A Plant A Day Till Spring – Day 36 – Blueberry

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“Crowned Blue” – Early Summer 2013 – Chicks in the Hood – Pittsburgh, PA

“A Plant a Day till Spring” will highlight one plant a day, starting on the winter solstice (December 21, 2013)… And ending on the vernal equinox (March 20, 2014)… If all goes to plan I will be starting with old Snowdrop photos from 2013… And ending with new photos of Snowdrops in 2014…

Apologies in advance… Working with a migraine… Like someone got their finger stuck in my head… Right above my right eye… I actually woke up to visuals it was so bad… Staring at this screen is killing me right now… Whatever…

Blueberries hold a special place in my heart… They are one of the first berry bushes we put in at Whitney Avenue Urban Farm… The neighborhood kids and my girlfriend love them… We went out and bought a bunch of those small disposable cups people use in their bathrooms… While the berries are in season… You rarely caught one of the farm boys walking around without a cup of blueberries…

A moment I often reflect on… Amir was a six year old who used to live in the neighborhood… He was an integral part of the farm… And he loved his blueberries… I actually caught him once… Blue hands and blue face… Taking a nap on the bench by the patch… Another time we were munching on the last of the berries… He looked at me with wide eyes and grabbed his pants… I asked him what was wrong… His response… And I quote “All these blueberries been makin me shit like a bird”… He then proceeded to run home holding his pants up… A 6 year old…

I’m sorry… I don’t have much… Oooomf today… But I will do my best… Blueberries need lots of sun… A shade grown berry is very sour… A sun grown berry is very sweet… Sugar production is directly related to sun and heat… Blueberries like acidic soil… People make a big deal out of this but it is nothing special… Mulch with wood chips once or twice a year… You can also just use a fertilizer meant for Rhododendron and Azalea…

Notice the little crown on the berry in the photograph above… I have better photos of blueberries… But this is the only one that highlighted this feature… The reason for this is simple… There are no poisonous berries with that crown… It is a constant… Not all taste as good as Blueberries… But they are not poisonous…

This actually made me feel slightly better… I’ll reply to yesterdays comments as soon as I get enough caffeine in me to kill this headache…

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

If you want some science – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blueberry

New To writing and never had to cite sources before… These “Plant a Day Till Spring” posts are simply intended to kill time until spring when I start writing more… My source (where applicable) is Wikipedia.org… The photography is all my own… And I am adding my own information…

This website and all of the information presented within is provided free by the author… Me… It is my sole opinion and is not representative of anyone other than myself… Although this website is free… I sell prints of my photography here – www.society6.com/chriscondello – or you can contact me directly with questions at – c.condello@hotmail.com – Although it isn’t a requirement… It helps…

Remember to tip… My Bitcoin digital wallet address is – 1JsKwa3vYgy4LZjNk4YmPEHFJNjPt2wDJj

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Practical Permaculture – My 15 Minutes of Fame

A couple of years ago, my garden and neighborhood were included in a documentary called “In Transition 2.0”. The purpose of this movie is to promote the transition movement around the world. Although I am not personally involved in the movement, I started my first blog on the transitionpgh website and they were more than welcoming of me and my poor grammar skills. Throughout my entire experience dealing with those involved in the movement, I have had nothing but stellar experiences and I hold them, and the movement in the highest of regards..

Interestingly, the movie (in its entirety) has recently become available on youtube. Obviously, you can watch the entire movie. Or, you can skip to my part which starts at exactly 16:00 minutes in. I was unsure of posting this link as this garden is now gone… But… What the hell… I’m considering it promotion for my new project…

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

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Practical Permaculture – Breaking Ground on Another Urban Garden

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“Looking on from Rebecca Avenue” – The vacant lot from the street… Sidewalk in the foreground… The trees in the rear will be heavily trimmed this spring… There is a brick alley in the rear… And my very involved landlady owns the houses on either side of the lot…

So… I am excited to announce that after an entire year of observation and preparation, I will be breaking ground on a new guerrilla garden/farm here in Wilkinsburg, PA late this winter. Located roughly one block from my current garden (The Garden Table), this lot will focus on production as opposed to aesthetics. I intend to document every project I undertake, much of it will be shared through this blog.

As is my typical fashion, I intend to complete this project using very little money. That may not seem like a big deal, but given the fact that it typically takes $25,000 in grant money to get one of these things off the ground…  I think I’m doing pretty good so far… In fact, this will be the fourth vacant lot I have converted into a beautiful urban garden with a budget of basically nothing.

The lot itself is 60’W x 140’D, with a 4′ rise over the first 15′ of the lot. It was a relatively recent demolition, wood frame and sandstone foundation. As a result, the lot has not had a chance to become too overgrown. Myself, as well as the borough employees maintained the lot over the summer through regular mowing and litter removal. Although there are some invasive weeds growing throughout, I have managed to keep them to a minimum through regular removal.

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“The Garden Table” – This is where I went when I had to move Whitney Avenue Urban Farm… Now that it has filled up… I have found myself seeking a place to overflow… My new lot will be used for all of the food I want to grow… But can’t quite fit into one small lot…

As it sits today, the grass is mowed and the lot is clear. I have been dumping leaf and wood debris all summer, remediation will be performed throughout development. The front quarter of the property will be raised using salvaged foundation stones, the fill will be locally available compost created from the leaves collected from the streets of Wilkinsburg. Bricks are a constantly available resource in my neighborhood, so I intend to work with them as much as possible. It is always tough for me to speculate what materials I will find in the immediate area, for that reason my plans typically change throughout the course of construction.

Fruit producing trees will be planted throughout, underneath each of these trees will be appropriate guilds. Vegetables will be grown in both contained rows, and interspersed among other plants. The quarter of the lot closest to the street will be mainly ornamental, the purpose of which is to make people driving by turn and take notice. The top of the slope will be a line of dogwood and redbud trees, which will also help in privatizing the rear of the garden from the road.

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“Whitney Avenue Urban Farm” – You are looking at one year of work… This farm lasted two growing seasons before I moved it… But I did… Brick by brick… Roughly two blocks away to The Garden Table…

Just to give you an idea of some of the things I will be including… Fruit trees will be (but not limited to) plum, pear, peach, apple, cherry, serviceberry and figs… The figs will be surrounded by south-facing keyhole style gardens to protect during the coldest months… Blueberries, currants, gooseberries, strawberries and raspberries will be sporadically placed… Rows will be cut and vegetables will be numerous… I’m hoping to get into bees… The gutters from the neighboring houses will be collected or diverted into the garden… The lot also has a run-off issue towards the street… I intend to fix this with a bioswale… Everything on site will be recycled and locally scavenged… All plants will be personally propagated or donations from friends…

The food grown will be made available to locals on a (as long as you don’t steal it all) basis… As always… Volunteers always get first dibs… As of right now… I am the only person signed on… Though I do have a friend who is interested in helping… Regardless… I will be planting fruit trees come the thaw…

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

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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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The Guerrilla Gardening Guidebook – Vandalism

Vandalism

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

Vandalism is inevitable in all urban areas. Oftentimes, what the guerrilla gardener sees as vandalism is seen as clean-up by the unaware individual. Over zealous children with lawnmowers or weed eaters, though good intentioned can often be the end of a garden. It can take everything you have not to freak out in the moment… Remember this is not a time to scold… It is a time to educate…

Intentional vandalism never seems to be considered until it happens. Vandalism should be expected, at least when you expect it, you won’t be so surprised… And subsequently discouraged… When it happens… Never use expensive plants where this is an issue, use plants tolerant of a wide variety of conditions. Mints, once established, can be yanked, pulled, cut, even blown up with fireworks and still make a comeback. Mint, when in bloom is really a stunning plant that attracts a plethora of beneficial insects. Caution should always be taken when gardening with mint due to its invasive tendencies, but in this case we can make those tendencies work for us instead of against us.

Efforts at growing food in guerrilla plots more often than not will lead to theft. If you are growing food out in the open on a vacant lot, there is nothing you can legally do to a garden thief, consider this before your next move. What you can do is catch the garden thief in the act, not always possible, but definitely the most effective. The actor will almost always exclaim that given the fact that it was growing in a vacant lot, they figured it was “wild” food free for anyone to take. It really doesn’t matter if it is growing in perfectly cultivated raised beds on caged plants… This is the go to excuse. What you do next is of the utmost importance. Explain your intentions nicely, adding in the fact that you paid for the plants and put a lot of time and effort into the garden. Then as a peace-offering you should offer to share some of the extras when they are available… 9 out of 10 times this will resolve the issue while still maintaining a level of friendship…

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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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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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…

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