Late Bloomer

"Late Bloomer Against the Blue" - December 2013 - Jeanette Street - Wilkinsburg, PA

“Dandelion Against December Blue” – December 2013 – Jeanette Street – Wilkinsburg, PA

A little bit of seed and a whole lotta love…
Blessings of rain from the heavens above…
Gray sky suddenly gives way to the blue…
Enjoying a moment in this garden with you…
Yellow flowers grace an expanse of green…
Dandelion sunshine fills the gaps between…
Sunlight and water on soil and grass…
Always remember this rain will pass…

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

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The Guerrilla Gardening Guidebook – Site Selection

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

“Comfrey Flower on Blight” – Whitney Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA – I have removed enough Comfrey to know better than to plant it in my own yard… So I grow it in front of abandoned houses and just cut what I need…

Site Selection

This post is part of a larger body of work titled ”The Guerrilla Gardening Guidebook”. For the introduction and table of contents please click here

Site selection is typically the easiest part of the whole process, in my experience, the site chooses me. My efforts are a direct protest to abandoned homes and lots sprinkled around my neighborhood, for this reason I tend to already have a good idea what my next target will be well in advance of actually beginning any work. Though the locations may be different, they all require the same few things – Water, soil, sunlight and access… Though access can often be worked around with a little ingenuity and a few seed bombs.

The very first thing you need to do is determine whether you intend to plant ornamental flowers, or vegetables for consumption. Ornamental gardens are meant to be seen, they are typically placed in public places where they can be enjoyed by the masses. Food crops on the other hand may be best suited away from the publics eye. This is not always the case of course… But if your garden is not directly visible from your house, it is typically the best practice.

Ornamental guerrilla gardens are often created as a civil means of protest against blighted land, for this reason they are typically planted in high visibility areas. Sometimes the point of the garden is simply to inspire other people to consider gardening in places that one would not normally consider, abandoned houses, street berms, hell strips, vacant lots, even potholes can be gardened. In my mind, simply mowing the lawn of land that you do not own is considered guerrilla gardening.

Food gardens tend to invite more trouble than their counterparts, for this reason alone I feel they should be relatively difficult to see from the road. Now I’m not saying you should build a ten foot privacy fence, I am saying you should plant anything that can become a projectile away from the street. Tomatoes can become a big problem if the kids decide to throw them at cars, a single Sungold tomato plant produces so much fruit that the kids will be entertained for hours… And not in a good way.

I typically prefer to develop entire lots when it comes to food, who wants to grow just a few tomato plants when you can grow one hundred! I like to fill the first twenty feet of the lot with tall ornamental plants, this is an attempt to shield the food from people passing by. Not every community is like mine, some are much more receptive to street side gardening. The temperament of the kids can vary from street to street, and every location will have its own issues. If you are new to a neighborhood, a quick conversation with your neighbors can often give some clues as to how receptive a neighborhood may be.

WAUFandMe

“Salvaged Grape Arbor” – Whitney Avenue Urban Farm – Whitney Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA – The posts were very old grape vines that we cut out of the trees… The ladders were pulled from the trash… The crazy piece of wood I found on a job… Niagara Seedless and Concord Grapes…

Guerrilla food gardens are often created not with the intention of just feeding oneself, but sometimes to supplement the nutritional needs of an entire neighborhood. In this case, planting your crops in plain view can often be the best practice. Simply sharing your garden with all the inhabitants on the street increases the amount of eyes that will be watching the garden. You would be surprised how effective having a few older residents on your side can be, there is nothing scarier than a pissed off old lady moving full speed towards you. Security often costs just a few tomatoes or a bundle of greens, it can’t get any better than that.

Chances are pretty good that if you are reading this post, then you already have a site in mind. Long term guerrilla efforts require ease of access, gardens placed out-of-the-way tend to suffer. Food gardens require a lot more maintenance that flowers, for this reason a food garden will get much more attention if you regularly pass it and should therefore be planted as close to home as possible. Ornamental gardens on the other hand can go weeks without human intervention, for this reason they can often be maintained from a much further distance.

Some cities have organized groups that go out and garden, these can be great places to meet like-minded people. Other cities may have a few individuals fighting their own campaigns, slowly greening an urban lot at a time… I fall in to the second group… My efforts are typically solo, or with the help of a neighborhood kid or two. For that reason I choose my sites within a few block radius.

Street sides and public places add a level of excitement to the mix, nothing gets the heart pumping like the threat of a trespassing and vandalism charge. Choose a site with easy access, a carefully parked car can offer some protection from prying eyes and out of control vehicles. Make a plan before you get the shovels out, the last thing you want to do is stand there shuffling plants around. Sometimes, design gets thrown out the window in preference of speed, for this reason it is worth making a game plan before you get to your location. A guerrilla gardener should not be noticed by people, a guerrilla garden campaign lasts longest when the gardener is invisible.

To wrap this post up… Probably the single greatest variable will be the gardens neighbors… Sometimes they will be receptive, often they will not. You would be surprised how many urbanites like having an overgrown vacant lot next door, for many of them this is as close to living near nature as they can get. Be patient when dealing with these types of people, remember that although you think you are doing something good for your community, not everyone is going to see it that way.

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… Thank you for reading…

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Practical Permaculture – The Vegetarian Compost Conundrum

Currant

“Inside The Currant Bush” – © chriscondello 2013 – Red Currant – Garden Dreams Urban Farm and Nursery – Holland Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA – I do not photograph piles of compost… I just don’t do it… I don’t want to look at photographs of steaming piles… So I don’t make you look at them… These red currants are available at Garden Dreams…

Most of you probably know that I am not a fan of urban compost, very few people know how to properly manage a compost pile… And even fewer are willing to take the time to actually flip the pile every once in a while… Hell… I know people who have spinning compost barrels that only require you to move your arm a little bit… And they still don’t do it… Unless that barrel has a timer hooked up to a motor… The barrel is not getting spun… And in turn… The entire neighborhood smells like someone left a Christmas ham in their trunk till August…

Compost, can simply be defined as the controlled decomposition of organic matter, that is really all there is to it. People try to complicate it for profit sake… But if you just put your organic scraps in a pile in your yard… Eventually they will break down…

Very few people realize this next little fact, but, compost and mulches should ideally be indigenous to the climate you are working in. Tropical plants will often not decompose in temperate climates. Furthermore, they can also often harbor bad bacteria or exotic invasive weed seeds. What I am saying is… If pests and diseases hitch-hike all around the country on plants… Imagine what could end up in your mulch… Keep your compost and mulches as local as possible…

Plants and organic material need moisture to decompose… So take all of those black plastic compost barrels I see all over Pittsburgh, and throw them right in the garbage… They do not work… And you will not be happy… Compost is always better off in an open air situation, oxygen is required for decomposition… The more… The better… Those little black barrels become cess pools… Not compost… You will end up dumping the contents into a pile anyways… And even that is a pain in the ass…

Compost will also not break down until it has reached a temperature of 122° F, and it will not get any hotter than 158° F. Dry and hot climates will require shade and moisture. Cool and wet climates may require some cover. When working in the tropics you can compost much larger material than in the temperate zone due to the climate being hot and humid.

In the temperate zone, all high-carbon, slow to break down material should be shredded. The more surface area you can create on your material, the faster it will break down. Shredding is not just about creating surface area, it is about facilitating the handling and turning of the compost pile. Straw and large branches tend to get tangled around each other, this will make the turning of your pile damn near impossible… The smaller your material… The better… Ideally, a compost pile should be flipped every two days… But once in a while will work fine… It’s better than never…

As a last-minute side note… Or little golden nugget of information… Whichever you choose… When it comes to shredable materials available in the suburbs… Freshly fallen trees are gold… Specifically speaking… Branches under 3″… You see… The cambium layer is the part of the tree responsible for nutrient movement… The smaller the branch… The higher the ratio of cambium layer to hardwood… When shredded… Small branches should always be composted… Or at least used for mulch… Use the good stuff when you can get your hands on it…

Bocking14

“Bocking 14” – © chriscondello 2013 – Comfrey – Hamnett Way – Wilkinsburg, PA – When you have a pile of yard debris… Plant comfrey around it… As time goes on… Cut the comfrey and throw it on your pile… It will speed up decomposition considerably…

Compost activators can be used, but should be placed directly in the middle of the pile for maximum efficiency. Believe it or not… Recently deceased animals make a great activator… Fish, comfrey, yarrow, urine and nettles will also work… Many stores and catalogs now sell “compost activators”… My opinion is to steer clear of them and go with something directly out of your garden… Personally… I like yarrow or comfrey… Peeing on my compost pile would not go over well in my neighborhood… And the cats would find the fish no matter how I buried it…

Compost is typically a low-maintenance activity… Though many a teacher today likes to turn it into a two-hour… $100 class… I find that it is relatively easy to make… But judging by the search engine terms people are using to find my blog… More of you have problems with compost than I thought… In my experience… The issues associated with bad compost stems from a simple lack of nitrogen in the pile. Hence the nitrogen rich activator like Comfrey… Or fish… This problem is commonly observed as a white fungus inside of a pile that smells bad… In the city… Grass clippings are the easy to find source of nitrogen… Carbon is the tricky one…

Properly aged compost, will not resemble any of the material it started out as… Think dark black soil… It should have an earthy smell, with hints of vanilla and almonds… Just kidding… As long as it does not smell like ammonia… You are fine… A pile that starts off at 3′ tall, will shrink considerably as the pile ages. You will know you have the formula right when your pile loses very little volume as it ages.

Flies, though annoying, are actually a welcomed addition to your compost pile. In urban environments flies may be considered more of a pest than anything. A simple way to avoid flies around your compost heap is to place all fruits and veggies on the inside of the pile, if you surround them with carbon matter you basically hide them. Once your compost breaks down, you will not have as much of a smell, or fly problem.

Insects and animals will die in your compost, that is why there is no such thing as a vegetarian compost pile… Insects and rodents do not count as vegetables… Unless there is some new diet I haven’t heard about yet… Books will constantly say you can’t compost meat, or fish… This is BULLSHIT!.. Entire road kills can be composted as long as you put them in the middle… Besides… I have smelled compost piles that would make roadkill smell like posies… Now I’m not recommending composting the neighborhood cat… Or throwing meat scraps in your small urban compost pile… What I am saying is more that plant matter will decompose in your compost pile… Don’t be overly disturbed if you find a dead rodent in your pile… because it happens… And it does not hurt the compost… Or you…

Books will also warn about composting certain weeds, or weeds that have gone to seed… This is also bullshit… A compost pile that reaches the proper temperature will cook the seeds… If you are still worried… Cover the aged pile with a black tarp for a couple of days… The added heat will typically finish the job. Often times, seeds germinating in your compost pile are often indicators of germination conditions… Instead of taking it as a bad sign… Take it as a good one… Figure out what type of weed they are… And google them… You will probably end up back on my blog…Regardless… Look at it as a learning experience… If seeds are germinating… You got something right…

PghPetunias

“Pittsburgh Petunias” – © chriscondello 2013 – My Garden – Whitney Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA – Plant petunias and question everything…

I’m going to add another last-minute nugget of information… A heavy black tarp is a very effective garden bed making tool… Mark off the area you want your garden… Cover it with the black tarp… And let it sit in the sun for a few weeks… The lack of light coupled with the heat created will typically kill all weeds… Including turf grass… And cook any seeds that happen to be in the soil… This is the slow cousin of sheet mulching… Use it where a mound of compost would not be appropriate…

Given the high nutrient content of compost, often the only seeds that will germinate in your pile are climax species, and mineral accumulators. Weeds are actually one of the best things you can compost, if the weeds in your garden are absorbing all of your hard-earned nutrients, it would be silly to just throw them away… Compost everything…

To end this post… I really just want to say… Compost is really just a pile of decomposing organic waste in your backyard… It will smell… And it will attract bugs… So don’t put it next to your neighbors kitchen window…Compost should be in contact with the soil… And exposed to the elements… Man will try to sell you fancy containers… And expensive additives… When in reality … These are nothing more than leaky garbage cans…

Air exposure… In my experience… Is all you need to solve most problems… If you suspect something is awry… Put a fork in it…

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

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Practical Permaculture – The Art of Weeds – Reprise

Weeds require nutrients to grow just like any plant, some of them require a massive amount of nutrients to grow as large as they do. When you remove a weed you are removing a capsule containing all of the nutrients that weed has absorbed from the soil. If you remove that biomass from your garden than you are throwing those nutrients out, eventually you will have to restore those nutrients somehow. The problem becomes chronic if the habit persists, requiring constant fertilizer applications to sustain healthy growth. Permaculturists either create, restore or sustain the natural systems at hand, while removal is sometimes necessary, it should be a last resort.

Once a weed has gone to seed there is very little you can do to kill those seeds, this is one of the times where it may be best to carefully remove them from your site. Weeds that have not gone to seed or gotten to big should be left near the garden, I like to leave them in the grass and run them over with a mulching lawnmower till they disappear. Larger weeds can take years to break down if left intact, either shred them or break them up as small as possible and compost them. One of my favorite techniques is to simply bury the weeds in your garden, I like a cleaner garden and don’t like to see piles. I once had to remove an old dead pear tree from a front yard, I dug out the root ball and dropped the tree, then burned the entire thing in the hole it came from. I was lucky to be able to burn on site in this community, most urbanites don’t have that ability.

If you don’t mind the look of the weed mulch in your garden then I would absolutely use them, it wouldn’t hurt anything. If you have a large area of concrete then I would use it to dry them out in the sun first, it only takes a day to dry them out enough to kill the roots. While on the subject if you save grass clippings, they should be dried first before applying them to your garden. Your blueberries thrive in highly acidic soil with a pH between 4 and 5, woodchips would actually be the prefered mulch in order to lower the pH.

Compost barrels bug the hell out of me, rarely do they work as intended I find them irritating and ineffective. Environmental aspects determine the rate at which an organic biomass breaks down into compost, temperature, moisture and air all play a major role. Compost barrels tend to be sealed environments, air holes are incorporated but never in the quantity required. Moisture is required for compost as well, with rain being one of the main factors in the decomposition of a pile, the lid on the compost barrel impedes this. Compost can reach internal temperatures of 160 degrees on its own, the black color of the barrel increases the internal temperature of the compost. Temperatures exceeding 185 degrees can slow the decomposition of your compost and damage bacteria and insects, compost barrels should be placed in full shade.

With that said I prefer piles when it comes to compost, three of them to be more specific. I like to build three bays out of concrete blocks, each bay should have three walls and a removable front. You start by filling the first bay for 6 months to a year, then do the same to the next bin. One compost pile is never enough, you constantly put new stuff in it and in turn it never gets a chance to fully break down. If you have three then you can fill a new one while you wait for the old ones to fully break down into a useable product.

Compost is one of the great yields we as gardeners could be harvesting, but it does require a little space and devotion of time to get it right. I am not saying urban gardeners are left out of the compost world, but consideration should be taken as most compost piles can smell pretty foul during the hot days of summer. Compost that has been fully decomposed will not have a foul smell, it will smell organic and pleasant. An ammonia smell is almost always a sign your compost pile is not ready, flip it, water it, and check on it in a week. Compost piles should be turned at a minimum of once a month, but once a week is preferred.

peace – chriscondello

Three bay compost bin built for the Hamnett Place Community Garden in Wilkinsburg, PA. This one is made out of recycled pallets and was finished with hardware cloth, assembly was simple and the entire project was completed in just one day. I believe they recently harvested the first load of compost from the bins this year

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Practical Permaculture – The Art Of Weeds

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I used to consider pulling weeds tedious work, this was before I learned how to properly manage them. The weeds that are growing in your garden have a story to tell, it’s up to us to figure out how to translate what they are saying. I have found countless websites that focus on identification, but when it comes to the basic stuff “like how to pull them”, I find the internet to be lacking. Not many people realize how much thought can go into weeding a garden bed, yet alone how to pull weeds out of an entire vacant lot. This post will focus on weeds, what they mean, and how to pull them.

Weeds can tell you massive amounts of information relating to the land you are planning on working, you just have to know how to read the data growing in front of you. What you and I consider weeds, play an important role in reclaiming disturbed lands. Whether having evolved as a legume, replacing nitrogen where none existed, or creating quick shade to aid in the establishment of bio-diversity… All weeds have their place…

Permaculture isn’t really so much about weed eradication, the weeds are going to grow one way or another. The simple act of composting the weeds you pull instead of throwing them away is a basic permaculture principle, learning which ones to leave in the ground, and for how long is an art. Many weeds are perfectly acceptable when left in the ground, and often play a major role in the overall eco-system of your garden. A little bit of experience will tell you which ones have seed heads that when ripe, explode, sending seeds 20′ into your garden! Sometimes all the weeds need, is some selective pruning, and diligent dead heading before the end of August to stop the spread of new weeds.

As a gardener who had no money to invest, I found myself learning ways around… well.. anything that costs money… I have never really been able to afford soil samples on my own so I had to learn the natural indicator plants in order to get a mental map of what I was working with. Every vacant urban lot you come in contact with is “disturbed” land and will almost always shows drastic signs of this. Bind weed, Thistles, knotweed and grasses are all commonplace, what interests me is many of these weeds tell a story about your soil.

Bindweed – One of the most common exotic invasive I find in Wilkinsburg and the Pittsburgh region, this plant absolutely thrives in hard-pan clay. Bindweed can take years to effectively eliminate from a lot, owing to its ability to rampantly sprout from the roots, and the extremely long viability of its seeds lasting up to 20 years. Pull it or mow it and stay on top of it until you have choked it out. Bindweed can take years to eliminate from your garden but it is by no means impossible.

Dandelion – When they flourish, you have acidic soil.

Russian and Canada Thistle – I hate thistles due to the difficulty of removing them when they get to the size of a christmas tree, I have seen Canadian thistles 10 feet tall. Thistles absolutely love acidic soil and will usually only thrive in disturbed acidic soil, I find if you can neutralize the acid in the soil the thistles will disappear on their own.

Clovers – All – Sign of low nitrogen in your soil, the solution is as simple as leaving the clovers, when clover is present don’t remove it unless it is in the middle of a planned bed. When you remove it, bury it on site or compost it.

Pennycress – Highly alkaline soil

Yarrow – If you have this growing on your vacant lot, good for you. Our native versions of this plant are white and yellow and absolutely stunning when growing in a massive clump. Yarrows are one of the best indicators of potassium levels in your soils absolutely thriving in potassium deficient areas. Although I wouldn’t remove yarrow unless absolutely needed, it still is one of those plants that could help indicate fertilizer requirements for other plants.

Wild Strawberry – Fragaria sp. – I am not talking about the large, delicious strawberries we grow in our gardens but the little red strawberries growing in vacant lots that have little to no taste at all. Food wise the only use for these berries is survival but as an indicator for the acidity of your soil these guys are top-notch surviving in HIGHLY acidic soil. Neutralize the acid in your soil with a little lime and the strawberries will go away when they’re ready.

dandelion

This list could go on, but many other people have already done that… Go to Google… Type in “weeds as indicators” followed by your state… You will have so many lists it will make your head spin.

I do want to stress the importance of identifying weeds, and learning the deeper meaning of why they grow where they do, or why they thrive. Removal is the part of gardening most people hate, and to be honest with you as a gardener I would bet 75% of my job is removal. Pulling weeds is an art in its own right, relying more on finesse and technique than sheer force and strength. When working on an entire lot, break the whole thing into manageable squares on an imaginary grid, start by pulling or cutting the big stuff, then move on to the smaller things. I find if I remove as much material as possible during my initial clean-up then the smaller stuff is easier to focus on.

Pulling weeds is an art in its own right, if a weed is hard to pull your soil sucks, you need to add organic material to your existing soil structure and future weeds will pop right out of the ground. You see, weeds are not hard to pull when they are growing in healthy, alive, loose soil, it’s when they are growing in hard-pan clay that they break off at the ground, leaving the roots. When you grab a weed, grab it as close to the soil as you possibly can, you want to remove the entire root structure, not break it off at the surface of the soil. Pull the weed straight up and away from you to loosen it, then finish by pulling towards yourself, apply steady pressure and do not jerk or rip it from the ground, you want to steadily apply pressure freeing the weed from the ground. Some weeds require a little more work, don’t be afraid to break out a shovel and dig out a huge weed, just remember to remove as much of the soil from the roots as you possibly can to aid in disposal.

bckyrd

Sometimes trees need to be removed, im not stupid, I love them but sometimes they are in the way. Everyone wants to chainsaw the thing off at the ground and either forget about it or dig it out. I had an old-timer tell me the right way to drop a tree, without ever touching an axe or chainsaw till after the tree was on the ground. The only tool he used was a shovel, and could drop any tree under 20 feet in under an hour. The secret is to use the weight of the top of the tree as your muscle, and dig the roots out while the tree is in tact. As you free the roots of the tree, it will eventually fall under its own weight, this way you drop the tree and remove the root ball all in one controlled drop.

Trees are a great source of nutrients and biomass, if you have access to a shredder than they should be utilized. Most of the nutrients that are readily available in a tree are focused in the top half of the tree, branches under a 1 1/2″ specifically. Branches of this size have the most cambium layer for the amount of overall biomass and should be shredded and applied fresh and allowed to de-compose in place, larger wood is either firewood or mulch. Certain trees and plants will tend to inhibit growth like artemisia and the common black walnut tree, these trees should be avoided in mulch at all costs.

One of the absolutely fastest ways to clear a bunch of weeds and create a bed, and my personal favorite method is sheet mulching. This method starts in a dumpster hunting newspaper or cardboard, the amount you need will vary but my rule of thumb is 12 layers of newspaper, or 1 layer of cardboard. Mow the area where you intend to put your bed, I like to line the outside of my beds in bricks so I place them around the newspaper. Now you want to bring in a whole bunch of compost, topsoil or whatever you have on hand. Depending on what you use you can most likely plant in it immediately, plan on building up your layers at the end of every year. Newspaper and cardboard are utilized because of their ability to decompose in place lasting long enough to smother out the weeds underneath.

by any means necessary – chriscondello

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