Forest Resource – Sacred Grounds

"American Ginseng" - Westmoreland County, PA

“American Ginseng” – Westmoreland County, PA

The sun is rising over the distant tree line…
Reflecting off the calm water like glass…
Mayflies are dancing in the morning light…
My soul is like a candle burning in the night…

The trees in the forest reach for the sky…
When I call out the woodland birds reply…
My mind is in heaven yet I am on the ground…
Communication with nature requires no sound…

Climbing mountains of sand and limestone…
At the top of the rise stands a circle of pines…
I stand among the sleepy conifer trees…
Singing praises to the deer and the bees…

As the earth slowly spins I steady my balance…
On the side of this mountain sitting in silence…
Ginseng takes the place of the spring May Apple…
The forest is the only place sacred like a chapel…

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

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Keystone State Park – Between Rain Showers

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All photographs were shot at Keystone State Park in Westmoreland County, PA… They are all available for sale as prints… Please email me with any questions or requests at c.condello@hotmail.com… plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

The Guerrilla Gardening Guidebook – Site Selection

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“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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After the Storm

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5 AM and All is Well…

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“5 AM” – © chriscondello 2013 – Keystone State Park, PA

Awake before the mourning doves…
It’s 5 AM and all is well…
No one else but you and I…
It’s 5 AM and all is well…

Sitting quietly… Blue Heron Flying…
Fish are biting… Ducks are crying…
Nothing in the world like comfortable silence…
We quietly pray to nature for guidance…

Red sun rising over a mountain facade…
A scene reminiscent of a painting by God…
This morning we pray to the heavenly sky…
To our surprise we saw Gods reply…

No one else but you and I…
It’s 5 AM and all is well…
Awake before the mourning doves…
It’s 5 AM and all is well…

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“All is Well” – © chriscondello 2013 – Keystone State Park, PA
I have prints available to purchase here – http://www.society6.com/chriscondello – Or you can contact me directly at c.condello@hotmail.com for commissions or locally/personally produced prints…

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

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Warm Glow – Home for Lunch

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“Jasmine” – © chriscondello 2013 – Whitney Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA

The warm glow from the sky…
Radiates off my cool skin…
Washes away the depression…
Cleanses me of sin…

Dreaming of forests and lakes…
Longing for the rivers and streams…
Climbing up the tallest mountain…
These are my simple dreams…

So embrace the perfect heavens…
Take time to hug a tree…
Run through the endless flowers…
On your way to swim the sea…

Slow clouds black out the sun…
Shape shifting across the blue…
Creating a show of endless images…
A show that’s just for me and you…

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

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Eco Soldier – Resource Wars

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“Resources” – © chriscondello 2013 – Abandoned House – Wilkinsburg, PA – What is a resource?.. It depends on your surroundings… You know… I have heard there are more abandoned houses than homeless people… If in fact that it true… The system is truly failing us…

How many trees will be cut to the ground?..
How much oil will be drilled from the earth?..
How much gas?.. How much coal?..
Another mine and we’ll be living in a hole…

Future skyscrapers… Gas tower skyline…
As dangerous as a nuclear land mine…
Sitting smack dab in the middle of a park…
And here we come walking in the dark…

Nuclear exposure… Tolerance builds…
Induced allergens… Medical bills…
Who the fuck is going to fight this war?..
Take this system and rattle it to its core…

We are all now ecological soldiers…
Gearing up to fight the resource wars…
Enemy combatants will come from far…
Just to fight over our sand and tar…

Domination is not a resolution…
Governments operate similar to prostitution…
Control healthcare… Control life and death…
Control the controllers every breath…

We are nothing more than a tax base…
Governments farm the human race…
Then they harvest our ripe green money…
Obama says it tastes slightly like honey…

Or a fine wine… Bought on our dime…
At an event that was attended by slime…
While they eat organic free range beef…
While you and I get fed Monsanto wheat…

GMO corn is like political porn…
Subsidies are just a way to weather the storm…
Farm stamp… I mean… Food stamp bill…
About the same as telling everyone to chill…

We got this… We got your back…
Would you rather we bring back a problem like crack…
War on drugs… Politicians are thugs…
Sweep the sweepers right under the rug…

Weather the storm… Storm the weather…
Either way we need to stand together…
We will never outgun the government machine…
Hold them accountable… Make them clean…

Stand up for what you believe in…
Whether God… Science… Or sin…
Stand up… Woman and men…
Time to fight… Words… Fists… Or pen…

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

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Practical Permaculture – Water In Your Garden

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This is a screen shot from Google Earth… Forest County, PA… And all of those lines leading to the little dots… Well those are gas wells… Enough said… But wait… This is a State Park… And only a single county out of 67… Think about it for a minute… Then think about the impact this has on not only the water… But the entire ecosystem… This… To me… Is sacrilegious…

Water is probably the most valuable natural resource available on our planet, it is irreplaceable. Whiskey is worth drinking, but water is worth fighting for. It reminds me of a meme that was circulating around Facebook a while back… Basically a young shirtless boy standing in the desert with a completely disgusted look on his face… The caption was simply “You mean to tell me, you have so much clean water… That you shit in it!” My answer to this meme is simple… Yes… And not only do we shit in it… We mix it with noxious chemicals… Inject it into the ground under extreme pressure… And fracture equally noxious gasses out of the ground so we can burn them in order to heat our McMansions… We just have that much…

Now… I’m not saying you have to donate all of your money to your local water conservation non-profit in order to be eco-conscious… In fact… I think just the opposite… I actually believe that is the exact opposite of eco-conscious… Maybe… Executively-conscious… But not ecologically conscious… I don’t give a rats ass what anyone says… That is just how I see it… With that said… I believe awareness is key… An awareness of the resources available to us on this earth… An awareness of the delicate connections we have to the earth… And the connections the earth has to each and every element it contains… To think that the removal of one of those elements does not drastically effect all of the other elements in the system is a failure of paramount proportions… Respect people…

With that said… Water is an essential element in gardening, it is what makes our plants grow. Even plants that do not require you to physically irrigate, are getting water somehow. The most common mistake I see people make in their gardens is not watering often enough, or even more common, not deeply enough. Another common mistake is thinking your plants will benefit from a little drink every once in a while…

BleedingPuddle©

“Swimmers” – © chriscondello 2013 – Whitney Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA – Dyed puddle, bleeding hearts and reflection – I have shot bleeding hearts from every angle imaginable… This has been my favorite angle so far…

You know… I could go on and on about my peeves… Lets get to the good stuff…

A plant does not benefit from a little drink every once in a while, you should always water your plants thoroughly. A plant grows roots partly for the purpose of attaining water from the ground, the reason you should water your plants deeply is to promote deep root growth. If you only give your plants light sprays with the hose, your plant will only be looking for water at the surface of your soil. If water is regularly available in the top 4″ of soil, your plants will have no reason to send roots deep into the ground. The idea behind watering your garden is to establish your plants, once they are established they will only need watered in the driest of times. You water in the beginning, so you don’t have to water in the future.

The time of day that you water can have some differing effects, but as a general rule of thumb watering your garden during the hottest part of the day is probably the least efficient use of your water. Water at a time of the day that will allow the water to penetrate the soil before it has a chance to evaporate, as long as the sun is not baking the earth around your plant… you should be fine… Just remember your plants do not immediately absorb the water you apply, it takes time. Evening is also a good time to water, but you can run the risk of disease or mildew. I personally prefer early morning because it tends to give my plants that added energy they need to make it through the sunniest of days with as little stress as possible… But that is just my preference…

But Chris, how long do I water my garden for? I mean… Exactly how long?.. I was worried you would ask me that… Ok… As a basic guideline… Water your plants directly at the base of the plant, do not soak the plant as a whole as this will promote disease. Annuals should be watered every day for the first week after planting, count to 5 for each plant. After the first week, water 2 to 3 times a week for the next two weeks. If your annuals survive the first month in the ground, you will only have to water once a week if it doesn’t rain.

© chriscondello 2013

“Evening Storm” – © chriscondello 2013 – Conceptual Composition – My Backyard – Wilkinsburg, PA – Call this what you will… But to me… This photograph is like a painting… Blue Salvia as my canvas… And Golden Heuchera my medium… Taken in the evening light accompanying a storm…

Perennials, shrubs and trees do not need watered nearly as much, a week or two of regular watering is often enough to get the plant off to a good start… These types of plants typically have bigger roots stuffed into bigger pots, accordingly they require a bit more water, think along the lines of 10 to 20 seconds of direct watering per plant… Newly planted trees can often require a little more water, I will leave the water on them for up to a minute… Again, once a perennial or tree has resumed natural growth, you are not doing it any favors by watering it… You really want the plant to learn to take care of itself… We don’t breastfeed indefinitely… So don’t water indefinitely… You should be working to water your garden less… Not more…

Slope can greatly decrease water absorption, the faster the water moves down hill the less the soil can absorb. One solution is to slow the rate of speed at which your water flows downhill, think miniature swale. If slowing the rate at which your water flows downhill is not an option, water very slowly by applying water a little at a time directly above your target plant. You should be able to watch the water slowly absorb into the earth, any excess will be evident by the stream running away from your plants. This may seem like a lot of work, it is important to remember that once your plants are established and growing normally… You can quit watering…

Sourcing water is another question I am commonly asked, usually along the lines of rain water vs. city water. Without going into science stuff… And based on common sense alone… What do you think?.. To me, the obvious answer is rain water is better. City water is filtered using chlorine among many other chemicals, rain water is filtered by nature… That’s a “no brainer” as far as I am concerned… But I’m also a realist, rain water is not always available. I can run my single rain barrel dry in a few days when the weather is dry, at that point I will switch over to city water… I mean… I drink the stuff… And bathe in it… If it’s good enough for me… Then it’s good enough for my plants…

NineMileRun

“Nine Mile Run” – © chriscondello 2013 – Frick Park – Pittsburgh, PA – Nine Mile Run in Frick Park… Basically a collection of storm water from 3 communities… Storm water does not get treated in any way… It is released into your favorite creek… And typically flows right back into our drinking water supply…

Rainwater collection is a massive topic that has warranted entire books to be written about the subject, I’m going to give it a paragraph or two. Rain barrels have recently come into style, they can be cheaply purchased at just about any big box store in the world. I see them all over my neighborhood thanks to a local non-profit working to restore Frick Park’s Nine Mile Run… Which happens to be a place I regularly work in, and is the location of many of the photographs contained within this website… Anyway… The Nine Mile Run Watershed Association made them very cheap and readily available through a program they offer… I consider this non-profit one of the good guys, I feel we play for the same team.

https://chriscondello.wordpress.com/2013/05/16/stone-sculptures-in-frick-park/

The point I want to make is that these rain barrels do nothing if you do not utilize the sweet rainwater that they collect, I can’t begin to tell you how many of these barrels become nothing more than an intermediate reservoir between your gutter, and the very drain the barrel was intended to bypass in the first place. Think about it like this… 1 inch of rainfall… Falling on an area of 1000 square feet… Will produce 600 gallons of water… Most commercial rain barrels are around 100 gallons, everything beyond that 100 gallons is expelled out of the overflow system. Rain barrels need to be used…

A good rain barrel tip I can offer from experience… Do not place a rain barrel directly on the ground, it needs to be elevated by as much as you safely can. The water level of your barrel needs to at least be higher than the height of the hose in your hand, while standing, just to give you enough pressure to get a trickle. Even if you placed your rain barrel on your roof, you would not get water pressure anywhere close to what you get out of your faucet or garden hose. I have no idea what the math for this one is, I just know someone much smarter than me explained it… And it sounded good… So… Just don’t expect to blast the bird crap off your car with your rain barrel, unless you get a pump…

So if you have replaced all of your down spouts with rain barrels… And you are watering your gardens as much as possible… After all… You just have a tiny urban garden… Well then you might as well dig a rain garden… Route all of your overflow valves to the garden… And let the rain garden do the rest of the work… I have written about rain gardens before… And will be writing more about them in the coming months… But for now… Check out this link…

https://chriscondello.wordpress.com/2012/12/02/practical-urban-permaculture-rain-gardens/

To sum this article up… Water your plants thoroughly… And deeply… The idea of watering your plants is to stimulate deep root growth… If water is regularly available at the surface… It won’t stimulate deep root growth… Water from the base of your plants because unlike us… Plants do not require showers… Use rainwater as long as you have it… But don’t be afraid if your only other option is tap water… And experimentation with rain water collection and dispersal is a good thing… People should consider rain water one of the great yield possibilities of the garden…

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

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Morning Thoughts – Honeybee Drone

Rose

“Perfectly Pink” – © chriscondello 2013 – Alley – Wilkinsburg, PA – I swear to God the insects are messing with me… I found this rose in an unmarked alley here in Wilkinsburg… Actually part of a bad ass alleyway rose garden…

Motionless morning… End of May…
Intense atmosphere… On a hot and muggy day…
I can feel the atmosphere rising…
Air comprising moisture and lightning…

All my senses are telling me it will rain…
Fuck the weather channel… My knees in pain…
And my back is out of whack…
Taking my observations slightly off track…

Coneflower bones and honeybee drones…
Fragrance of locust blossoms… Like honey and rain…
Compliment this ninety degree weather…
Fragrance of spring… Heat of summer…

Together…

The heat is unbearable… Visually oppressive…
Waving lines rise from the street… Deadly suggestive…
The plants bow… They are begging for rain…
An easy fix… Yet all the signs say abstain…

Rain is on the horizon… It is in the air…
Cumulus clouds rise in the heat…
Till they reach the stratosphere…
Anvil head forms in the ice-cold atmosphere…

Still a few hours away… But I promise… It will Rain…

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

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Nature Over Man

AssToMouth

“Ass to Mouth” – © chriscondello 2013 – Frick Park – Pittsburgh, PA – If you have taken a shit in the East End of Pittsburgh during the last 100 years, there’s a chance it flowed through here. From the ass of the East End… To the mouth of Nine Mile Run…

Have you ever wondered, where do the storm drains on my street go? If you live in the east end of Pittsburgh, they most likely end up here. Nine Mile Run ran through Wilkinsburg before they culverted it over and built the borough on top of it. The sewer lines that run over this culvert are a hundred years old, seapage from these sewers regularly contaminates this water. This sewage, coupled with industrial wast has wreaked havoc on this ecosystem.

The scent of this area can only be described as peculiar, both organic and chemical. Sharp rocks have snagged countless plastic grocery bags. The bags 15 feet above me in the branches of a tree tell me this is not always a smart place to stand. All around me lay trash that went down the sewer, a harsh reminder that trash does not just disappear.

NineMileRun

“Nine Mile Run” – © chriscondello 2013 – Frick Park – Pittsburgh, PA – Hard to believe this is the same creek as above… But it is… And it is beautiful…

Frick Parks watershed, Nine Mile Run flows into the Monongahela River via a 2 mile creek bed, at one time this was beautiful forest and meadow land destined to be an extension of Frick Park. Starting in 1922, the Duquesne Slag Company systematically, and questionably purchased the land on either side of the watershed. Over the next 50 years they would dump 200,000,000 tons of slag over an area roughly 200 acres, the slag is piled 120′ high in some places.

When you stand in the creek bed, the slag piles rise hundreds of feet on either side of the creek. The creek is now locked in place by concrete walls that run the entire length of the slag heap, they look like they have been in place for 50 years. A secret of this nasty wall is the sewage that spews from it when it rains, a tenth of an inch apparently creates a fountain from the manhole covers that secretly channel the sewage from several communities down the stream… Coupled with the toxic runoff from the slag heap, I am amazed that anything survives at all.

PghMeteor

“Pittsburgh Meteor” – © chriscondello 2013 – Frick Park – Pittsburgh, PA – Slag is a toxic byproduct of steel production, Pittsburgh has mountains of it.

As I climbed the slag pile, I couldn’t help but notice the pour lines on the side of the hill… They literally formed steps going up the side of the slope. Intermittently between layers, I noticed layers of brick and glass. Names like Pittsburgh Brick Co. and New Kensington adorn the faces of the bricks, I stopped to inspect whether they were manufacturing rejects, or the bones of buildings… I couldn’t find mortar on the bricks so I would assume they were rejects…

The color of the slag in some places is an otherworldly hue of baby blue, this material is sharp like glass and easily cuts skin. The red material is soft like sand, the wind would pick it up and move it like a dust cloud… I found signs of this red material clear down to the Monongahela River… In some places I found massive black glass deposits that reminded me of volcanic glass nodules, no matter what I tried, I could not free a piece to take home.

About 100 feet up from the creek is the newer trail built to the river, this two-mile trail was carved into the side of the slag pile. I followed this trail toward the river when I noticed what appeared to be a large landslide, technically it would be a slag slide… But who’s taking notes anyway… I’ll tell you who… This guy… – I pulled my way through some understory growth only to pop out directly under a crumbling cliff of slag and bricks, I could actually hear it crumbling as I stood underneath of it.

NatureOverMan

“Nature Over Man” – © chriscondello 2013 – Lower Frick Park – Pittsburgh, PA – This tree was growing on the edge of a massive slag pile, I have always thought that the trees just rooted in the shallow layer of soil on top of the slag. As you can see from this photo, the roots of the tree grew about 20′ through the slag; eventually splitting a massive chunk off exposing the root for me to find.

At the top of the landslide stood a single tree, its tap-root had grown 25 feet through the slag face in front of me into, and below the slag I was standing on. The tree had managed to crack through the man-made toxic crust to find the water below. I assume this tree found water, because the root grew to the point of splitting a massive chunk of slag off the heap.

As I stood in awe… I became in tune with the extremely powerful energy that was present all around me… The ground that I was standing on was ground zero of an epic battle between nature and man… I had goosebumps… A small victory for a brave soldier… A victory that will most likely cost this soldier its life… But it won’t be in vain… New life will sprout from the decaying tree and Split another chunk of slag from the heap… Repeating… Until it’s gone… Or burried…

Nature ALWAYS conquers man… That’s why I call perpetual dibs on natures team… Because she always wins…

peace – chriscondello

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