Embrace your weirdness and Adopt-A-Lot

I am an artist, and my medium is nature.  I see vacant city lots as empty canvases for expression. Recently, I signed an Adopt-A-Lot lease with the City of Pittsburgh to take care of a vacant lot in the Hazelwood neighborhood. Hazelwood appeals to me because it’s urban yet woodsy, not far from my home, and at one time was the epicenter of Hungarian culture for immigrants like me in Pittsburgh.

When I share my dreams and aspirations for this lot with others, I either get encouragement from those who get it, or puzzled looks of “why?”  Sometimes my plans are even met with well-intended, unsolicited advice such as, “Do me a favor and don’t get shot.”

Embrace your weirdness is my motto. When you learn to do that, you learn to put aside the doubters, and instead feed your soul through mindful and meaningful explorations that meet your definition of “normal” and not of someone else’s. Those who get it, or are engaged in a similar journey of their own, will believe in you, encourage you and will be encouraged by your journey.

The Adopt-a-lot application process, including the negotiation and signing of the insurance contract, has taken just under a year. The first hurdle was insurance; most insurance companies were hesitant to sign on to covering a city-owned lot that is managed by an individual or non-profit group. While the City of Pittsburgh and the insurance agent I finally found have been great to work with, the insurers themselves were at times were doubters, but were eventually willing to go along with my vision. The old adage “persistence pays off” rings true to me: since I began this quest, the initial offer to insure the lot went from $860 to $150 a year and it is now available to others as well.  When more people sign up, the plan gets cheaper.  I believe as more people embark on this journey to adopt lots, the easier the process will become.

Having gone through this process as a private resident, I am very honored to have been asked to join a panel of presenters at an upcoming GTech Blight Bootcamp on October 9, 2016.

Stay tuned for developments…

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Beady Mushroom Eyes

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Shortly after removing the toilet paper rolls from the refrigerator, the little beady eyes begun growing in every side possible, even from under the plate.

Unfortunately, having assumed that all mushrooms loved shade, I kept these guys in the darkest spot of the kitchen I could find. As the weeks went on, the the oyster mushroom’s neck kept getting longer and longer, their cap never getting too much bigger then what you see in the photo. Eventually I reached out to the kind owners of FieldForest.net who explained that unlike many other mushrooms, oysters prefer lots of sunlight and their neck will grow long and skinny when searching for light. While these mushrooms never fully recovered after moving them to a sunnier spot, the experiment was sure fun and will definitely be repeated at some point.

 

Mycelium Tee Pee

 

As soon as I got the oyster mushroom spawn filled toilet papers home, I put them in dark closet in my kitchen as instructed in step 5, Place this bag in a dark closet at 70 degrees where it will become covered in mycelium.

Three weeks have passed and here are the results.IMG_1794

So far so good, the toilet paper is still recognizable, but things are progressing.

IMG_1796Step 7. Place the bag in the refrigerator for 3 days.
Following their 3 week stint in the dark, the result of which you can see above, it was time to move the rolls the refrigerator for a three day cold treatment.

Next up, moving on to step 8 – Remove bag from refrigerator and open the top of bag to breathe.

Mushrooms on Toilet Paper

A long overdue item on by bucket list has been to try growing mushrooms. The kits you purchase from a store are always fun, but I wanted to see how those are made. When the opportunity came to organize a mushroom growing demo event for the Penn State Master Gardeners of Allegheny County, I figured this was my chance.

I reached out to Betty Robinson of Robinson Acres, a Washington County Master Gardener and on March 19, 2016 she came to our Pittsburgh office to teach about 25 attendees just how simple it can be to grow your own mushroom on your very own toilet paper. Apparently you can even reuse them to continue to grow your own using re inoculated toilet paper or other growing medium. The oyster mushroom spawns came from FieldForest.net.

I am off to step 5 below. Next up, lets see how it goes, I will be posting pictures for every step along the way.

Instructions

  1. Bring water to a boil and dip a roll of toilet paper into the hot water, remove and place on paper plates.
  2. Once it cools, place the plate and toilet paper in the breathable bag.
  3. Fill the toilet roll tube with mushroom spawn and sprinkle remaining spawn around the roll.
  4. Close the bag and secure it with a rubber band.
  5. Place this bag in a dark closet at 70 degrees. If the storage temperature is cooler, it will take longer for the toilet paper to become covered in mycleium.
  6. Wait 3 weeks, maybe 4, until you see a nice covering of mycelium over the entire roll.
  7. Place the bag in the refrigerator for 3 days.
  8. Remove bag from refrigerator and open the top of bag to breathe, do not fold down to help keep the moisture in.
  9. Wait 7-10 days for the mushrooms to sprout. Keep the roll moist by misting it twice a day. If it becomes leathery looking, mist more often.
  10. Mushrooms will sprout in a little over a week.

Rain Gardens to the Rescue – Longview Acres Garden Club

I was honored to have been invited to talk about rain gardens at the January 2016 monthly meeting of the Longview Acres Garden Club of North Hills, PA. Bill Goff, a fellow Master Gardener and a member of the club was quick to spread the word following my recent presentations at Trax Farms and Soergels.

I try to tailor my presentations to each audience by tying in examples of local rain gardens or similar initiatives that may already be underway in the area. Doing so helps to engage the audience, improves participation and simply improves the value to of the topic to the attendees themselves. In this case, the local McCandless Town Hall had just implemented their own rain garden to improve their stormwater management and it was the perfect opportunity to show case.

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I much enjoyed meeting and interacting with the club members and thank you for having me. The details of my next talk on May 2, 2016 for the Men’s Garden Club of Pittsburgh is being worked out and will be posted in time.

Learning about Natives and Rain Gardens

During my Penn State Master Gardener training, my fellow trainees and I had the opportunity to participate a variety of group projects.  Our assignments included working with Burgh Bees on establishing a pollinator friendly garden on their site in Homewood, learning about and installing a native plant garden at Point State Park in downtown Pittsburgh, and learning about and delivering presentations about designing, installing and painting rain gardens and how they contribute to stormwater management.

The project I really wanted to be on was learning about an planting a Western Pennsylvanian native plant garden at Point State. My secondary choice, which I got to work on was rain gardens and storm water management. Luckily, rain gardens are most often planted with native plants as they are more adopted to fluctuations in wet and dry periods.

Over the next few months in addition to our standard weekly classes, the project course work focused on the following four general topics:

  • Green Solutions to Stormwater Impacts in Our Communities
  • Capturing Rain Where it Falls: Designing Rain Gardens
  • Planting a Rain Garden
  • Capturing Rainfall: Installing and Using Rain Barrels

I was hooked. The way I looked at it, this was the combination of the best of two worlds. I learned about rain gardens and how they fit into overall storm water management practices, as well as native plants and to use them in an urban garden setting. While rain gardens using native plants provide double the benefits, one could always plant their gardens by incorporating natives and still get the benefits of attracting and supporting pollinators, including bees and butterflies in their garden.

In return for an in-depth learning experience, our group delivered presentations on these topics to the general public at two local farms. It felt great to educate and empower others regarding the power rain gardens and native plants came make in their own backyards and communities. Following these presentations, I received a number of follow-up invites by local garden clubs to present for them as well. I will share some of those engagements soon.

Native Plant & Sustainability Conference 2015

PhippsNativePlantsConf2015

This mid-November, I went to Phipps Conservatory‘s annual Native Plant and Sustainability Conference which brings national experts to Pittsburgh annually for a one-day forum on plants, landscapes and our roles as stewards of the earth. It was most definitely a worthwhile conference, at least three great books worth.

Three of my favorite topics and presenters included…

Ian Caton, the owner and operator of Enchanters Garden, a nursery specializing in native plants of the Appalachian region provided a great presentation on native plants. He provided some great examples of how we can layer plants to not only create fuller effect eliminate need for the use of invasive ground covers such as ivy or the frequently overused mulch.  and how we can fit the into our urban landscapes

Nette Compton, associate director of city park development for the Trust for Public Land in New York provided a great examples of New York’s red-development efforts of public lands. The favorite takeaway was the presentation on sidewalk bioswales of rain-water management.

Last but not least, Pittsburgh Parks and Conservancy gave great overview and update not the Panther Hollow Watershed restoration project. Its fascinating project using green infrastructure to manage stormwater runoff.

The Beginning

Having just completed the Penn State Master Gardener Program during the summer of 2015, I wanted to find a plot of land where I could engage in and deep dive into the experimental design of nature in an urban setting.

On the one hand, I wanted expand beyond my current 4’ x 8’ vegetable garden at my home and on the other, I became highly engaged in learning about rain gardens and designing gardens with a focus on native pollinator friendly plants. I wanted to find a lot, an empty canvas so to speak with which I could connect and grow together.

The search for a plot of land begins.

Grounded Life, Grounded World

Being grounded means something different to everyone. To me its being aware of what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and what draws you in. And doing it; rather than making it wait for retirement. It is letting it emerge and thrive as part of you, as a fully valid part of your daily life. Like all things in life, this too requires planning, persistence and support from those who get you and love you. This is the site for my grounded world. Passions, hobbies and tinkering.