Author Archives: Todd

2013…So Far

Baby Collard.  Soon to be bak-ed collard(I don't know).

Baby Collard. Soon to be bak-ed collard(I don’t know).

Garlic with flowering chives in the background

Garlic with flowering chives in the background

We have been slow to update our “many readers” with what has been going on in our own garden, so here are some pictures so you don’t have to read anything.  You’re welcome.

Rain Barrels on the Hydropotential Energy Enhancer III

Rain Barrels on the Hydropotential Energy Enhancer III

Tomato Seedlings!!

Tomato Seedlings!!

OREGANO

Perennial Herbs coming back strong!!

Garlic with flowering chives in the background

Garlic with flowering chives in the background

Radish with flea beetle damage

Radish with flea beetle damage

 

Onions, Parsnips, garlic, Peas and weeds....Tons of weeds.

Onions, Parsnips, garlic, Peas and weeds….Tons of weeds.

Tomatoes at twenty four inches.

Tomatoes at twenty four inches.

Well, as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.  You’re probably pretty tired of reading by now. So, until next time let’s garden responsibly.

Lechuga

Lechuga

We are Bridge City Guerrilla Gardens. Let’s bridge the gap between us, our food, and our communities.

The Ugly Duckling: Sprout Identification in Rugged Garden Terrain.

Not An Ugly Duckling.

Not An Ugly Duckling.

As we inch closer to every Pittsburgh gardener’s favorite date, let’s call it “Get Those Tomatoes In Day,” May 15th, it’s not an uncommon occurrence to see little sprouts popping up all over your garden.  If you’re on the ball and have some frost resistant seeds in the ground; peas, spinach, or something like carrots, it may be a daunting task to tell the difference between weeds and your desired crop.  This can become especially difficult if some weeds get a jump on your sprouts or if you have never grown the selected plants before.  To make identification easier, so you can find your swan amongst ducklings, I’ll include some pictures of seedling that are common to direct seed in the garden.  Especially one’s popping up right now! Those are the pictures I have.  Womp. Womp.

That being said, I have become pretty partial to starting seedlings, when I can, giving the plants a head start on the inevitable weed pressure, allowing me to prep a proper bed, possibly providing a mulch straw cover.

So, here we go:

Carrots with their first true leaves

Carrots with their first true leaves

CARROT (Daucus carota):  Delicate carrot seedlings are notoriously bad competitors with weed pressure.  It is important to identify these seedlings and eradicate competing weeds.

Swiss Chard

Swiss Chard

SWISS CHARD (Beta vulgaris):  As can be seen above, swiss chard “seeds” are actually seed pods containing many seeds.  It will make for a better crop if you thin the sprouts down to one every foot or so.

Golden Beets

Golden Beets

BEETS (Beta vulgaris):  Notice that the botanical classifications of beets and swiss chard are the same.  Swiss chard is actually a beet that over generations and generations had been selected for it’s green rather than the root (interesting right?).  , My picture is of golden beets, if you would have your typical red beet, the sprout would have a burgundy tint to it.

 

Parsnip with first true leaf hanging out with his younger brother.

Parsnip with first true leaf hanging out with his younger brother.

PARSNIPS (Pastinaca sativa):  These guys are in it for the long run.  You put them in early, and you will take them out early in the fall (or later in the winter…or the next spring).  These are a commitment crop, so you will want to give them a great start.  They come up looking, well, about likr everything else around them.  They have two leaves going in either direction.  The difference between them and my weeds were their vibrant green color.  They will eventually form their true leaves, which looks like a parsley leaf, or like celery when it forms its true leaves

Spinach

Spinach

SPINACH (Spinacia oleracea):  The initial leaves are long and skinny, but eventually a broader rounder leaf will form…In the shape of spinach.  Yum.

pea_seedling

Pea Sprouts

PEAS(Pisum sativum):  These are great, for a number of reasons.  You can get them in early, they fix nitrogen, and they taste great!

Alrighty! Get weeding.  Make sure you leave those beautiful swans alone, and get rid of only the ugly ducklings.

This is an extremely abbreviated list, but if you have any requests, I can set up a photo shoot (If the lighting is just right), and try to weed out, well…the weeds.

Until next time, let’s Garden Responsibly Pittsburgh.

We are Bridge City Guerrilla Gardens. Let’s bridge the gap between us, our food, and our communities.

Month in Review: April 2012

The April Garden

So, we’re a little over a week into May, inching closer to that Pittsburgh gardener’s holiday:  May 15th.  For all of you who don’t know what I mean, May 15th is the accepted last day for frost (In the Bridge City).  So, get those not-so-frost-tolerant vegetables ready!  I wouldn’t hesitate to get your tomatoes planted today!  I don’t forecast any frost in the next week…So, go wild.

That being said, here is what we here at Bridge City have been up to in the month of April!

We:

  • Watched seeds (Eggplant, Tomatoes, Peppers, herbs) become seedlings

    Cold Frame

  • Installed end posts, and trellising for peas
  • Planted Pink Beauty Radishes, Spinach, Perpetual Spinach(Type of Swiss Chard), Danver’s Carrots, and Beets
  • Added Inoculate to nitrogen fixing Amish Snap Peas
  • Built a cold frame
  • Built medium and small compost sieve
  • Installed the American Flag

Some Tomatoes Hardening off.

I’m sure I’ve missed a few things, but this is a pretty extensive list of what we have done.  We have flipped the compost a number of times (arguably the most important part of the sustainable garden).

David has checked the rain gauge, I would say on average, four times a day.  Certainly at least four times today.  Just so you know: 2.25 inches of rain is 45 gallons of rain water (for us), and water is necessary for life.  Alright, so is sustenance and food is sustenance, and gardening is food; Keep at it.  Good things will happen.  As always, we’re making moves.

 Do the same!

We are Bridge City Guerrilla Gardens. Let’s bridge the gap between us, our food, and our communities.

We’re keeping track of all that is garden

Peas Growing, with some swiss chard and onions in the background

I Think Elton John Said it Well.

It’s the Circle of Life

I think Elton John said it well when he sang, “It’s the Circle of life, and it moves us all.”  The idea that natural processes are cyclical is very important (relatively speaking, this “circle of life” has been ignored for a historically short time period  i.e. the oil age). In our current peak-oil-blowoff party, I get annoyed when I see someone throwing away a banana peel.  Don’t they know that every nutrient they send away, could have been reintegrated into their environments naturally?   We shouldn’t need nutrients from fossil-fuel fertilizers.  Elton John said it well, but Sir Albert Howard, said it better:

All the phases of the life cycle are closely connected;  all are integral to nature’s activity;  all are equally important; none can be omitted.  We have therefore to study soil fertility in relation to a natural working systems and to adopt methods of investigation in strict relation to such a subject.

We live in an urban environment and we are growing vegetables and plants.  With each tomato we harvest, we are removing nutrients that were once in the soil.  This creates a net loss of nutrients, and makes it necessary for us to facilitate the return of these nutrients.  We have to — maintain the cycle.

So how can this be done?

Just to get an idea what I am talking about, I’ll list some nutrients that should be in our soil and in turn, grow and nurture our plants.  The first three that I will list are macro-nutrients and are used in the largest proportions during plant and fruit growth.  Since the introduction of synthetic fertilizers, especially in the wake of the Second World War, macro-nutrients have been especially emphasized leaving, in the dust, the equally important micro-nutrients.

PRIMARY MACRO-NUTRIENTS

  • Nitrogen, Phosphorous, Potassium

SECONDARY MACRO-NUTRIENTS

  • Calcium, Sulfur, Magnesium

MICRO-NUTRIENTS

  • Boron, Manganese, Zinc, Copper, Iodine, Cobalt, Tin, and Nickel

This means that we will have to find some other way to introduce nutrients back into the soil.  One option, which we have talked about before is composting (decay).  The easiest way, but not the most reliable, is the use of some sort of water-soluble fertilizer.  These will add nutrients, but will do nothing to rebuild the soil, and will may cause some sort of excess  nutrient run-off.  I recommend composting , as it rebuilds the soil, improves soil-water holding capacity, and acts as a nutrient storage center.  Today I’m going to talk, albeit briefly, about the “magic” world of nature, and one way it has solved the problem of nutrient replenishment.  This is just another part of that all important natural working system.

When you have a garden or a farm, it is important not to grow the same crop in the same place year after year.  This will cause a nutrient deficiency, flourishment of pests, and can lead to reduced harvests.  This brings me to the point of this post:  The first law of being a human — Propagate plants with natural abilities that are to your advantage. At Bridge City we are talking about … peas.

Nitrogen-fixating plants take-in inert atmospheric nitrogen and convert it into a bioavailable form that can be used by plants.  In the Bridge City garden we are using leguminous plants to fix atmospheric nitrogen (i.e peas, beans, clovers) which are then added to our compost bins.  Many vegetables deplete the soil of available nitrogen (especially collards, tomatoes, corn, etc.), so by growing and composting legumes we essentially have an edible self-replicating nitrogen biomass accumulator on hand!  At the same time the whole process is solar powered.

There are some other things to keep in mind as well.  First, N-fixing plants need certain types of bacteria in the soil to allow nitrogen fixation to occur, or to meet its full potential.  In some cases, the levels of naturally occurring N-fixing bacteria may be low, thereby limiting the potential growth and N-fixation of leguminous plants.  You can  buy these in a powdery form known as a soil inoculant at your friendly neighborhood K-Mart, where they will be known simply as “Pea and Bean Enhancer.”  (THE SAME THING)  After adding an inoculant to the soil, you should never have to do it again.  The bacteria duplicates exponentially, and should be there waiting for the next pea planting.

Second, the nitrogen collected by the plants will congregate along the roots inside little nodules.  You can actually pull the plant out and see these little tumor-like growths protruding from the roots.  This is one visually stunning example of nature nurturing, and sustaining itself.  These roots can be composted or you can leave them in the soil to decompose, adding nitrogen directly to the soil.

It’s not easy to do everything in a way that is constantly giving back to the soil, and in turn to you.  It was Sir Albert Howard who said, “The whole problem of health, in soil, plant, animal and man is one great subject.”  If you keep that in mind, you can really make a meaningful difference personally, but also, for something more vast.  Just remember that, “Eating is an agricultural act.”  Your decision to grow your own food, to eat from locally supplied sources can really make a difference in the way that food is produced, the way the land is cared for, and, in turn, what we will be leaving for future generations.

We are Bridge City Guerrilla Gardens. Let’s bridge the gap between us, our food, and our communities.

Month in Review: March 2012

The March Garden

It’s been a while since we’ve posted anything, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t been busy!  Quite the opposite actually, and just to prove it to you I’m going to provide a list, and some pictures of what we’ve been doing.  Here we go! (If you can’t tell…I’m pretty excited!!!!)

We:

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The Who? What? Where? When? Why? Plan

Garlic!

When starting a garden, it is a good idea to come up with some sort of plan.  I’ll Call it the “WHO? WHAT? WHERE? WHEN? WHY? plan.”

Who? Well, the answer is simple.  Bridge City Guerrilla gardeners…Well, for me.  This is different for you (obvious).

What?/Where?  This answer is more left up to the individual gardener, and includes a number of variables.  What kind of gardening? (container, in ground, raised bed) What kind of plants? (vegetables, fruits, flowers, combination?)  It can be as easy as find a space, plant seeds, watch them grow, enjoy the bounty of your labor, but a more detailed plan can create a more fruitful experience and a guide for future plantings.

When it comes to the “what?/where?” the plan does not have to be anything too extensive, but should take into account space needed, light needed, what plants grow well together, among other properties.  Depending on your time committment with your garden, it would be a good idea to figure out which plants will introduce fertility that other plants are taking away (i.e Peas and Beans as Nitrogen fixers) and rotate them.  This can help ensure that your plants are spaced properly, growing with other plants they get along with, while maintaining soil fertility–and can save a lot of hassle and disappointment during your growing season.  We put together a planting schedule listing all of our crops, along with a detailed diagram making it easy for us to know what, where and when to plant.  You can check the Bridge City Guerrilla Gardens planting schedule here: Bridge City Guerilla Gardens TW DP Revised (PDF)

When? Having a digital version of your planting schedule is great, but it can be a great motivator to have a journal, keeping track of your progress, or, as we here at Bridge city have, a “desktop calendar motivational journal (dcmj).”  The concept of the dcmj is this:  We transcribed all of the dates from the garden plan, onto the calendar.  Every single day that passes, I take a glance at the  dcmj, and anything that is supposed to be done I try do.  If I don’t do it, I don’t mark it as done until it is completed.  This ensures that everything we want to is completed as the season progresses.  Further, we keep tracks of the ups and downs of the season.  For example, I will mark the dates seeds were planted, and later will mark their germination rate, and duration. Taking a few minutes, or an hour at the beginning of the season can save a lot of time throughout the season and can instill experience that will be useful for years to come.

Why? While individual motivations for starting your very own garden may come from different places, (i.e saving money on organic produce, so you can buy more gasoline to drive your family to Funland Resort Vacatationtown) this is a great start to get your garden on the right track.  Whether you are tired of participating in a broken, unsustainable industrial agricultural system, you just want to get your hands dirty, or you just need a hobby to kill a few hours during the week, BCGG will be here working, and helping you through.

We are Bridge City Guerrilla Gardens. Let’s bridge the gap between us, our food, and our communities.

It’s About That Time.

Starting a garden is not as simple as one might think.  Some plants don’t do so well together, or your location might not get the right amount of light (at least six hours/day).  Your soil might be contaminated.  These are all factors that will have to be taken into account when starting  your own guerrilla garden.  Ey yi yi.  It’s a lot to think about, but it’s not as hard as one might think.

This is the beginning of a series of posts about starting a guerrilla garden.  We started our own and we will have in depth details about our garden in the next couple of days, but until then here is some seed for thought.

First, you should choose your site.  For those without the proper area, for what you want to do, I recommend using Pittsburgh’s Garden Waiver program.  Once you have a site, you’re going to want to find out if the soil is contaminated.  It is not uncommon for soil along busy roads to be contaminated due to the bygone era of leaded gasoline,  from lead based paints, or from Pittsburgh’s tradition of heavy industry.  You can get your soil tested cheaply using the UMass Amherst soil testing, or through Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences.  These tests are very important if you’re going to plant directly in the ground.  That all comes into focus if you look at the “whole problem of health in soil, plant, animal, and man as one great subject.”

Regardless of soil quality, there are more options.  You could build a raised bed and introduce new, uncontaminated soil.  You can get soil delivered by AgRecycle, head to the city compost pile in Wilkinsburg (go north on Coal street off of Penn Ave), or you could just have some container crops.  When you do container planting it is important to take the root structure of the plant into account.  You must plant something that will do well in  a smaller setting.  For instance, you may have to choose a determinate tomato, as opposed to an indeterminate.  Again, a couple of great places to look for some heirloom varieties of seeds include:  The Seed Savers ExchangeJohnny’s Selected Seeds, and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.  These websites, and or catalogs will have detailed descriptions of the fruit, and considering the extensive variety you should have no trouble finding your ideal cultivar.  You can also get seedlings through Grow Pittsburgh, Blackberry Meadows Farm, The Home Depot, or your local nursery.

Just to put this into perspective, we must:

1. Find  a site that receives at least  6 hours of direct sunlight.

2. What kind of garden will I have? (i.e. ground, raised bed, container)

3. What am I going to plant?

This is just a quick overview of getting started.  We have a tomato planting post that you should check out, and included in the post are some important dates for PITTSBURGH gardening.  I hope you found this helpful, and we’ll have more posts in the coming days, and weeks.

The beginning

We are Bridge City Guerrilla Gardens. Let’s bridge the gap between us, our food, and our communities.

There’s More Than Ten Ways to Skin a Cat

No cats were harmed in the making of this post.

There’s more than one way to skin a cat: That’s what they say.  Who says that?  I don’t really know.  Why would they say that?…Ey yi yi…Nonetheless it is true.  You could skin a cat in multiple ways.  Just like you can skin a cat in many different ways, you can make a rain barrel in many ways.  I’m going to tell you how I did it, and I hope this will show you that its not too hard, and or expensive to make your very own rain barrel.

First, I had to decide what was going to be the barrel part of my rain barrel.  I searched on craigslist and  found some at Salonika Imports, in Lawrenceville, for $20.  If you are willing, and have the ability to travel you can probably find them somewhere a little cheaper.

Next, I took a trip to my friendly, neighborhood Home Depot.    I needed a spigot (AKA hose bib, faucet), something to filter the water coming out of a downspout, and something to control overflow if the barrel was ever filled.

The hose bib was easy, and I chose a brass version with a half-inch thread to be connected to the barrel.  To connect the bib to the barrel I bought a half-inch faucet rosette washer and nut, which comes in a set.  It can be found in the plumbing section.

For the overflow, instead of using the threaded hose sized connector, I bought a half-inch brass hose barb.  I did this because I had trouble finding a short hose with a connector on each end, which I could direct overflow into another barrel.  The brass hose barb allows me to buy, a fairly cheap hose, which I can cut to any length I want.  I installed two of these on the rain barrel, and I used the same faucet rosette, washer and nut set to connect these to the barrel.

Lastly for the filter for the rainwater, I decided to buy an aluminum screen.  I used a six inch hole saw and cut the hole in the lid.  I fastened the screen to the lid using 3/8 inch machine screws, a one inch washer, and a nut.

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Let’s Get Started: It’s Never Too Early.

It’s winter.  It’s finally getting cold, although it took a long time. Right now might not seem like the best time to talk about gardening, and all of the activities that go along with it, but right now is not a bad time to start thinking about your summer harvest.  You may be thinking, “You’re out of control Todd.”  But let’s think about this.  We all want beautiful tasty tomatoes, but what kind? When do I put them in the ground?  Where do I get them?

Ok. Ok.  Dizzying…Right?

I am going to use the tomato as an example, but you should do this same type of research for whatever you’re planting.  Ask yourself:

What kind of space do I have?  What would thrive in that space? Where am I? How did I get here? How did this happen?  Some of those questions might be a little irrelevant, but you get the idea.

Tomato plants are either determinant or indeterminate.  Determinate tomatoes are typically smaller plants, which will bear their fruits all at once.  These are great for a patio or a container and may require no staking to maintain their stability.  They have low maintainance in terms of pruning, but they have shorter production seasons.  The best tasting tomatoes are usually indeterminate, but they will require some more space, and care.  Also, indeterminates will produce until they are killed by the first frost.

  • Indeterminate or determinate???  

After you find what type of tomato plant is ideal for your setting, the next step is to find an individual tomato that fits characteristics that you desire.  A couple of great places to look for some heirloom varieties of seeds include:  The Seed Savers Exchange, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.  These websites, and or catalogs will have detailed descriptions of the fruit, and considering the extensive variety you should have no trouble finding your ideal tomato.  You can also go to the Home Depot, and get some seeds there, but watch out for hybrids.  These plants may be appealing, but these plants cannot be bred true (or, in other words, would create deformed babies).  By choosing an open-pollinated heirloom variety you will be able to get a predictable and true second generation seed.

The Mortgage Lifter, Cherokee Purple, or the notorious Brandywine?

Well, everybody loves tomatoes, so I thought it would be a great place to start.

Just so you know, tomatoes can go in the ground after the last frost.  For us, Pittsburgh, that is about May 15th.  For the 2011 growing season, I got my tomatoes in late and experienced a shortened growing season.  So, if you’re thinking about starting seedlings indoors, up to eight weeks before the last frost and as late as sometime between April 7th and the 20th would be just fine, and any time after the last frost, and before June 1st would be great to get them in the ground.

As soon as I can, I’ll put a short post about growing your seedlings indoors.  I did it last year, having no idea what I was doing and it worked out just fine.  Here is a fairly comprehensive planting guide.

Just as a quick recap:

  • START TOMATO SEEDS INDOORS  4 to 8 weeks before the last frost –  March 20th –> April 17thish
  • GET TOMATOES OUTSIDE                        Any time after the last frost      –  May 15th –> June 1st
  • ENJOY YOUR TOMATOES                                    When ripe

Ok everyone, mark your calendars!

We are Bridge City Guerrilla Gardens. Let’s bridge the gap between us, our food, and our communities.

In the coming 2 months, I will be out of town, and out of service.  Bridge City Guerrilla Gardens will be back in full force by the end of February.  THANK YOU.

Some Thoughts on Agriculture and Energy Use.

It all started out as organic agriculture. It’s funny to think that all people, at the outset of modernish agricultural practices, had no choice but to eat organic. Those elitist bastards. When I say “modernish,” and I’ll briefly make that a key term in my wrtiting, I mean post-hunter/gatherer but not yet fossil-fuel guzzling, synthetic fertilizer using, pesticide spraying, globalized shipping agriculturalists.

So, humans evolved, and in doing so they were able to harness more energy and, in turn, use more energy. It has been proposed that humans evolved in three main stages: 1. Savagery, which included Hunter/gatherers living on wild foods. 2. Barbarism, which included modernish agriculture and pastoral societes; and finally 3. Civilization, which is generally characterized by the development of intensive agriculture.  An interesting point is that “civilization” was really the first stage of human evolution that saw a surplus of energy above and beyond humans basic needs. For instance, during the prehistoric stage of “savagery” about 95% of the total amount of energy expended was used for food (e.g. hunting, gathering, transporting, preparing, and consuming). I guess the other five percent was probably used for reproduction, and possibly breathing.  I wouldn’t go quoting those latter statistics though. Well, I would, but you shouldn’t. They might be unreliable.

By contrast, many developed countries devote 15% to 30% of their energy to food production, and a very small amount of this is human energy. Just to put this into a bit of perspective, I will give you a little bit of information about “human energy” in contrast to fossil fuel based mechanical energy. In describing energy history, J.R. McNeil in Something New Under the Sun: An Environmental History of the Twentieth-Century World described that, “the Ming Emperors and Egyptian pharaohs had no more power available to them than does a single modern bulldozer operator or tank captain.” With a shift away from fossil-fuel use, what would that mean for society as a whole? I’m sure that modern tractors use more energy than we (society as a whole) would like to exert. I’m not speaking for me here, not at all (well, maybe a little), but for all those people out there, whose idea of exercise happens with their eyes fixated on a screen, and their thumbs moving at rapid speeds….Uh oh. I hate video games. I’ll admit it. Whatever. Just sayin’

Back to organic agriculture. How things have changed. Organic and local now has the stink of elitism (or at least a higher price tag). How did we get from doing something out of necessity, to a point where the same general concept becomes a luxury of the more well off ? There are a lot of ideas here: technology, government policy, extremely cheap fossil fuels, corporate greed, etc. With the industrial agriculture of today it may seem to many that farming on a smaller scale, with care for the land, has become a “bygone way of life with no importance except for history.”  Is this going to change? I think so. Maybe not tomorrow, but a system so entirely dependent on an input that could be depleted entirely, deserves our attention.

It demands our attention before we wake up with an emergency on our hands.

We are Bridge City Guerrilla Gardens. Let’s bridge the gap between us, our food, and our communities.