Pittsburgh gardening: Easy instructions for turning weeds into a vegetable garden in Lawrenceville

Pittsburgh is a unique place to garden.  This is especially true in old industrial neighborhoods, like Lawrenceville, near the confluence of the Allegheny and Monogahela Rivers.  Here the modern industrial economy was born and flourished for more than a century and a half.  Over this period, enormous quantities of waste were generated, therefore reclaiming sites for gardening in many places may appear daunting – at first.  If it’s not the Japanese Knotweed smothering your site, then it’s the seemingly endless stream of red bricks, coal ash, and empty packs of Newport cigarettes.  Do not fear, this article will reveal how anyone with fortitude can get a post-industrial urban vegetable garden off the ground.

Common artifact found in  the industrial era (~1960 to 2013 AD).  By the 1960's filtered cigarettes became popular, largely because they were seen as a healthier alternative to non-filtered cigarettes (which have a less of an impact on the environment).  CIgarette smoking is still common in the region as of this writing.  Consequently, cigarette filters or butts are common in Pittsburgh, along with their stylish packs.

Common item found in the industrial era (~1960 to 2013 AD). By the 1960’s filtered cigarettes became popular, largely because they were seen as a healthier alternative to non-filtered tobacco (which have less of an impact on the environment). Cigarette smoking is still common in the region today. Consequently, cigarette filters or butts are found in abundance in Pittsburgh, along with their stylish packs.

When considering a garden locality, first determine how much sunlight reaches the site.  If you receive 6 hours of sunlight or more each day, then continue further.  Are there patches of soil where vegetation will not grow, despite adequate sunlight and water?  Can you smell gasoline or oil on the soils?  Is there any odd coloration?  If the answer is yes, then DO NOT put a garden there. Consult a professional or contact your local EPA office if it looks hazardous.  If the potential site gets adequate sunlight and grows healthy weeds, you’re probably good to go.  However, I would still recommend soil testing for lead (like UMASS), especially if you plan to eat root vegetables, such as carrots, or are planning on growing a member of the Brassicas (kale, collards, etc).

Materials needed to build the garden.

Materials needed to build the garden.

To start, you will want to break up the sod into 2 ft x 3 ft patches with a shovel, pitchfork, or “Hound Dog” turf destroyer (pictured in yellow).  After thoroughly breaking up the sod, rake up the weeds and soils into a small pile near the edge of the patch.  This process will reveal more deeply rooted weeds, which will be loosened considerably.  By hand, slowly pull deeply rooted weeds until the patch is cleared.  Afterwards, scoop up your pile of weeds, soil, and debris from the patch and deposit them in a bucket or container.

Breaking up the sod with the "Hound Dog." A shovel could be used as well.

Breaking up the sod with the “Hound Dog.” A shovel could be used as well.

At this point the small area cleared is ready for some soil supplementation that is critical in a vegetable garden.  Take some rotten compost and distribute it over the patch.  In my garden, I used organic garden compost mix sold at Dollar General.  When the compost layer is down, take a handful of bone meal and spread it over the surface.  This will add calcium, phosphorous, and nitrogen, which could be lacking in the acidic soils commonly found in Pittsburgh.

After breaking up the sod, rake the weeds, dirt and rocks into a pile and deposit them into a container.  Add a handful of bone meal and a layer of compost. Then, sieve material back into the patch.

After breaking up the sod, rake the weeds, dirt and rocks into a pile and deposit them into a container. Add a handful of bone meal and a layer of compost. Then, sieve material back into the patch.

Take a ½ inch metal screen secured to a wooden frame to sieve the pile weeds and dirt back into prepared 2 x 3 ft patch. Within this coarse material there will be a few weeds, rocks and other undesirables.  Quickly break up soil clumps by hand and sort out weeds from rocks into two separate containers – the rocks and trash for the waste pile and the weeds for the compost. Level the sieved material with a metal rake.

Sieving the raked up debris from the patch.  Make sure to break up soil clumps and pick out weeds for the compost.

Sieving the raked up debris from the patch. Make sure to break up soil clumps and pick out weeds for the compost.

Every year add compost and other organic materials to the soils (i.e. eggshells, coffee grounds, manure).  Lime or crushed limestone can be applied if the soils are too acidic.  Make sure to thoroughly weed the beds a few times a year.  Layering with straw or wood chips around the base of your plants will add carbon and potassium to the soils and will reduce evaporation of water from the soils during dry periods.

Rocks, coal ash, and glass for the waste pile

Rocks, coal ash, and glass for the waste pile

End product.  Ready for gardening!

End product. Ready for gardening!

Advertisements

Posted on April 28, 2013, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Landscaping is something that enhances the feature of anything like the features of the
    land, any area etc. In winter, there is very little that will be
    flowering, so trees and bushes that are evergreen become the
    prominent feature. You will find information there on a lot of topics, including sustainable landscape design , designing
    an English country garden, costings and much more.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: