Catching up to the Season

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I haven’t posted a gallery in quite some time… Here are a few of my favorite photographs from the past 3 weeks…   plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Practical Permaculture – Planting Under Fruit Trees


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!..


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.

Comfrey – 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.


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.


plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

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Plant Impatiens and Question Everything

100_1517Everybody has a soft spot for at least a few plants, for me it’s Impatiens. When I was younger my mom would plant them all the way up both sides of the walkway that led to our back porch. It would amaze me how small they were when she planted them, and within a few weeks they would completely fill out creating a neon mound of color that would last until frost. Still today when I see Impatiens it immediately takes me back to my childhood and makes me think about catching bees and waiting for hummingbirds to visit the colorful flowers. From this point forward I vow to have Impatiens in my garden every year for the rest of my life, if for no other reason than the fact that they remind me of my mom and make me feel good…

You see, the last couple of summers while I was building and maintaining the urban farm on the street I found myself spending all of my spare time studying data sheets on crops and pests, and basically immersing myself in agricultural research. I still do this, but it has made me realize how easy it is to take something that is meant to be peaceful, relaxing and enjoyable, and make it a daunting task associated with work. When your goal is squeezing as much food out of every square foot of garden space you have, aesthetic qualities tend to go out the window.

Gardening is a spiritual and physical connection to the earth that one could not understand without actually doing it, but the earth does a lot more than just feed us. Over millions of years our planet has developed an incredibly diverse bouquet of plants and animals, some feed us, and some simply blow our minds. Ssome things exist out of necessity, and some things are here as one of mother natures vulgar display of power. With all of the attention we currently invest in growing food, I sometimes feel we are forgetting that part of creating a diverse ecosystem also involves growing ornamental trees, shrubs, and flowers… both annuals and perennials.

Over the past several years I have met some of the most incredible gardeners and urban farmers, people who do things that could blow your mind. But they all seem to be focussed on food… if asked a question about growing tomatoes they could answer you in a second, but if asked a question about normal every day annual flowers they are clueless. Are we so caught up in growing food that the art of growing an old school flower garden like our grandparents used to have is getting lost.

The lack of pollinating insects has gathered a lot of attention lately, wouldn’t it be funny if it turned out to be something simple like a lack of people growing petunias and geraniums. Next time you are buying tomato or pepper plants pick up a pack of petunia or marigold plants and intermingle them around your tomatoes. One of my all time favorite mistakes was a bunch of volunteer petunias growing in my corn patch… It was truly a beautiful combination…

I’m not trying to say that I am done farming as I am just getting started, I have big plans involving multiple urban lots that is becoming a reality much quicker than anticipated, but I am trying to get back in touch with the side of gardening where happiness is not measured in yield, but in aesthetic beauty. I love vegetables and farming, but I also love my ornamentals, and whether you can admit it or not there is a symbiotic relationship between food crops and ornamental plants that goes deeper than science will ever be able to truly explain.

I understand that gardening is a way for people to feed themselves, but it can also bring beauty and lift spirits in a way that little else can. This year as you plant your garden, don’t just fill every square inch of space with food for yourself, remember the bees and birds that make our vegetables possible work up quite an appetite as well. If you plant 3 tomato plants for yourself, then plant a petunia just for the bees. If you plant a few apple trees, then plant a serviceberry just for the birds. Consider it a sacrifice of space that may seem to hurt your personal yield but in the long run will increase the overall total yield of the earth as an ecosystem. Just as people should count compost into their overall garden yield, insects and birds that are attracted to your garden could also be considered yield… If for no other reason than the presence of these animals will increase your gardens yield as well as contribute to the quality of your life and your surroundings.

I don’t normally share this with people because it makes me feel like a dork but every fruit tree, bush or bramble that I have planted for my personal consumption over the last 3 years has a flower from my garden under it. I consider it a sacrifice to the plant gods, I feel if the plant is going to sacrifice its energy into producing food for me than I can sacrifice one of my flowers to it. Just my nerdy planting ritual that helps me personally connect with the earth and how I sculpt my surroundings.

plant impatiens and question everything – chriscondello

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