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I've decided to conduct some interviews with some locals doing cool projects that I think would be beneficial and interesting for other members to know about. I want to shine the spotlight on people, showing off what they care about and what they've been up to.

If you're interested in being interviewed by me and sharing what you're working on for all to see please do not hesitate to message or email me, I'd love to hear about what you've been working on!

I've decided to kick off the first of what I hope will be many more interview style articles to come with a peek into the busy life of Jeff Newman. Enjoy!


Name: Jeff N., Favorite Edible Plant: Raspberries, Favorite Flower: Purple Cone Flower (yea, it’s native)


What do you do for a living?

I do a bunch of things…I try to make compost, I do property maintenance work and I own three small businesses.  Two of them are compost related (Steel City Soils and root juice) and the Peddlin’ Company- it’s a startup business that’s trying to do bike trailer food vending.  We’re making gourmet pierogies and selling them out of a bike trailer on Carson Street.

What are you passionate about?

Trying to do positive things, trying to stay on the positive side of things and really just to try and make my day to day work honorable in some way and working for the good of things instead of against it. And soil. Soil has been the practical expression of that passion.

What projects are you currently working on?

Well, my businesses.  Steel City Soils has been working on converting food waste into probiotic liquid cultures, or A.A.C.T., which means actively aerated compost tea!  So our project is the application of those teas and tracking the effect of them. We’re trying to show you can decrease diseases in soil that would lead to diseases in plants. If we can introduce more biodiversity in the soil system then we can stabilize the system and help promote immunity to pathogens.  Healthy soil is alive. With that increase in microbes you get an increase in root penetration- building a stronger root system helps the soil to retain more moisture-.

How did you get interested in/started with your project/s?

Basically I was thinking about how could I start a fifty-year business. I wanted my business to last fifty years, so I started looking at trends and I saw that organic soils are going to become increasingly more valuable and need to be worked on. So I decided to apply my energy to cultivating food-producing organic soils in our region, using nutrients that would otherwise be wasted.

How do you foresee it developing in the next six months to a year? What would you like to see happen?

Hopefully we will be able to launch the tea business, Root Juice Spray Service and be able to do applications in peoples gardens within the next sixth months to a year. 

Have you run into any obstacles in your time working on this project?

Yea. One of the biggest things is just the stigma of “waste” in general in today’s society.  Once it’s out of peoples’ hands they forget about what happens to it.  We’re trying to get people to think about what happens to their waste once it is picked up by someone else and to feel responsible for that.  Making things profitable is difficult as well. It’s easy to come up with ideas about being sustainable.  I guess the next step is taking my ideas and making them into practical, workable projects.

Is there room for other people to participate in this with you and to what extent?

Yea, definitely, they can check out Pittsburgh Garden Experiment, which is a project of ours, to network.  As far as food waste goes, I would encourage people to compost themselves or to patronize places that practice composting.  For example, the Quiet Storm Café, E-squared and the East End Food Co-op all compost.

I’m also planning on giving a lecture on August 29th at Cedars Hospice in Monroeville. (

I’d also like to try and get together a potluck to talk with other PGE members about what they’ve been doing. (

Steel City Soils is also working on trying to organize our third annual Harvest After Party again sometime in late October.  Just coming out and being involved in generating ideas and networks of people that care about growing is a wonderful way to support each other.

 If members were interested in offering you assistance and/or connecting with you over what you’re doing, where can they reach you?

They can contact [email protected] with any inquiries or call our number 412-254-DIRT and of course just keep an eye out on the PGE board and our meet up so they can participate in events! 


I am writing today to share my experiences of turning grass sod into garden beds.  Over about 25 backyard projects, I have refined my process to be practical, organic, and cheap.  Here's a quick description.  Hope you enjoy.

1.  Survey the situation - check out the lay of the land. 

Dig a hole.  Look at the soil horizons and see how much organic soil exists on the top before the first layer of subsoil.  Garden beds should have a minumum of 6", but 8" is better if you are growing vegetables.  Topsoil is alive.  In other words, you need to get the correct amount air, water, wildlife and slow releasing minerals (organic material and a small amount of trace minerals) 6-8" down into your garden.

Visualize the waterflow on your topography. Create your beds on contour.  Mulch in the pathways and the beds to hold more water in your garden.  Make the water crawl.  Plant accordingly.

Track the path of the sun in summer and winter.  You will want 6-8 hours of sun minumum.  An easy way to do this is to stand on your site and look up.  The fraction of blue 'sky' you can see above buildings and trees will determine your sun exposure.  Plant accordingly.

2.  Kill the grass sod

You can accomplish this by digging or by mulching.  Digging is more work but looks better and gets faster results.  Mulching or sheet-mulching is recommended either way, but can be used to kill grass more slowly.  In both cases, loosen the subsoil by tilling or aerating with a tine fork.

Digging:  There's a dilemma when digging out grass sod.  In most situations your best topsoil is in the roots of the grass.  So you want to effectively remove the grass, but keep as much soil as you can.  I use a straight bladed edging shovel.  I edge the beds then chop the grass sod into bricks.  Then I toss the bricks into a cart and transport them to a pile.  Pile them upside down to kill the grass.  Let it sit for a year.  Add back to the beds next year.

Mulching:  Mulching to kill grass should be at least 6" deep.  You can use any combination of cardboard, paper, sticks, straw, woodchips, food waste, compost, manure.  You are pretty much going to create a layered compost pile. 

At my house, I created my beds by edging them, then piling food waste and covered with straw and a few buckets of compost per bed.  Then I planted potatoes in all the beds and kept mulching with straw.  The first year, I killed all the grass and harvested about 30 lbs of potatoes.  Other vegetables did not perform well in the first year, but they grew ok, and in the second year, I have great soil quality and depth.

3.  Use the Magic Formula:  Compost, Mulch, and Compost Tea

Ok, this is an attempt to change the way you think about your garden.  Your soil is a stomach made up of a city of microbes and fungus, worms, birds, plants, and bugs.  The plants that grow best will be fed the minerals that the soil digests through natural processes.

So what's my point?  In your garden beds, feed the soil, not the plants.  Depending on the types of plants you grow, you want to create a soil food web that supports the microbes which most effectivley feed your plants.  This strengthens the immunity and digestion of your garden soil.

Compost is the pro-biotic yogurt for your soil.  Biodiversity is the key.  Find and add composts to your soil that smell good and have a variety of sources.  Mix compost into the first few inches and everywhere in your sheet mulching.  Be careful to not get manures and composts from questionable sources. Bad composts can spread diseases.  This is usually a question of aeration.

Mulch is added on top of the soil.  Sheet mulches are layered messes of different organic ingredients.  Plant roots should be in soil and mulches should only be added to the top.  If you add undigested material into the root-zone, the energy will be used to digest the material and not to feed the plants in the short-term.

More woody soils will support more fungi and more periennial plants.  For annuals, don't use woody inputs.  For plants like broccoli, beans and corn; you want to foster bacterial populations with additions like compost, fresh perennial stalks and food waste are useful.   For trees, a woody combination will feed healthy fungal, arthropods and worm populations.

My favorite sheet mulch is cardboard on top of the grass, some sticks which sit up off the ground a little bit, raw food waste, compost, straw and a top layer of either soil or mulch depending or annual or perennials respectively.  Let that sit for 6 months to a year then scrape off the mulch where you want to plant your perennials or plant annuals directly into the soil and mulch around them.

Compost Tea is an aerated brew, in which it is possible to cultivate a diverse array of microbes.  This is a subject all its own, but you can use a small amount of good compost, a bubbler, sugars and micronutrients.  Brew time is 12-36hours.  At the end of the cycle, add mycorhizzal spores (customized for the crop) and bacterial innoculants.  Good tea can be diluted and added as a soil drench.  I don't recommend using compost tea as a foliar spray unless it is microscope tested.

In summary I talked about 3 main points:  observation, lawn removal, and the magic formula (compost, mulch, compost tea).  The best results I've gotten have been in 2-3 years.  In general you want to add as much aerated organic material as possible.  The ratio of woody to green material is similar to a compost pile and specific to the type of plant you eventually want to grow on that spot.  Selectively weed out plants you don't want, and continue to improve the soil by adding compost, mulch and compost tea to the top.  Make sure your soil is aerated, and you will have beautiful beds to plant in one season.

Thanks for reading :)

Blackberry Meadows and Fireman have joined together and posted on Kickstarter a worthwhile project the aims to save last foods of our region.  the Pittsburgh Garden Experiment community can help in this mission.  Please watch the video and chip in if you can- you will be rewarded with seeds and support.

I don't like to use the term "spring cleaning." If I am running my homestead in an organized and efficient manner, i.e. following a routine then I don't need to "spring clean" because my house and land would ostensibly always be (at least somewhat - owing to the fact that I have children) clean.

However, I have only been running this homestead for a year.  My family has lived here since Spring of 2003, but my ex, (an extreme control freak) was quite the pack rat.  I wouldn't mind this so much as someone who values reuse over recycling, but he didn't do much reusing, only dumping reusable stuff on the property but never really doing anything with it.

So finally after 2 years of being split up and getting my head together enough to really make a go at my land, I ordered a dumpster from ABC-EZ Containers. (10 yard) I can finally make this place somewhat presentable and put whatever reusable found items to reuse and clear the trash, debris and useless ephemera from my failed relationship.  

My family can move on and we can turn our little corner of Penn Hills into a slice of heaven as opposed to the personal level of hell it had been.

Feel free to stop by and peruse the dumpster and see if there's anything in it you can reuse.  It'll be in our driveway until 4/1.




Wed., March 23rd - Troy Hottle will be teaching a two-hour class, "Garden Ponds in Permaculture Systems" at Phipps Garden Center in Mellon Park. Cost: $30

Call 412/441-4442 x3295 to register

Learn everything there is to know in order to build your own backyard pond! This course will cover the benefits of having a pond, considerations for locating a pond, as well as the basics of pond construction. In addition, you will learn about how to integrate the pond into your existing backyard habitats and how to create a diverse pond ecosystem in order to maintain your pond's health without the use of pumps or filters.

Hey Pittsburgh!

I'm still working on my place thirty miles down the big brown Ohio River, and this time of year is all about the Maples, sugar maples preferably, a.k.a. Acer saccarum I do believe.

It's cold here this morning with my thermometer recording a low of -8 degrees @ 7a.m., but work continues out in the snow in the forest.  This year I'll be tapping around 100 Maples, and hoping to cook down 1,000 or so gallons of sap into 25 or so gallons of pure natural maple syrup.

For the first time this year, I'll be using a tubing system to gravity feed my sap to my wood fired homemade cook stove in my greenhouse/sugar shack, experimenting with heating greenhouse growing beds while cooking down sap.

This year I'll also be offering on a limited basis small bottles of "herbed syrups", using maple syrup as a base for extracting flavors and qualities of a handful of native herbs.

Check out some videos from my place and hit me as a friend on facebook to get current links, pictures, and videos from my efforts and work with the land.

Take care, and stay warm!

Isaac Wiegmann aka Wiggy @ Next Seven Farm

This cold weather was making me think about a small shelter called a 'debris hut' which can be created out of dry material in a few hours in a woodland setting. 

Debris huts are like tents made out of natural woodland materials.

Basically, you build a frame and ribs from a central pole.  Then you pile on the leaves and other woodland debris 2-3' deep to create an insulated space to spend a night or three.

This website has a quick and simple description with pictures.  Check it out:  Debris Hut Construction

Here's a video I found from a blog that I subscribe to called Doug's Green Garden Blog.  It's very resourceful on plant and gardening info.

The video helps describe briefly how to prune your zone 1-2 perennial beds.


Hey there gardeners,


 I hope everyone’s growing season is going fantastic! If you find yourself with excess produce that is going to waist please keep the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank in mind and help feed the hungry with your surplus of produce.


The Food Bank is participating in Plant a Row for the Hungry (PAR), a public service campaign of the Garden Writers Association of America (GWAA). PAR is a way for gardeners to help the community and fight hunger. Gardeners can grow extra specifically for the program or they may collect excess produce to donate. The Food Bank will connect the gardener to a local pantry or soup kitchen so they may drop off their donation at their convenience, as well as receipts. The gardener is to fill out the receipts with their name, the date, the agency they have dropped off to and the pounds that are being donated (this can be estimated), and mail or fax the receipts back to the Food Bank. The food bank will keep track of the pounds donated in order to measure the success of the program.


A gardener may also check out, a website that connects gardeners to food pantries near them. It is very user friendly for both the gardener and the food pantry. All the food pantry needs to do is register on the website, the gardeners can then enter their address and or zip code and the closest pantry to them will be shown via map and listing. There are currently 2,155 food pantries listed on nation wide.


If there are no pantries listed near you the Food Bank is happy to help! If you choose to find a pantry through, please still contact the Food Bank for receipts in order to participate in the program. 


For more information on how to be involved please contact Michelle Herrle at the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank [email protected]  412-460-3663 X. 214   

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