the clumps should be dug up and divided to prevent overcrowding…

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

New To writing and never had to site sources before… These “Plant a Day Till Spring” posts are simply intended to kill time until spring… My source is Wikipedia.org… The photography is all my own… And I am adding my own information… But much of this is just related from the web…

This website and all of the information presented within is provided free by the author… Me… It is my sole opinion and is not representative of anyone other than myself… Although this website is free… I sell prints of my photography here – www.society6.com/chriscondello – or you can contact me directly with questions at – c.condello@hotmail.com – Although it isn’t a requirement… It helps…

Remember to tip… My Bitcoin digital wallet address is – 1JsKwa3vYgy4LZjNk4YmPEHFJNjPt2wDJj

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Practical Permaculture – End of an Era – Complementary Gardening

YellowClimber

“Climbing Higher” – Yellow Tulip against an abandoned house… Ivy climbing out of the litter covered ground… Reaching for the top… Looking for clear skies…

So after a year of consideration, I have decided to stop promoting permaculture. Although I will still study and reference it, my focus will no longer be centered on a movement that I see as not being a very accepting group of those looking to bend the rules. Now, it is not that I think permaculture is bad. In fact, I think just the opposite believing that the ethics and principles could do a lot of good in this world when applied properly.

I first heard about permaculture during a stay in the fabulous Western Psychiatric Bed and Breakfast circa 2007, a fellow patient was nice enough to let me borrow her yoga magazine. Tucked neatly in the middle of the magazine was a small article about permaculture, it just touched on the subject but was more than enough to spark my curiosity. The entire article was only a page long, but while reading the article I was blown away with the idea of gardening in harmony with nature. I still remember getting goose bumps while reading the article, it was such a mind opening experience that writing about it now is giving me chills.

Permaculture seemed perfect for me, it was essentially a low investment style of gardening that promised yields equivalent to, or greater than conventional methods. Even more interesting for me was the fact that many of the solutions to common problems were solved using nature. Although these methods are much slower, they accomplish the same goals using less harmful methods than conventional agriculture.

This journey through permaculture has sadly left me with a bad taste in my mouth. So much so that I have decided to drop the “Practical Permaculture” name in my blog posts. Permaculture does not sufficiently describe what I do, in fact… It does not describe what any of us do… Nothing we do in this day and age is permanent except the records our governments keep of us. It doesn’t matter if you plant a one-hundred acre food forest, if the right person decides they don’t want it… It will be demolished in less than a day…

None of us are creating permanent spaces, and there is absolutely no such thing as permanent-agriculture… Or permanent culture for that matter… There are trends… And I personally believe permaculture is just that… A trend… People are always looking for maximum output, using the minimum amount of input possible. This promise of permaculture is one of the aspects that seems to draw people in, the reality is what will ultimately chase them away.

Permaculture has become the go-to excuse of the lazy gardener. Now, I’m not saying all permaculturists are lazy people, in fact I think just the opposite, but I do see an alarmingly large number of people trying to use it as an excuse to not pull weeds. Permaculture propaganda is also often sold as a style of gardening that is virtually work free, the common misconception being that after the system is installed… It needs no further maintenance ever.

Sadly, this is so far from the truth that it often hurts unsuspecting gardeners when they realize the 25 dwarf fruit trees they just put in their yard actually do require an enormous amount of annual maintenance… Even worse is the fact that very few homeowners are willing to pay for an unorganized orchard… No matter how much you have invested…  I can’t even begin to convey how quickly a dwarf fruit trees production will decline when it is not pruned and maintained on a regular basis. I have seen dwarf fruit trees with so many branches and leaves that the tree barely has enough energy to produce even a single fruit… When I inquire as to the lack of maintenance… The answer is often “permaculture”…

WaterTulip

“Morning Light after an Evening Rain” – Spring 2013 – Simply because it is a beautiful shot…

Permaculture teaches that biodiversity solves all problems… And yes… It does help… But it is not the silver bullet it is made out to be… Problems will regularly pop up, it makes no difference whether you have one of every tree in the forest growing in your yard. Likewise, a healthy perennial guild, (though pretty) is not guaranteed to accomplish anything other than looking nice. We can speculate that specific plants will serve an intended purpose, but there is no guarantee. This stuff often gets sold as “fact”, when in reality… It is nothing more than theory…

So where do I go from here? Well, I have decided that the term permaculture is too limiting for me. After receiving countless emails and comments from snooty permaculturists around the world pointing out the fact that since I am an ornamental gardener… I have no business calling myself a permaculturist… Likewise, I receive an equally alarming amount of comments and emails telling me that since I do not have a permaculture design certificate… I have no business writing this blog…

I can safely say I have been a gardener my entire life or 32 years, I have always just had a way with plants. Even when I was deep in the depths of addiction, gardening was the only positive influence I made time for. Over the past three years, I have written about permaculture in a public forum (this blog) on a regular basis. My permaculture posts have reached tens of thousands of people around the world, which is more than many of the people bashing me online can say. Throw in the little fact that I do this for free, and I personally believe I have paid my dues in the permaculture (and gardening) world.

So the big question for me has been where to go from here. Given my current and past dissatisfaction with the permaculture world, I no longer find it “personally beneficial” to support a movement that ultimately considers me a nuisance because I refuse to fully conform to their ideals… Reminds me of religion… Or a cult… This got me thinking, what is it that I actually do?.. What is it that I actually believe…

I garden because it makes me feel good… What I do in my garden affects everything around me… My ultimate goal is to compliment myself and my surroundings… Whether nature or human through the gardens I create… Because of this… I have decided from this point forward I will no longer write my articles under the heading of “Practical Permaculture”… But will now call them “Complimentary Gardening”, followed by the subject of my post…

I feel Complimentary Gardening is a much better term for what I do… I mean… The urban nature of my gardens alone makes the permanence of them somewhat of a mystery… Urban property tends to either be worthless… Or ridiculously valuable… Some day… The value of the land to a homeowner could very well be worth more than the tiny community garden that currently occupies this space… And if it comes down to the court system… The gardens will surely lose…

I now recognize that what we are doing is not permanent… It doesn’t matter how many trees… Or how many perennials you incorporate… Nothing is permanent… At the very least… The gardener moves on to another place… And unless someone with an equal appreciation of permaculture takes over… The system is ultimately doomed… For this reason… And many others… I am done promoting permaculture… I am now promoting myself… And the individuals I personally believe are on the right track… The style of gardening makes no difference to me… But the beliefs and intentions of the gardener do…

This new format I am exploring will allow me to write about any style of gardening without feeling the need to relate it to food or the movement. I am interested in all styles of gardening, not just the types that fall under the term permaculture… I want to be able to write about a flower just because it is pretty or I like it… I no longer want to have to figure out a way that you could use it productively… In my mind… If a plant makes me feel good in any way… Well then… That is all I need to personally believe a plant is beneficial… I want to explore beyond food… So I will…

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

This website and all of the information presented within is provided free by the author… Me… It is my sole opinion and is not representative of anyone other than myself… Although this website is free… I sell prints of my photography here – www.society6.com/chriscondello – or you can contact me directly with questions at – c.condello@hotmail.com – Although it isn’t a requirement… It helps…

I also accept Bitcoin donations… My digital wallet address is – 1JsKwa3vYgy4LZjNk4YmPEHFJNjPt2wDJj

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Practical Permaculture – Breaking Ground on Another Urban Garden

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“Looking on from Rebecca Avenue” – The vacant lot from the street… Sidewalk in the foreground… The trees in the rear will be heavily trimmed this spring… There is a brick alley in the rear… And my very involved landlady owns the houses on either side of the lot…

So… I am excited to announce that after an entire year of observation and preparation, I will be breaking ground on a new guerrilla garden/farm here in Wilkinsburg, PA late this winter. Located roughly one block from my current garden (The Garden Table), this lot will focus on production as opposed to aesthetics. I intend to document every project I undertake, much of it will be shared through this blog.

As is my typical fashion, I intend to complete this project using very little money. That may not seem like a big deal, but given the fact that it typically takes $25,000 in grant money to get one of these things off the ground…  I think I’m doing pretty good so far… In fact, this will be the fourth vacant lot I have converted into a beautiful urban garden with a budget of basically nothing.

The lot itself is 60’W x 140’D, with a 4′ rise over the first 15′ of the lot. It was a relatively recent demolition, wood frame and sandstone foundation. As a result, the lot has not had a chance to become too overgrown. Myself, as well as the borough employees maintained the lot over the summer through regular mowing and litter removal. Although there are some invasive weeds growing throughout, I have managed to keep them to a minimum through regular removal.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

“The Garden Table” – This is where I went when I had to move Whitney Avenue Urban Farm… Now that it has filled up… I have found myself seeking a place to overflow… My new lot will be used for all of the food I want to grow… But can’t quite fit into one small lot…

As it sits today, the grass is mowed and the lot is clear. I have been dumping leaf and wood debris all summer, remediation will be performed throughout development. The front quarter of the property will be raised using salvaged foundation stones, the fill will be locally available compost created from the leaves collected from the streets of Wilkinsburg. Bricks are a constantly available resource in my neighborhood, so I intend to work with them as much as possible. It is always tough for me to speculate what materials I will find in the immediate area, for that reason my plans typically change throughout the course of construction.

Fruit producing trees will be planted throughout, underneath each of these trees will be appropriate guilds. Vegetables will be grown in both contained rows, and interspersed among other plants. The quarter of the lot closest to the street will be mainly ornamental, the purpose of which is to make people driving by turn and take notice. The top of the slope will be a line of dogwood and redbud trees, which will also help in privatizing the rear of the garden from the road.

100_0781

“Whitney Avenue Urban Farm” – You are looking at one year of work… This farm lasted two growing seasons before I moved it… But I did… Brick by brick… Roughly two blocks away to The Garden Table…

Just to give you an idea of some of the things I will be including… Fruit trees will be (but not limited to) plum, pear, peach, apple, cherry, serviceberry and figs… The figs will be surrounded by south-facing keyhole style gardens to protect during the coldest months… Blueberries, currants, gooseberries, strawberries and raspberries will be sporadically placed… Rows will be cut and vegetables will be numerous… I’m hoping to get into bees… The gutters from the neighboring houses will be collected or diverted into the garden… The lot also has a run-off issue towards the street… I intend to fix this with a bioswale… Everything on site will be recycled and locally scavenged… All plants will be personally propagated or donations from friends…

The food grown will be made available to locals on a (as long as you don’t steal it all) basis… As always… Volunteers always get first dibs… As of right now… I am the only person signed on… Though I do have a friend who is interested in helping… Regardless… I will be planting fruit trees come the thaw…

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

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Practical Permaculture – Plants and Phytoremediation

epiPlant identification is an art in itself and honestly has to be taught by physically seeing the plant, I have been to a million lectures with someone flipping through slides and talking about different plants, and I can say without a doubt that I learn very little. I prefer my plant introductions to be in person, I like to be able to touch, smell and when applicable taste the plant. Just as with humans plants have a first and a last name, the first part of the name is the genus and the second part the species. Common names I feel are just as important due to the fact that I find when I am asked questions, they usually go something like “Ever hear of cheeseweed, if yer chickens eat it it’ll make er eggs taste like cheese” really… Learn as much as you can about each plant you come in contact with, if nothing else Wikipedia the hell out of your garden, know what makes each plant tick.

Plant selection for permaculturists is really an art form that not only encompasses, but embraces biodiversity. Plants are the multi-tool in the permaculture world completing tasks such as attracting beneficials, repelling pests, soil remediation, soil stabilization, tillage, moisture control, living trellis, and as companions to one another often just simply enhancing flavor or improving one another’s health. An entire family of plants noted for their ability to fix nitrogen in the soil are the Legumes which include beans, peas, alfalfa and lupines as well as trees like locusts and redbuds.

I find that one of the most commonly mis-understood tools is the role of the legumes. Most legumes are sort of nitrogen hoarders in a way, fixing nitrogen for themselves and storing it for use inside the plant. Legumes don’t really “fix nitrogen in the soil” as much as they “fix nitrogen in the plant”, the green part of the plant is the key to nitrogen fixation. In order for the nitrogen to be fully utilized, the entire biomass of the plant needs to de-compose in place replacing the nitrogen into the soil. Another one of the commonly mis-understood ideas is that legumes fix nitrogen through out the entire life of the plant, this is simply just not true. Plants have changing nutrient needs as they progress through their life, plants use the most nitrogen during vegetative growth before flowering. Once a plant starts flowering, potassium requirements spike followed by phosphorus during fruiting. In order to maximize the nitrogen potential of legumes cut them before they go to seed and let the entire biomass of the plant break down in place.

Green manure is a cover crop grown to add organic matter and nutrients into the soil. Green manure is almost essential in a sustainable annual cropping system often being grown during the fallow period in winter and then tilled into the soil in the spring before flowering. Heres a quick list of plants used in green manure cover crops – clover, vetch, fava beans, mustard, buckwheat, lupin and alfalfa. Time energy and resources are required to grow and use these cover crops effectively, timing is everything and the window for planting is easily missed. Make sure that your planting dates allow enough time for your cover crop to get well enough established to over-winter.

Just in case you weren’t familiar with this next term I would like to introduce you to a guilty pleasure of mine called “fruit porn”. Oh you know you are into it, in fact, i’d be willing to bet your mailbox is filled with it during winter… Mine is! I sort of have a little problem with fruit porn, hoarding it, often finding old issues hidden in boxes for no good reason. All that I am going to say is be carefull, it is super easy to get “the bug” and order one of everything. I have seen this happen more than once and the end result is usually one or two absolutely perfect plants and a whole bunch of dead stuff. Instead pick one or two types of plants and get a bunch of one variety of each, this will allow you to familiarize yourself with that variety.

Urban lots are tricky in that they offer little space compared to a food forest or permaculture farm. When growing for more than just personal consumption you won’t be able to fill every square inch with every type of fruit tree, berry bush and vegetable you can get your hands on, instead pick a cultivar of apple and buy a few of them, and do the same with say blueberries and raspberries. This doesn’t mean you can’t plant a few specimen plants here and there and have a little fun with design. I am just trying to stress how nice it is to grow enough of one type of berry to be able to share or sell it.

I want to stress the importance of planting things other than food bearing plants and trees… I’m talking about bio-diversity here people, permaculturists work with EVERY facet of nature. Large trees create bird habitat and shade for the plants and people underneath them as well as something for the vines to climb on. The list of herbs that benefit other plants is absolutely enormous, common sage Salvia officinallis is one of my all time favorite herbs to use in the garden and landscape, when it blooms in early summer you can not get close to it because of the bees and is considered a companion to rosemary, cabbage, beans and carrots.

The idea of soil remediation or “phytoremediation” is nothing new, mankind has been using plants to repair soil for thousands of years. I always get a kick out of people referring to permaculture as “new” when in reality it is the cutting edge of a 10,000 year old idea… What we call organic, natural or sustainable was at one time simply called “FOOD”, it wasn’t until recent decades that we started having to specify the manner in which it was farmed. I have problems with the fact that foods are labeled organic as I feel the term is getting watered down as farmers test the limits of the rules, makes you wonder whats next… Morganic – Our veggies are morganic than the competition. Plants have been used to remove heavy metals and toxins from soil for years and a lot of research is currently being done on the subject.

Phytoremediation of leaded soils is a subject that is very near and dear to my heart, out of 10 lots soil tested last year here in Wilkinsburg I found only two that were within reasonable lead levels. Under 99 ppm is acceptable for lead levels in gardens growing veggies, we had samples test as high as 1558 ppm. Lead is commonly used in water and sewer pipes, roofing, cable coverings, paints, gasoline, insecticides, gold production, hair dyes, stained glass and photography to name a few. Lead is a moderately active metal that dissolves slowly in water and most cold acids, it does not react with oxygen in the air, and does not burn. Lead causes both immediate and long-term health effects and should be avoided at all costs. Lead is commonly remediated using indian mustard, ragweed, hemp dogbane and poplar trees which sequester the lead within its own biomass. Phytoremediation works as a multi-year tool for toxin extraction requiring a little planning, every effort helps though.

Here is just a small example of hyperaccumulators…

Arsenic – Sunflower or Chinese Brake ferns both store arsenic in their leaves.

Cadmium – Willow which is also an accumulator of zinc and copper, willow has a high transport capacity of heavy metals from root to shoot coupled with a huge amount of biomass production.

Cadmium and Zinc – Alpine Pennycress is a hyperaccumulator of these metals at levels that would be toxic to other plants, although the presence of copper will often inhibit growth.

Salts/salt tolerant – Barley and Sugar Beets are used for the extraction of sodium chloride to reclaim fields flooded with sea water.

Caesium 137 and Strontium 90 – Sunflowers were and still are being successfully used in the phytoremediation of the land around Chernobyl to absorb the radiation in the soil…

It is important to mention that phytoremediation is not an overnight solution to your soil woes but with some carefull planning and consideration of time constraints, soil can almost always be remediated using plants… I could ramble on and on about plants so this may have to turn into a multi-part section of this series, we will see…

peace – chriscondello

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Practical Permaculture – Plants and Phytoremediation

epiPlant identification is an art in itself and honestly has to be taught by physically seeing the plant, I have been to a million lectures with someone flipping through slides and talking about different plants, and I can say without a doubt that I learn very little. I prefer my plant introductions to be in person, I like to be able to touch, smell and when applicable taste the plant. Just as with humans plants have a first and a last name, the first part of the name is the genus and the second part the species. Common names I feel are just as important due to the fact that I find when I am asked questions, they usually go something like “Ever hear of cheeseweed, if yer chickens eat it it’ll make er eggs taste like cheese” really… Learn as much as you can about each plant you come in contact with, if nothing else Wikipedia the hell out of your garden, know what makes each plant tick.

Plant selection for permaculturists is really an art form that not only encompasses, but embraces biodiversity. Plants are the multi-tool in the permaculture world completing tasks such as attracting beneficials, repelling pests, soil remediation, soil stabilization, tillage, moisture control, living trellis, and as companions to one another often just simply enhancing flavor or improving one another’s health. An entire family of plants noted for their ability to fix nitrogen in the soil are the Legumes which include beans, peas, alfalfa and lupines as well as trees like locusts and redbuds.

I find that one of the most commonly mis-understood tools is the role of the legumes. Most legumes are sort of nitrogen hoarders in a way, fixing nitrogen for themselves and storing it for use inside the plant. Legumes don’t really “fix nitrogen in the soil” as much as they “fix nitrogen in the plant”, the green part of the plant is the key to nitrogen fixation. In order for the nitrogen to be fully utilized, the entire biomass of the plant needs to de-compose in place replacing the nitrogen into the soil. Another one of the commonly mis-understood ideas is that legumes fix nitrogen through out the entire life of the plant, this is simply just not true. Plants have changing nutrient needs as they progress through their life, plants use the most nitrogen during vegetative growth before flowering. Once a plant starts flowering, potassium requirements spike followed by phosphorus during fruiting. In order to maximize the nitrogen potential of legumes cut them before they go to seed and let the entire biomass of the plant break down in place.

Green manure is a cover crop grown to add organic matter and nutrients into the soil. Green manure is almost essential in a sustainable annual cropping system often being grown during the fallow period in winter and then tilled into the soil in the spring before flowering. Heres a quick list of plants used in green manure cover crops – clover, vetch, fava beans, mustard, buckwheat, lupin and alfalfa. Time energy and resources are required to grow and use these cover crops effectively, timing is everything and the window for planting is easily missed. Make sure that your planting dates allow enough time for your cover crop to get well enough established to over-winter.

Just in case you weren’t familiar with this next term I would like to introduce you to a guilty pleasure of mine called “fruit porn”. Oh you know you are into it, in fact, i’d be willing to bet your mailbox is filled with it during winter… Mine is! I sort of have a little problem with fruit porn, hoarding it, often finding old issues hidden in boxes for no good reason. All that I am going to say is be carefull, it is super easy to get “the bug” and order one of everything. I have seen this happen more than once and the end result is usually one or two absolutely perfect plants and a whole bunch of dead stuff. Instead pick one or two types of plants and get a bunch of one variety of each, this will allow you to familiarize yourself with that variety.

Urban lots are tricky in that they offer little space compared to a food forest or permaculture farm. When growing for more than just personal consumption you won’t be able to fill every square inch with every type of fruit tree, berry bush and vegetable you can get your hands on, instead pick a cultivar of apple and buy a few of them, and do the same with say blueberries and raspberries. This doesn’t mean you can’t plant a few specimen plants here and there and have a little fun with design. I am just trying to stress how nice it is to grow enough of one type of berry to be able to share or sell it.

I want to stress the importance of planting things other than food bearing plants and trees… I’m talking about bio-diversity here people, permaculturists work with EVERY facet of nature. Large trees create bird habitat and shade for the plants and people underneath them as well as something for the vines to climb on. The list of herbs that benefit other plants is absolutely enormous, common sage Salvia officinallis is one of my all time favorite herbs to use in the garden and landscape, when it blooms in early summer you can not get close to it because of the bees and is considered a companion to rosemary, cabbage, beans and carrots.

The idea of soil remediation or “phytoremediation” is nothing new, mankind has been using plants to repair soil for thousands of years. I always get a kick out of people referring to permaculture as “new” when in reality it is the cutting edge of a 10,000 year old idea… What we call organic, natural or sustainable was at one time simply called “FOOD”, it wasn’t until recent decades that we started having to specify the manner in which it was farmed. I have problems with the fact that foods are labeled organic as I feel the term is getting watered down as farmers test the limits of the rules, makes you wonder whats next… Morganic – Our veggies are morganic than the competition. Plants have been used to remove heavy metals and toxins from soil for years and a lot of research is currently being done on the subject.

Phytoremediation of leaded soils is a subject that is very near and dear to my heart, out of 10 lots soil tested last year here in Wilkinsburg I found only two that were within reasonable lead levels. Under 99 ppm is acceptable for lead levels in gardens growing veggies, we had samples test as high as 1558 ppm. Lead is commonly used in water and sewer pipes, roofing, cable coverings, paints, gasoline, insecticides, gold production, hair dyes, stained glass and photography to name a few. Lead is a moderately active metal that dissolves slowly in water and most cold acids, it does not react with oxygen in the air, and does not burn. Lead causes both immediate and long-term health effects and should be avoided at all costs. Lead is commonly remediated using indian mustard, ragweed, hemp dogbane and poplar trees which sequester the lead within its own biomass. Phytoremediation works as a multi-year tool for toxin extraction requiring a little planning, every effort helps though.

Here is just a small example of hyperaccumulators…

Arsenic – Sunflower or Chinese Brake ferns both store arsenic in their leaves.

Cadmium – Willow which is also an accumulator of zinc and copper, willow has a high transport capacity of heavy metals from root to shoot coupled with a huge amount of biomass production.

Cadmium and Zinc – Alpine Pennycress is a hyperaccumulator of these metals at levels that would be toxic to other plants, although the presence of copper will often inhibit growth.

Salts/salt tolerant – Barley and Sugar Beets are used for the extraction of sodium chloride to reclaim fields flooded with sea water.

Caesium 137 and Strontium 90 – Sunflowers were and still are being successfully used in the phytoremediation of the land around Chernobyl to absorb the radiation in the soil…

It is important to mention that phytoremediation is not an overnight solution to your soil woes but with some carefull planning and consideration of time constraints, soil can almost always be remediated using plants… I could ramble on and on about plants so this may have to turn into a multi-part section of this series, we will see…

peace – chriscondello

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Practical Permaculture – Rooting Fig Cuttings

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

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

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

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

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

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Some plants like it when you watch…

Sexual Propagation

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

Asexual Propagation

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

Propagating figs

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

Materials

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

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

Locate fig cuttings

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

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

Prepare fig cuttings

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

 

Root Hormone

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

Planting

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

Italian brown turkey fig ready to be planted.

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

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

Voodoo

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

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

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

peace – chriscondello

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Practical Permaculture – Planting Under Fruit Trees

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I believe that it is important for people to realize that all plants, trees, animals and humans have a physical and spiritual connection. When these connections are disturbed, chaos can ensue. But when these systems work in harmony, life is produced and sustained.

The purpose of this article is to hopefully shift the common paradigm that the space under a fruit tree should be kept clean, and plant free. A common belief is that very little will survive under a tree, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Many plants will not only grow under a tree, but will also benefit the tree for years to come.

Properly selected plants can serve many purposes, anything from attracting beneficial insects, to mining nutrients from the soil, plants can handle it.  In a natural setting, the space underneath of a tree can be filled with plants. Many of these plants serve a specific purpose in the micro climate the tree creates. I’m going to identify some, and transcribe their purpose for you…

The common term given to a group of plants in permaculture is a “guild”, basically any group of plants that are working together to achieve a common goal. Guilds are commonly created under trees in an attempt to lighten your workload, while still benefitting the tree with pest prevention, fertilization, and pollination. It is extremely important to remember that when creating a guild under an established tree, the plants will need regular watering for at least the first year to establish… I have established plants under conifer trees just by watering them for a year, once they are established they will grow… Slowly… But they will grow…

When creating a permaculture based fruit tree guild, it is important to remember and follow a few  simple guidelines…

Use the cardboard sheet-mulch somewhere else – I am constantly blown away by the fact, that anybody out their thinks it is a good idea to cover the ground under a tree in cardboard. Yet everyone does it… Cardboard, when used as a sheet mulch, takes a long time to break down. As long as that mulch is in tact, the amount of water required to penetrate it will be considerably multiplied… Excessive mulch under a tree will kill the tree… Don’t be fooled!..

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Last fall I had the chance to help GrowPGH plant some fruit trees at Miss Mary’s Garden in Homewood, hugelkultur style.

Never cover the base of the tree with mulch – I know you have all seen it when driving through the suburbs, trees mulched well above the base of the trunk. This is commonly referred to as a “mulch volcano”, this is the absolute worst thing you can do to a tree… Often this can be a death sentence for an otherwise healthy tree.

Plants can compete with a large tree – Certain recommended plants, when planted in specific climates, can and will become invasive… Research… Research… Research… Everything you plant… Or ask someone… preferably someone with experience… Like a Master Gardener…

A few of the plants commonly planted in a fruit tree based permaculture guild include…

Daffodils – Daffodils are one of my all time favorite fruit tree companion plants, they begin to bloom right before most fruit trees. Since these bulbs bloom before the trees, the early season pollen seekers will already be in the area of the tree when it blooms. Daffodils have come a long way from the past, they are affordable, and readily available in so many styles it will make your head spin. Plant them 6 inches away from the trunk, in a circle around the tree… You will not be disappointed.

Chives – Includes all Allium, but this is specifically about chives. Chives are the smallest species of all the edible onions, they can become problematic if left to their own devices though. Chives are a perennial plant native to North America, and is one of the most commonly used herbs today. Chives are absolutely repulsive to insects, yet their flowers are extremely attractive to beneficial pollinating insects. Historically, farmers would plant chives at the edge of their gardens to repel insects. The juice, when extracted, can be used as a spot insecticide.

Comfreyhttps://chriscondello.wordpress.com/2012/11/29/practical-urban-permaculture-comfrey-cautions/ – If you have some space… And like comfrey… Then I would say plant comfrey under your trees…. But I won’t be planting it anytime soon…

Bee Balm – I love bee balm, it is an aromatic herb in the family Lamiaceae. It is a very hardy perennial native to eastern North America in the mint family, plants in the mint family have square stems, and opposite leaves. Bee balm tends to grow in dense clusters and can get very tall, I personally recommend getting dwarf versions of this plant… Especially in urban environments. Bee Balm is used to attract beneficial, but it is also top-notch as an ornamental.

Dill – Depending on where dill is grown it is either annual, or perennial… Though in my climate it is an annual. Dill is used as a tree companion due to the amount of beneficial insects it attracts.

Echinacea – One of my all time favorite plants, I currently grow 15 varieties on my tiny urban lot. Echinacea is a herbaceous flowering plant in the daisy family, Asteraceae. It is an extremely drought tolerant plant, which makes it perfectly suited to being planted under a dense tree. The plant grows from a tap-root, because of this it has access to deep water reserves and has the ability to make nutrients available to the tree that would not otherwise have been available. Cone flowers are now available in hundreds of colors, sizes and styles, they make a great addition to any garden attracting beneficial insects all season long.

Lupin – Lupin is a genus in the Legume family, it is a herbaceous perennial plant with a few annual variations. It is commonly used as a cash crop alternative to soy, it is a beautiful plant when flowering. Lupin can fix nitrogen from the air into ammonia via Rhizobium root nodule symbiosis, fertilizing the soil for the tree. One of the primary ingredients recommended for fruit trees is nitrogen, in the long run, legumes could ultimately save you time and money in fertilizer application. Lupines are also a favorite food for several species of lepidoptera..

New Jersey Tea – A little less common, but rather beneficial shrub that is native to North America. NJT was named during the revolution because its leaves were used as a substitute for tea. The plants roots can grow very deep and large, this is a survival tactic developed to help it survive wild fires. It twigs are a favorite of browsing winter deer, and its flowers attract many species of lepidoptera.

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This is the hugelkultur serviceberry bed upon completion, it is important to note that the trees are not buried in the pile… They are planted on top of it… This mound will be filled with beneficial plants this spring…

That is obviously not the end all list of Permaculture guild plants, but it is a good list to start your research with. Remember any plant with a flower has potential to be used in a guild, chamomile, marigolds, clover, peas, beans, viola, vetch, salvias, yarrow, mint, onions, garlic, strawberry, hostas, ferns, foxglove, rose, clematis, monkshood, forget-me-nots, feverfew, oregano, even asparagus just to name a few. I guess what I am trying to say is be creative, think of the space underneath your yielding trees as valuable garden space waiting to be productive.

UPDATE 11/12/2013 – PLANTING UNDER FRUIT TREES – PART 2

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

This site… And all the photographs and information presented within are provided free of charge by the author… I am not affiliated with any product or business… Only myself… Writing this blog takes a ton of time… If you find any of this information helpful, please consider purchasing a print from my online store… It is obviously not a requirement… But it helps…

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

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Thank you for reading…

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Growing Citrus Trees From Grocery Store Fruit

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Have you ever eaten an orange and wondered if you could grow the seeds? The short answer is yes, rather easily actually… I have been doing it for a while now with excellent results! This post is meant to explain some of the methods of propagating citrus trees used in commercial orchards, as well as a fun way to grow your own citrus trees at home as house plants.

A few of the tools I use for this project - Latex Gloves, Paper Towels, Clean Water, Plates, Razor Bades, Peat Pellets and Fruit of course...

A few of the tools I use for this project – Latex Gloves, Paper Towels, Clean Water, Plates, Razor Blades, Growing Medium and Fruit of course…

I am always looking for new and different indoor gardening projects I can pass the cold winter weeks with, I even have a mango tree growing from a super tasty ‘Golden” mango I ate last spring. A few winters back, I was eating a Meyer lemon that was absolutely full of seeds, each seed sent up 5 or 6 sprouts.

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Grafted “Fukushu” Kumquat – Grafted 2/14/2011

I have had several different types of citrus trees in the past but they were purchased in a green house and were quite expensive. I did some research on the internet, and was quite disappointed with the tiny amount of information that is available on starting citrus trees from seed.

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Seed Grown ‘Clementine’ Tangerine… A tasty one as well… About 1-year-old…

Naturally, commercial citrus growers need to ensure the best possible crop, and want to make sure all their trees are of the same high quality. To do this, each new tree they plant is grown, or propagated, not from a seed, but by grafting or budding. In most citrus trees, the scion, or top of the tree, is a different variety from the roots or rootstock of the tree. Citrus growers plant trees whose tops will grow “Washington” navel oranges, or “Eureka” lemons on a rootstock that has special characteristics like disease resistance, quick to bear fruit or restricting tree size for easier harvesting.

SeedStudy

After obtaining the seeds, by whatever tasty method you choose, wash and dry them thoroughly. Begin by cutting the point off of the top of the seed, then the seed will easily peal using your fingernails. Citrus seeds should always be planted immediately, they do not save well.

Trees that are grown from seed may never produce edible fruit, but they make great houseplants, and are a great way to cure the winter gardening itch. The foliage of citrus trees have a scent similar to the fruit it produces, a gentle rub between your fingers will release the oils and brighten up a cold winter day. The smell of a citrus tree in bloom is a scent that can’t be matched, even when they were in my backyard I could often smell them from 10′ away… Indoors the entire house will smell like sweet citrus nectar – not sure how else to describe it…

Peeled

I have removed the hard outer seed coating, and am showing you a small window into the thin seed membrane… Clean off the seed until you see green…

A number of citrus trees will come true from seed. There is a way that you can tell by examining a few seeds from the fruit. Peel off the outer and inner seed coat, it the seed is polyembryonic, i.e. has many embryos, it will come true. When you open the seed you will see that the various embryos will be convoluted upon each other. If it is mono-embryonic there will be one embryo with two distinct cotyledons. Almost any sweet orange will come true from seed, as well as key limes, grapefruit, tangerine and tangelo. Two varieties that will not come true from seed are “Temple” and “Pomelo”.

MultiCoty

Showing two seeds with multiple cotyledons, these seeds will sprout several seedlings upon germination. These should be planted immediately, they will lose viability as they sit exposed to air.

I find germinating the seed is actually the easiest part of growing citrus trees, my method is rather straight forward. I start by cutting open the fruit in a way as to not damage the seeds inside. Wash the seeds off and place them on a towel. I like to use a medical scalpel, but any razor blade will work, cut the seed at the tip being careful not to damage the fragile contents.

Once you have removed the tough exterior shell of the seed there will be a thin membrane covering the cotyledon that will still need removed. This layer reminds me of the thin covering around a peanut in its shell. Carefully remove this coating using your knife, being extremely careful not to damage the cotyledon, sometimes you can simply rub this layer off with your fingers… Just remember to be careful not to damage “ANY” part of the seed…

Peat

You can use any medium, but I prefer peat pellets, they are simple, cheap and clean. Simply put them in some warm water for a few minutes and they will expand, then you just pop the seed in the hole… Easy!

I prefer to use peat pellets, but any growing medium will work. Plant the peeled seeds knobby side down 1/2″ – 1″ deep, if its cold, provide supplemental heat to the growing medium and cover them with something to create a greenhouse. Germination seems to take anywhere from 5 days, to several weeks, after a few weeks, the seeds have probably rotted and should be discarded. I have had an 80% germination rate using this method, plant only the biggest, juiciest seeds in the fruit, and maintain a consistent level of moisture.

fruitOnce the seeds germinate, remove any cover and move the seedling to a light source. After the first true leaf appears, re-pot the plant into a larger container. Let the tree dry out between watering, and feed once every 6 months with a high acidity fertilizer. If you live in the north, citrus fertilizer is rarely available so substitute with azalea/rhododendron fertilizer.

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First “Meyer” Lemon of 2013 harvested February 1st.

I should mention that citrus trees grown from seed can take 10+ years to bear fruit, and longer indoors. But when you live in a part of the world with cold winters… And don’t own a heated greenhouse… Than you really just grow citrus for the fun of it… And occasionally if you do everything right… Maybe you will get enough fruit for an adult beverage or two…

peace – chriscondello

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