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Hey All,

In a different post, Hugelkultur for Urban Conditions, I asked Wiggy if we could use Japanese Knotweed stalks to create a raised bed.  I thought his response deserved it's own post.  Here goes:


****Wiggy's Response on 07/31/09  ******

Yes, Jap. Knotweed (Fallopia japonica, Polygonum cuspidatum, Reynoutria japonica) seems an ideal species for building up soil.  It's listed in the worst 100 invasives list, but is really an underappreciated and under utilized plant. 

After studying invasives in school, and observing them daily with a permaculture mindset, I want to let everyone know invasives are not going to go back to where they came from, they've naturalized so well they can outcompete most native plants. Humans did this, Knotweed seed pods and branches were great packaging material for Asian markets. As soon as we put the first crate full of goods from Asia on a train we started planting knotweed in it's prefered riprarian habitat ( railroad cooridors). 

This plant is tough, growing in a wide range of soil PH's, and very salted soils, knotweed's roots can spread 32ft horizontally and 9ft deep from a single seed (goodluck digging it out), not to mention being capable of resprouting from a little bit of root cutting. I'd imagine the seed germinates amazing well with the smallest amount of soil and moisture.

The problem is the solution however, and our opinion of invasives is all about perspective.  The plant is a commercial source for resveratrol supplements, Hu Zhang root extract is a traditional Chinese medicinal treatment, along with being a source of emodin (a bowel movement regulator). The young spring stems pealed of leaves are a choice edible with a flavor like rhubarb, and I'm sure livestock would have no problem consuming the entire plant. Interesting also is it's potential as a good honeybee plant, being in the same family as buckwheat, it's flowers produce a nectar that bee's convert into a high quality monofloral honey.

The fast seasonal growth, hollow stem structure, and light woody texture make it ideal for composting, growing mushrooms, or launching diverse soil biology. Caution should be used to eliminate mature seeds before using it in composting or mulching applications, roots should also stay out of the beds and compost piles as they quickly resprout.

The method of control or elimination used by our lovely government agencies is the widespread spraying of heavy duty herbicide poisons (great for our drinking water and native plants).  We can either utilize knotweed positively, or waste lots of energy and money poisoning ourselves and what seems to be a very useful food, medicine, and mulch plant.

The future potential for utilizing this "Nasty Invasive" is unlimited and well suited to urban environments. I see future farmers using it as a keystone species in mushroom and composting operations, livestock forages, bee forages, and edible greens, along with it's current commercial use as a source of medicinal compounds.

Be creative and remember the problem is the solution.....and may feed many hungry mouths in Pittsburgh's future.


Here's a great website by West Virginia University.

WVU Kearneysville - Tree Fruit Research and Education Center


I used this article and some pictures from the website to diagnose a fungal infection on a Plum Tree.

Diagnostic Keys to Major Fruit Tree Disease

Index of Fruit Disease - Photographs and More

A friend used my place and myself for a video project he needed for school, and it's now posted on youtube.  The video was filmed spring and summer 2008, and I'm still making progress and able to live a frugal existance on land, but not yet totally from it food wise.  It's been an uphill battle with limited funds, friends, and interest, but I do love being the 7th generation to garden in the hollow.

Check out the video @ youtube - Wiggi's Greenhouse


I tried to keep track of the plants that were identified as edible, medicinal and useful during our walk through the woods at Polish Hill Rec Center last week.  Here is the list, and it includes 30 different varieties including trees, vines, shrubs and herbaceous perennials.  When I get a chance I will rewrite the list with the botanic names and potential uses.

Crab apple, black berry, honeysuckle, sumac, wild cherry, cataylpa, wild black cherry, burdock, knotweed, dandelion, wild carrot, wild rose, water cress, coltsfoot, serviceberry, elderberry, oaks, sugar maples, hawthornes, poke weed, grapes, mulberry, yellow dock, black locust, prickly lettuce, mullien, bouncing bette, wood sorrel, iron weed, and many more.

From the intro to a 1963 shrub I.D. book - "This is the land free, to be used for joy and gladness, for freedom of the body and the mind.  There is no bit of land so poor that discovery can be denied to those who seek it." - George W.D. Symonds

I agree

Hello Everybody,

After touring the Polish Hill Wilds and seeing the oppurtunities that exist for the urban gardener or designer I want to give a brief description of making and using a hugelkultur raised bed.

The basic idea is a deep layered bed composed of mostly woody debris, topped off with great stuff like leaves, straw, woodchips, manure, and or compost and soil.

With the abundance of nonpervious surfaces like concrete and asphalt, as well as invasive and spreading plants such as certain vines, knotweeds, and tree of heaven throughout urban environments, hugelkultur beds can turn problems into solutions.

A hugelkultur bed can be built on top of bare ground, concrete, gravel, or just about any other surface formidable to traditional gardening.

A hugelkultur bed can also make use of the abundant and under utilized invasive species, using them as the main ingredient in building rich fertile soil. These beds are basically a big rough compost pile topped with a medium to plant into.

The Process

Step 1:  Gather course woody debris like rotting logs, branches, twigs, and brush.  Apply these as the base layer of your future garden.  They take a long time to decompose, but are great for building complex soil biology, and do a great job of holding moisture on nonpervious surfaces.

Step 2: Gather and Apply a layer of finer organic material to fill in the spaces and gaps in the coarser materials.  This is where leaves, vines, straw, woodchips, and hay come into play.

*Optional* Add a layer of mulch innoculated with gourmet mushrooms...oysters are a good choice.

Step 3: Apply a couple inch thick layer of topsoil, compost, and or manure to create a nice planting medium, and top off/cover over the debris to aid decomposition.

*Optional* Topdress bed with mycoryhzal fungus innoculum...this aids plants in nutrient absorbtion and promotes extensive and healthy root systems.

Step 4: Seed and or transplant as usual, water heavily at first to speed decomposition, liming may be nessesary as woody material tends to be on the acidic side.


The hugelkultur bed tends to be somewhat disorderly and upon completing construction they should be relatively huge and bulky, up to 2 or 3ft tall.  As time passes the bed will settle and the once hard woody tissues will be converted into a rich dark humus that vegetables love.

Hope this sparks some urban creativity


created at: 2009-07-08

Polish Hill Work Group will be meetingat the Polish Hill Rec Center on July 16th, 6:45 pm.  Here's the tentative schedule.


Wild Food Walk

We'll be taking a wild food walk around the park. A few "experts" will be helping out.  If you have a guide or some good knowledge, bring them to the event!  Eat Wild Plants at Your Own Risk!

Seed Balls

We'll be making few seed balls for everyone to take home.  Please bring seeds (flowers, perennials, trees, veggies), compost, or dry clay if you have it.


At the end of each meeting, we take time to discuss what everyone's working on.  This is the time to show drawings and pictures of your permaculture projects for some creative feedback.


Thanks for your support! This group is going to get great things done!







Making compost tea and the whole composting process is about adding the right biology to your soil.  To keep your microbes alive, you should actively aerate your tea and use it within a few hours of brewing.

Here's a good video that explains compost tea's role in the soil web.  These guys host a garden radio show in Texas.

Bruce Deuley & Bob Webster - Compost Tea Seminar Video


This Video is a little boring, but it's a really good introduction to the soil food web.

Advanced Organic Class - Green World Path, Florida

From weekend classes to graduate degrees to listening to the radio, opportunities abound to learn about gardening in Pittsburgh:

Burgh Bees

Chatham University - Offering graduate degrees in Landscape Architecture and Landscape Studies.

Friends of the Pittsburgh Urban Forest: Tree Tenders

The Organic Gardeners - A local radio show broadcasting Sunday mornings 7-8 am on KDKA News Talk 1020 AM. Their website hosts a lively garden forum.

Penn State Cooperative Extension, Allegheny County

Phipps Conservatory: Classes & Programs


Have other resource ideas to share? Send me a note. I'll be adding to this list.


I'm very excited that PGE is hosting a PERMACULTURE WORK GROUP

The first installment will be a lecture by local experts from Octopus Organic Gardening and Pittsburgh Permaculture.  They will give a brief overview of Permaculture Techniques and their applications.

We are hoping to turn this into a regular series of events where we can get together and get some hands-on practice.


Big Thanks to the West Penn Rec Center in Polish Hill to letting us use the class space.  Good space is hard to find!


June 4th - 6:45-8:45pm

West Penn Rec Center - Senior Room

470 30th St

Pittsburgh PA 15219


See you all there!

created at: 2009-05-22


I followed wiggy's recepie for seed balls earlier this year.

My mix:  clay from the farm, finished compost, starting soil, seeds, beneficial fungus powder

I noticed that the seeds in seedballs took longer and required more water, but they seemed to sprout stronger and at a higher rate.  I will do this again for my outdoor crops in the fall.

Sprouting a whole guild in one ball seemed like a waste because I had to thin out most of the plants that sprouted.  Next time I'll make the balls, and add only a couple seeds to each.

I'm also going to experiment with indoor and low tunnel starting using seedballs to nuture my seedlings.

Lessons learned: 

1.  Don't mix the seeds in with the ball mixture.  Push them in later after you make the balls.

2.  Sifting the clay is key.  We did without this time, but I will build a sifter for next year.

3.  Soak the seeds before (the ones you can handle) in warm water.  This gives them a head start.

I've just finished making some upgrades to our website software.  There aren't many visible changes, just cleaning out some things under the hood.  If you run into any bugs, please let me know in the comments or drop me an email.

Our website is powered by free, open-source software.  Here's a collection of logos I pulled together as a tribute to some of the projects that we use to run the site.

created at: 2009-05-22

This website wouldn't be possible without the open nature of these projects.  For anyone interested, you can find the code that runs this website here:

Hey All,


I'm currently reading Gaia's Garden by Toby Hemenway.  I think it's a perfect read for urban farmers.  It contains practical advice and a fresh look how to apply permaculture techniques to smaller properties.

In it, the author talks about "ecological gardening" as a way to get more out of our small, urban properties as well as re-stitch the ecological fabric of our farmland.

The PDC design manual is pretty thick, so it's nice to see a less technical version aimed for backyard gardeners.

Hey All,

Even though we don't usually like Cleveland, they have a few cool projects going on.  Check out George Jones Farm . They host classes and workshops. 

There's a permaculture design course there in August.  It's 93 hours long.  Is it worth $1000?

Poll Is a 93 hour PDC worth $1000? Vote now!

Hey everyone,

Check out the Permaculture Institute @  They have a bunch of great information.


They also offer a PDF Permaculture Design Manual.  It's a great reference and FREE to download!

Yesterday Jeff and I set up a table as part of the Blossom Tour in Lawrenceville.  It was a great opportunity to meet other local green businesses.  Thanks to everyone who stopped by and entered our free garden plot contest.

I want to give a shout out to a few of the local businesses that we met yesterday:

Fossil Free Fuel -Colin's company converts diesel vehicles to run off of veggie oil.  He also collects used oil from restaurants for re-use as fuel.

Sweet Vitriol - An excellent local garden blog (and existing PGE member).

Personal Chef Rachel Lori - Rachel is working with local CSA programs to offer prepared food shares.  An alternative for those who don't always know what to do with a box of raw veggies.

Hey guys and girls. Great News.  This blog journal will continue!  We have found some property that we can farm on.  The owners have agreed to let us farm in exchange for a share of the harvest.  It's really the perfect set up. 

The farm's located in West End, so we've appropriately named it West End Farm.

Here's a summary of the land setup:

Our annual veggie beds will be about 30'x50' area in the back yard.  The land was not previously built on, and the soil biology is great.  We'll also have herbs out front of the house and fruit and berry plants.

There is some concern for drainage, and the closest water source is at the house.  The property is located on a hill, so I'm hoping to find a way to capture the flood water and filter it into the garden using a plant filter. 

So far we've stripped the sod and piled it for composting.  We planted some early season crops in about half of the beds.  Since my overall concern is for healthy biology and not short-term production, we will plant a number of support crops on the farm.  I want to experiment with leguminous bushes. 


Does anybody have any advice on species to incorporate into a farm for muclching and nitrogen fixing?

Check out this video that I found on how to design a food forest.


The basic idea is to start with the natural processes of nature and manipulate them for permanent food production.  A food forest may take 5-10 years to become productive, but it is essentially a self-sustaining organism once planted. 


 - Food Forest Video -


What's real to me might not be what's real to you.  I know this isn't about food and agriculture directly, but I found this quote in a book by Deepak Chopra called, The book of secrets.  Anyways this quote inspired me on my quest to produce the best food for my self and my friends and family, and I'd like to share it.

created on: 04/06/09


"To get real, you have to question the unreal over and over until it disappears.  This process is a kind of peeling away.  You look at something that seems reliable and trustworthy, and if it betrays your trust, you say, 'No, this isn't it,' and throw it away.  The next thing that asks for your trust also gets examined, and if it proves unreliable, you peel it away as well.  Layer by layer, you keep inquiring until you reach something that is completely trustworthy, and that thing must be real."

Making seed balls or bombs is a great way to plant large areas with little input, and can be used with any kinds of seeds and for many purposes.  The basic idea is to roll little 1" balls of clay, compost, and seed and throw them on where you want them to grow.

My favorite way to do it is to select a "guild" of companion plants that will help eachother grow, and initially mix these seeds together.  For instance, lettuce, carrots, green onions, and radish's will all grow well together and prefer to grow in similiar conditions. Mix the seeds with clay and compost and roll into balls.  Seed balls are thrown out into the desired area...perhaps an old flower bed...and a light mulching can be applied.  Once the rain comes or the bed gets enough water the clay balls fall apart as seedlings emerge. 


Another option for seed balls is forming soil building guilds of plants and fungus that will nuture your specific soil.  Traditional cover crops such as clover and rye can be planted with seed balls, and peas and beans will help the soil and help feed people too.  More specific plants can be used to mine nutrients from the sub soil...stinging nettle for instance helps to mine calcium and iron from the subsoil, making it more available for neighboring plants.  Perennial rootsystems help to aerate soils and prevent compaction.  Beneficial mycorrhizal fungus can be mixed into the seed balls to help plants roots form and they provide extra water and complex nutrients that plants cannot process alone.  With a little research and a big enough bag of seed balls whole acres of plant communities can be established.


The Material Mix Options

1. Seeds, preferably beneficial guilds

2. Dry sifted clay

3. Compost (fresh goat, sheep, and rabbit manure works  great if you don't mind handling it)

4. Beneficial mycorrhizal fungus (optional but super beneficial)

5. Lime or other mineral additives to balance soil PH ( beneficial but optional)

6. Water

The Process

1. Mix equal parts seeds, clay, compost and anything else you're using

2. Mix water in until the mix can be rolled into 1" balls

3. Allow to dry until hardened

4. Look like a maniac throwing manure balls all over the neighbor

5. Wait

6. Wait

7. Rain

8. Be amazed at the pure potential of seed

created on: 03/17/09

PGE was created as a common place for people concerned with sustainable agriculture in Pittsburgh. We are a loosely organized group of enthusiasts, experts, and beginners learning together through hands-on projects.  Our vision is of food growing in yards, vacant lots, and any other open spaces in our city.  Collectively each neighborhood will share in the cultivation, harvests, and experience of city farming. PGE programs are designed to connect, educate, inspire, and provide practical experience to our members.


PGE has two parts: - our official site.  Use it to share your garden, blog, and promote your stuff.  For more on using the site read Justin's post here.


Our Events Schedule @ - Go here to check out our events and get on our mailing list.  If you want to be on the list for events but don't want to become a meetup member, email us and we'll put you on manually at [email protected] .



Overall Goals of PGE:

  • Give growers the ability to locate, educate, and communicate with each other.
  • Pool our resources for increased production and negotiating power
  • Create more native wild habitats for the benefit of the city's ecology
  • Develop a database of gardening knowledge and native plant species
  • Make healthy food accessible to anyone in our city.
  • Create friendly neighborhood competition and traditions.


First Season Goals:

  • Network 100 Urban Farmers
  • Make a lot of Mistakes
  • Have Fun
  • Start with more farmers next year


Operating Principles:

  • Organize
  • Get Dirty
  • Communicate
  • Get Feedback
  • Adapt and Grow



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