Practical Permaculture – Rehabilitating Discount Plants

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The Pineapple Sage had been dropped at the greenhouse and was appropriately free… The Aster was purchased at a local plant sale… It was the last one left and was no longer on the table… I inquired… Bargained… And walked away with a $1 plant that was destined for the dumpster… 4 Summers later and it is still one of my favorites…

So you bought a root-bound, overgrown, stretched or stunted plant from your local nursery. Maybe a friend of yours purchased a plant early in the season, and let it sit in its pot for the entire Summer only giving it away when all hope seemed lost. This is a great way to acquire plants on the cheap, most nurseries are gearing down for the winter and are typically happy to offer discounts on remaining stock as it is simply going to end up in the dumpster.

Not every plant you come into contact with will be salvageable, often times you will have to take 5 “compost” plants in order to get 1 good one… Beggars can’t be choosers… But beggars should know when to turn down an entire lot…

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This “Aural Gold” Heucherella was a gamble I won… Nothing was growing in the pot and it had no tag… A close inspection of the roots revealed the plant was alive… I made an offer… And walked away with a pot full of potting soil for free… This was the result after 3 months…

Choose Wisely

Annuals should not be taken past a certain point in the year, for the sake of this article I’m going to say July 15th – July 25th is a good cut-off date. Annuals planted after this date, although they will grow, typically never recover from the shock of being transplanted in the dry heat of the late summer months. Given the short lifespan of annuals, they do not recover from stress the way perennials do.

Perennials on the other hand, should be considered year round as long as you are comfortable with taking a gamble. Many perennials can survive drying out to the point of complete defoliation, a survival adaptation that is all too often mistaken as the death of a perfectly good perennial.

Soak Plants Overnight

The very first thing you should do when you get your new plants home is soak them. I prefer a five gallon bucket containing roughly 4″ of water, a small amount of general purpose fertilizer can be added but always measure on the side of caution. Place the plant, pot and all, into the bucket and simply leave it there overnight.

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Plants purchased for a discount at the end of one season… Often come back the next year as extremely healthy plants… Often… All the plant wants is a new home…

Keep Stressed Plants out of the Sun

A compromised plants symptoms are always magnified in the sun. Root bound or sick plants often quit taking up water, this is only magnified when the sun is rapidly evaporating water from the leaves. Transplanting, or the constant desiccation of the plants roots can cause major damage to a plant’s ability to absorb moisture from the soil. While the roots are healing, the plant must be babied, sometimes removal of foliage is necessary to lower the required water intake. Many plants will appear to die, it is often worth waiting a week or two before disposal as these plants will suddenly spring back to life.

Plant Them

As long as the ground is not frozen solid, you should go on ahead and plant those perennials. Plant roots are often protected from the elements by the little fact that they are underground, exposure to the cold and often bone-dry conditions of winter can certainly kill even the hardiest of perennials when exposed in a pot. At the very least, bury the entire pot. Many landscapers will similarly cover trees and perennials in a mound of mulch when the need for long-term storage presents… This is called mounding over…

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One of the easiest… And most effective things you can do to a root bound plant is cut an X in the bottom of the tangle… Then it can be easily pulled apart…

Severely Root Bound

So after reading the last paragraph, you ran out into your backyard with the intention of finally planting those left over perennials. When you went to pop that plant out of the tattered and torn black plastic pot, you suddenly realized all of the soil in the pot appears to be gone, and now you are left with a twisted mess of a root ball. Do not fret because all is not lost, this is actually one of the most common and talked about subjects in the industry.

You have several options… But this is the best… I prefer to cut an X into the bottom of the root ball roughly 2″ deep, I then slam it off the ground a few times. Once the roots have loosened up a bit, I like to rip them apart with my bare hands like a caveman… But any tool that can be used to accomplish this is fine… Not to mention more civilized. The ultimate goal of what you are doing is to open the roots up, allowing them to grow out into the soil, damaging them also tends to stimulate rapid recovery growth.

Diseased or Infested

This is always a tricky one, no one wants to be responsible for bringing unwanted pests and disease into your neighborhood. Unless you are a very experienced gardener, I would always err on the side of caution. Plants that are infested at a nursery, should stay at the nursery. Likewise, plants that are obviously showing signs of disease, such as spots, odd coloring, mold or mildew should be refused… Any nursery that does anything, other than immediately discard obviously sick plants should be questioned. My advice, stay away from them unless you have a way to quarantine them, better to just avoid the possible disaster.

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I have been dragging this plant around for years… I purposely keep it root bound in order to control size… It still requires a new pot every few years…

What about houseplants

Many of my houseplants were actually found on the side of the road on garbage night. You would be surprised how many of these seemingly dead plants came alive just by the simple act of me repotting them. Houseplants tend to be forgotten, and many people don’t realize that in order to keep a houseplant healthy, it needs to be repotted every couple of years.

Sometimes a pruning may be in order, that’s right, just like if it were growing outside. Sometimes, this pruning needs to be brutal in order to stimulate some new growth. A potted plant should be thought of as a complete system, what you do above the soil affects below, and vise versa. If you prune the leaves, an equal amount of the root system will be aborted… Likewise, If you prune the roots, the associated branches and leaves may also abort…

Every plant is different, so it would be hard for me to write about each one in this short article. What I will say is this, a houseplant is a houseplant because of its ability to survive in low-light conditions while living its entire life in the confines of a pot, when it starts to look unhealthy, your first move should be repotting it in fresh soil… 9 out of 10 times this will solve all your problems.

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

I am not affiliated with anyone other than myself, all the information presented in this blog is provided by me… If you find this information helpful, please consider purchasing a print or two from my online shop…

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 – 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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Last Confession

Front entrance to The Garden Table

Its been a few days… Since my last confession… Past life lessons… Are my new obsession…

Just need to let it go… Gotta set the record straight… The gardens that I grow… Are never second-rate…

I’m gonna grow love… And I’m gonna grow friends… I’ll prove you wrong… I’ll break the trends…

Never go under a rainbow… Always go through… Why go alone… When I can bring you…

Don’t get caught in the dark… Without a bright candle… Make art on the street… And get labeled a vandal…

I miss my secret garden… Miss my special place… This year I build one for me… My hidden garden of grace…

Don’t ask where it’s at… Please don’t try to look… Remember that my queen… Always trumps your rook…

I’ll grow aromatic herbs… Directly where I walk… When I grow beans… I get a magic stalk…

We can climb to the top… Get high in a cloud… It’s been a long time… Since I’ve made someone proud…

So I’ll work on the old… And start the new… Whether or not… I have permission from you…

peace – chriscondello

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