Four Photographs of June – Beautiful Invaders

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Dreams of Paradise in Orange

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“Perfect Fleabane” – Hamnett Way – Wilkinsburg, PA – Beauty in the ordinary… Hope in the gutter…

Orange glow from the buzzing street lights…
Shining through the blinds of my broken windows…
Cool air sending me off to honeysuckle dreams…
Cool air coupled with the full moons beams

My body is in paradise… But my mind resents…
Among the sleepy trees and urban spring scents…
Surrounded by the energy of those who no longer…
The ability to perceive will only make us stronger…

The pain in your mind is probably a product of me…
Close all the windows… Light a candle and see…
I am still standing… I am a ghosts from your past…
I am a green thumbed vagabond and I expect to last…

Despite your best attempts to silence all my voices…
Talking trash and stacking shit to take away my choices…
I still have a voice… I still have a mind… I still have you…
I still have what most people consider a deeply flawed view…

Reality is relative… Reality is individuality…
Reality is a fucked up place you’d have to cut out of me…
When my mind is idle I dream of the most messed up scenes…
Heroin memories in the gutter dissolve into lucid dreams…

All encompassing reflections of pure misery and pain…
When I’m down I swear needles fall from the sky like rain…
Needles always land with their point to the ground…
Every day I try to scream but can’t muster a sound…

I feel so lost… I feel alone… I feel destroyed… I am beat…
If I had a white flag I would wave it in defeat…
Memories flash through my head like brilliant bursts of light…
Realize I’ve lost my mind but at least I have my sight…

Take me to a greener land of Goldenrod and Ironweed…
Take me to your gardens grand and show me to your seeds…
Show me all the secret places that you find so grand…
A warm embrace is the only way to settle shaking hands…

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

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Urban Splendor

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The Guerrilla Gardening Guidebook – Seed Bombs

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“I Hijacked this Photo” – The seed bomb… This one is cleverly crafted to look like a grenade… I wouldn’t waste my money on these… The equivalent spent on loose seeds will go much farther than these ever could…

Seed Bombs

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

Seed bombs, though a novel idea, I personally find to be pretty impractical. I am aware of the slack I may receive for this, but I am personally unimpressed with this trend. I say trend because the internet is full of articles and instructional videos on how to make them, and once something is available in a vending machine… It is officially trendy…

The idea behind the seed bomb, in my mind is more or less urban folklore. Situations that require one to have to throw seeds more than a few feet are the exception, not the rule. I find it is much easier to simply carry your seeds and a small garden shovel in a bag and just work some soil and plant your seeds. A bag full of seeds is jokingly lighter than a bag full of the equivalent amount of seeds formed into balls of clay… Or essentially a big bag of rocks… To this trend I say, get real!

A seed bomb is a combination of seeds, soil and fertilizer bonded together with some type of local clay. Some of the trendy new “store-bought” seed bombs are made of paper mache, intended to melt away in the rain before germination. A quick Google Images search for “seed bomb” returns thousands of photos, but if you look through them you won’t find even a single photograph of a mature garden created by a seed bomb. The closest thing I was able to find are photos of plants growing places the seed bomb was not actually needed.

Although some seeds will germinate on the surface of the soil, most do not. Seeds typically require uninterrupted levels of moisture and absolute darkness to properly sprout, any disruption in this process will ultimately kill the seeds. Scenarios where the seed bomb would actually apply, such as high fences and abandoned industrial sites, are not suitable for what is essentially a broadcast style of seed dispersal. Conditions would have to be perfect with cloudy skies and daily rain for the better part of two weeks for germination to take place.

Now that is not to say that there aren’t exceptions to this, many plants can be sown by simply broadcasting them over the soil. Many annuals disperse their seeds via wind, these could theoretically work well in a seed bomb. Many perennial plants often require stratification, and even after they require specific conditions to induce germination, for this reason they are typically not suitable.

The idea of throwing a bunch of “green grenades” is dreamy, and I understand the allure. But it all comes back to the whole idea of no work gardening, there is just no such thing. Weeds often grow faster than any seed in a seed bomb. A truly unmaintained area will quickly outgrow most of what you can pack into a seed bomb… In my experience the seed bomb always loses to weeds…

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 – Native Gardening in Urban Settings

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“Common Tansy” – Frick Park – Pittsburgh, PA – Not exactly a native… But has existed in America for well over 200 years…

Permaculture, is far from being the work free style of gardening it is often mistaken to be. All too often, people plug “weed free” or “no weed” gardening into google, and up pops permaculture. So now, when the neighbor confronts said gardener about the newly created “wild area” next door to his house, the gardener claims permaculture, and in turn we all get a bad reputation.

Native, pollinator, butterfly and wildlife gardening can border on the obscene as well. Though many of these styles of gardening work with many of the native plants that we consider weeds, years of experience are often required to know the difference between a beneficial weed, and an exotic invasive when these plants are still seedlings.

Biodiversity is not an excuse for never maintaining your yard, all too many people move from sparsely populated rural areas into urban communities not understanding the difference in the landscape expectations of neighbors. As a general rule of thumb, your landscape should fit in with that of your neighbors to a certain degree… I am going to go out on a ledge and say it should compliment it… While still maintaining a certain level of originality…

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“Aster Sunshine” – Frick Park – Pittsburgh, PA – Commonly found growing in fields across America… A plant that can be mowed to the ground 3 or even 4 times a year and still profusely bloom come fall…

When you go out into the country and look at rarely maintained fields, the plants grow 5-6′ tall. I think this is what some people aim to create in their front yards, sadly, this is not acceptable in most urban and suburban communities, but that does not mean it is impossible. Many natives can be planted and used just like the commercial annuals and perennials commonly found in every neighborhood in America.

The idea here is to use informal native plants, in a formal way. Mix native plants with commercially available ornamental perennials, if you have gaps, fill them with a few annuals. Give everything a place, and maintain as you would any garden.

Plants that are typically thought of as being very tall, aster, ironweed, milkweed, and goldenrod can all be maintained to a specific height. Asters should actually be cut down to 10″ on July 4th to keep them in check. Goldenrod can be cut several times in a season, Every cut will create more branches and ultimately more flowers. As a general rule, all tall flowering perennials can be pruned throughout the year in order to create a more compact plant during flowering. Awareness of the specific flowering times is key, allow a minimum of 3 weeks between last pruning and actual time of flowering. This is in order to allow the plant to recover from the stresses of pruning.

Although a front yard wildlife habitat may sound like a swell idea to you, the sad fact of the matter is to most other people that sounds like your saying you are planning a “rodent haven”. Very few people understand the importance of wildlife in our urban environments, though as time goes on I believe people will pay more attention to it… Though I still believe people will not want to exactly live next door to one if they purchased a city home anyway.

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“Black Eyed Explosion” – Frick Park – Pittsburgh, PA – A voracious self seeder… Will populate an entire yard if left unchecked… Stunning when grown in combination with a dark blue Aster…

I contemplated creating a massive list of native plants and how to maintain them, but I have more readers in merry ol’ England than in my hometown of Pittsburgh, so I have decided against that. What I will say is this… The use of natives is not an excuse to not maintain, native plants have qualities unique to themselves that should be highlighted when appropriate.

Although many natives will self-seed, this is not always recommended in order to keep the plant from growing out of hand. Some natives, like milkweed, have seeds that are meant to blow away and grow somewhere else. Unless you are absolutely positive your neighbor wouldn’t mind it growing in their yard, it is probably in your best interest to dead-head the plant before it sets seed. Likewise, when the plant is done flowering and starting to die in place, it is also probably in your best interest to remove the dying plant… This war is going to be won by compromise, not shock-and-awe…

In the long run, I do not believe the “Food not Lawns” movement is going to work, the amount of work that goes into keeping a food-producing garden neat, tidy and presentable all the time is enormous. We have all driven through a meticulously maintained neighborhood and seen a single yard with 6′ tall weeds all the way out to the street. If you talk to the neighbors, it is a nuisance. That one yard has been the reasoning behind more than one neighborhood association start up, often ending the possibilities of front yard gardening for at least the immediate future.

This, by no means is the end of the movement… But I think it is a very unrealistic concept… Compared to mowing a lawn once every 2 weeks, maintaining a food garden/urban farm is a huge task. Likewise, not many people realize how many problems can arise from growing food on every square inch of your garden. Biodiversity, being the common goal, includes more than just food. Creating a diverse food garden involves a number of other types of plants including natives, annuals, and other ornamental trees and shrubs.

A diverse garden does not have to be a wall of weeds, study the plants you would like to plant, and use them properly. I also recommend identifying all of the weeds that grow in your yard, inventory, and act accordingly. Exotic invasive weeds should be pulled and discarded, natives should be moved into suitable locations. Certain plants, like milkweed, can grow 7′ tall and should be placed in the back of the garden. The same rules that apply to ornamental garden design and maintenance, also apply to the eco conscience gardener… If anything, we should be held to higher standards as we are at the forefront of a movement. How we handle our gardens now, will have an effect on how gardens in the future are accepted…

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

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

http://www.society6/chriscondello… Or you can contact me directly at c.condello@hotmail.com for commissions or locally/personally produced prints… Thank you for reading…

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Practical Permaculture – 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…

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“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 – 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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