Practical Permaculture – On Guerrilla Gardening

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“Guerrilla Begonias” – Whitney Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA

The beautification of blighted land… Growing food in locations commonly thought of as waste land… Creating gardens of any kind on land that you do not own… That is what guerrilla gardeners do… Permaculture… Is a lifestyle in tune with the land… Responsible use of resources… Gardening for the earth as opposed to against it… Although the names of these two styles of gardening are different, they are essentially the same thing… An environment based form of civil disobedience…

Guerrilla gardeners often lack the resources that the larger initiatives have, budgets. Creativity, resource management and permaculture fit into the guerrilla gardening fold as a valuable resource for not just the guerrilla farmer, but the entire guerrilla gardening community at large. In a world where resources are limited, learning how to stretch them as far as possible is a valuable tool in any gardeners box.

Permaculture, is a sustainable based design method commonly broken into specific zones numbering zero to five. Zero being your home base, and five being the woods. Urban gardeners often do not have a yard and therefore your zones may be rooted in a guerrilla garden, in which case the garden would be your home base (zones 0 and 1), and you would build up from there. When one lot is easily sustainable, a close lot could then be converted into zones 2,3 and 4.

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“Guerrilla Tulips” – Whitney Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA

A breakdown of the zones are as follows…

– Zone 0 is the center of activity, your home or apartment.

– Zone 1 is the most controlled and intensely used part of your garden. For an urban gardener this is typically the space right outside your front door, garden space you will walk by several times a day. This zone occasionally has to be away from the homestead, urban living does not always include a yard.

– Zone 2 is still intensely managed, but typically planted with crops and flowers that do not require daily maintenance. Urban gardeners may have a blueberry patch or a few dwarf fruit trees, typically still located on the home lot.

– Zone 3 is typically unmulched, un-pruned with water only available to select plants. I think of this zone as my guerrilla gardens, specifically the main garden.

– Zone 4 is semi-managed, semi-wild land. Typically non-existent to the urban gardener, depends on the amount of blight in your city.

– Zone 5 is an un-managed wild system used for observation as opposed to cultivation. Urban gardeners may have to travel to experience this zone, but I promise you it is always worth the trip…

Permaculture based guerrilla gardens may not incorporate all of the zones, this should not be a reason for despair. Apartment dwellers may not have any home garden space other than a few pots, my suggestion would be to find a vacant piece of land and create your zone 1 there. The zones in permaculture, as with all the ethics and principles are not meant to be thought of as rules but as suggestions… Permaculture interests me because of its ability to morph as the situation presents… As the earth changes… Gardens change… And as a result… We change…

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“Guerrilla Farm Stand – The Forgotten Farm Stand” – Whitney Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA

Guerrilla gardeners often face problems with pests, soil conditions, water, and sunlight. Permaculture lends itself to these problems by answering questions in ways not promoting the use of chemicals, but in a way as to accomplish ones ultimate goal creatively while doing as little damage to the eco system as possible. Conventional agriculture methods rarely do the guerrilla gardener any good as they are based around money, permaculture incorporates naturally occurring elements like plants and animals as the solution to most problems. Got a bug problem? The solution is not pesticides… It is using plants that will attract the birds that will eat those pests. Got a weed problem? Alter the composition of the soil to discourage that weed from growing… Permaculture has a practical solution to most gardening problems, and that is the reason for the name of these posts.

What the guerrilla gardener needs for their garden must not only be purchased, but often carried to the garden site. If valuable nutrients in the form of garden debris is disposed of in a landfill, those nutrients and organic material will ultimately have to be replaced. Permaculture teaches us that those organic materials often sent to the landfill are perfectly acceptable to be left in the garden. Grass clippings and leaves contain valuable nutrients, often the reason a gardener has to apply supplemental nutrients is due to the fact they meticulously clean up the garden. If looks are an issue, bury the debris in an on-site pit.

Any spot where concrete meets soil is a possible rain garden. Rain gardens are nothing more than collection pools designed with plants to not only slow the flow of water to our sewers, but to creatively use as much of it as we can. Concrete and asphalt are impermeable surfaces, what rain water lands on them is quickly routed to the sewer system and ultimately to our rivers. Rain gardens stand in the way of this persistent flow, giving it time to collect and be absorbed by the earth and plant roots. ANY garden can be thought of as a rain garden if it absorbs run-off, techniques of design and installation are really the only difference you will find from system to system. When gardening near concrete, run-off should be a constant consideration… If you can do something about it… By all means do it…

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“The Peace Garden – Guerrilla Garden” – Center Street – Wilkinsburg, PA

The sustainable guerrilla garden is kind of a dream of mine, I often find myself discouraged at the amount of trendiness I find in what I consider to be an art form. Flinging seed bombs into an abandoned lot, although dreamy, does nothing but waste money. Weeds grow fast, really fast, much faster than most garden plants can compete with. For this reason I have found seed bombs to be ridiculously ineffective, oftentimes germinating in a rainfall only to be killed by two or three days of relentless spring heat. Those same seeds would have survived had I just gone on site, cultivated the land and planted the damn seeds… There is nothing worse than spending $10 on a bag of seed bombs only to have them fail in the first week…

Observation is the key to all gardening, a recently disturbed lot is a suitable location for seed bombs or broadcasting loose seed. But a vacant lot that has sat for a few years often has an impenetrable surface that has been baking in the sunlight for years, weeds are only able to grow because of their evolutionary adaptation to growing in poor soil… An adaptation that few of our vegetables and flowers have developed. Once the soil has been disturbed in some way, a cover crop of nitrogen accumulating plants like clover should be planted, sunflowers can be intercropped into the lot to create a combination of soil remediation plants.

After some general remediation, till the earth and plant your crops. At the end of the season cut down your plants and let them lay, remember the smaller the pieces, the quicker they will break down. Any opportunity to acquire organic material should be taken, leaves, grass clippings, and wood chips are available for free if you keep your eyes open for them. Given the fact that most landscapers have to pay to get rid of this debris, you are usually doing them a big favor by taking it…

I personally believe anyone considering experimenting in guerrilla gardening should give permaculture a look. Although much of it is perennial/food based, it can relate to any style of gardening you can come up with, and has an answer to virtually every problem you may face in the urban jungle… Though it may take a little translation from time to time… But that is where I come in… Until next time…

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

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The Guerrilla Gardening Guidebook – Long-Term Maintenance

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“The Garden Table” – Rebecca Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA – This is my last project… Not so much a guerrilla garden as we have a ten-year lease on the property… But urban none the less… No budget… All recycled and salvaged materials…

Long Term Maintenance

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

Long-term maintenance is the killer of most guerrilla gardens. ALL GARDENS REQUIRE REGULAR MAINTENANCE! Whether organic or chemical, food or ornamental, water or soil, privately owned or guerrilla, no garden is completely sustainable without maintenance. Way too many people plug “no work” gardening into Google and find themselves reading my blog, there is no such thing as a completely work free garden… Actually… I take that back… If you are searching the internet for no work gardening… Then you need to pay someone to install and maintain your garden, because essentially, that is what you are asking for… And that is what myself, as well as many others like me do for a living…

With that said, a garden should not be all work. I find all too often that the general public sees gardening as nothing but work. There are some steps you can take to cut down on the amount of maintenance that will be required over the life of your garden. The solution can be as simple as digging a small canal from the downspout of a nearby vacant building, to as complex as soil nutrient alterations in an attempt to discourage a certain type of weed. I find all too often most problems can be solved with minimal work using nothing more than your brain… If you only learn one thing here I would want it to be “work smarter, not harder”…

Litter is a constant problem in my neighborhood, people throw their shit everywhere. When the wind blows that litter around, it will usually stick to anything in its path… Often it will be your garden… You can look at this one of two ways… Either you can get pissed off about all the litter, and subsequently give up gardening in disgust… Or you can be happy over the fact that your garden makes litter removal a little bit easier… I am saying this because I truly believe that if you are going to guerrilla garden on someone else’s land, you should maintain that plot of land as if it were your own… And that typically means cleaning up trash and litter that you had nothing to do with…

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“Daylily before Blight” – Rebecca Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA – Daylily make great guerrilla garden plants… Extremely hardy and tolerant of the harshest conditions… They require division every once in a while… You can see this as work or as a cheap source of plants…

Organic debris like leaves and grass clippings are very valuable in the guerrilla garden, they can provide a good percentage of the nutrient needs of a garden. Grass clippings are one of the most versatile materials available in urban environments, landscapers are often happy to part with them.

Many of the herbaceous perennials grown in formal gardens are cut back in the fall, most of these plants can be left through the winter. Winter weather breaks organic material down quickly, what is left of these plants in the spring quickly gets covered by new growth. A growing plant mines nutrients from the soil, nutrients that are stored in the leaves, these nutrients will have to be replaced if the organic material is removed so it is often best practice to leave the plants as they are.

Garden debris that is created can often be simply buried in the garden. Trench composting is a style of composting that involves digging a hole and filling it with whatever scrap organic material is available. In the case of a small guerrilla garden, any organic material you come in contact with can technically be buried. I do suggest sticking to smaller pieces in miniature gardens, digging through a layer of woven sticks and grass can prove to be impossible. Remember the bigger the material, the longer it will take to break down.

Guerrilla gardening is an opportunistic activity, sometimes soil, mulch or plants will suddenly become available… Successful guerrilla gardeners are always ready to take these items… Sometimes you will have to take some crap in order to get some good, beggars can’t be choosers… Vacant lots and guerrilla gardens provide unlimited opportunities, any free resource available to you should be considered. Oftentimes, the same things commonly thought of as only being found in high-end formal gardens can be available to the beggar who is willing to wait… Or willing to learn how to propagate plants… Which is the route I took… Now I can propagate just about anything…

An established guerrilla garden requires minimal maintenance. Occasional weeding and yearly mulch can keep a perennial guerrilla garden going for years. Guerrilla gardeners tend to be transient people, very few seem to stay in one location for very long and because of this vacant guerrilla gardens are becoming a normal occurrence. I find it funny that an activity that is commonly used as a protest against blight, could some day be considered a form of blight.

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…

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