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created at: 2011/05/27I have a sweet little 2 bedroom urban farmhouse for sale in North Braddock. The home has been completly redone by the Mon Valley Initiative and sits on a 1/3 acre, flat, partly fenced lot that is perfect for a garden or farm. The house is beautiful on the inside, almost everything is new! It has a large kitchen, dining room, first floor laundry, great front porch, sunny rooms and two big bedrooms.

created at: 2011/05/27


It is located at 614 Baldridge Avenue in Braddock's Field, a neighborhood of new and good-as-new homes, just about a mile from Braddock Farms and right around the corner from the Carnegie Library Braddock. This home is reserved for households whose income is less than 80% of the area median income. It is being sold for only $50,000, with a home warranty and energy efficient upgrades.

Your payment can be under $500 and a low downpayment is possible too. Go to for more details or call Christa Ross, RE/MAX Select Realty at 724-933-6300 x214 or 724-309-1758.

Fresh vegetables are great. They are even better when they grow in your back yard. There is something to be said for watching life (and food) develop from a tiny, dried-up seed.Is there anything better than walking outside in your bare feet and picking the tomatoes, oregano, basil, and jalapenos you will use for that evenings pasta sauce?


Unfortunately, I live in the woods on the side of a mountain/hill and my topsoil is non-existent. When I attempted to plant several hundred dill plants we stumbled across on craigslist, I encountered rock, clay, and more rock. The land is untenable. Even more unfortunate is that I am kind of lazy and mechanically deficient. Soooooo, raised beds are out. This conundrum came up in a conversation with a friend in NC who has been involved in community garden development on the coast. After the convo, the instructions for straw bale gardening were in my inbox.


Straw bale gardening is inexpensive, lazy laborer friendly, and most importantly, simple. I purchased 20 bales of straw for $5 each and had them delivered with this year's mulch. The flat roof of our garage gets the most sun, so I tossed the bales up there (minus 3, one each for the neighbor kids), and arranged them in rows. For three days, I only had to water them. Thankfully, Mother Nature reallllllly helped out there with the continual rain.

The watering of the bales begins the "seasoning," which is necessary to break down the straw and provide a medium suitable for growing. Next is the introduction of nitrogen, to really get things cooking. I chose to use urea (45-0-0) for this step. At $12.99 for a fifty pound back, it is the most cost effective option. Also, the left overs can be used to melt the ice off of our slope-of-death driveway in the winter. Organic alternatives can be used, such as blood meal or even the introduction of compost and worms. It may take longer with the organic option. In addition, bales can be directly seeded. Basically, pretend the bale is your garden, spread the seeds, and cover them with a thin layer of compost or soil.


The seasoning takes seven days. For three days, 1/2 cup of urea must be sprinkled on each bale and watered in while being sure not to over water, as the urea can be flushed out. For three more days, 1/4 cup of urea is added and watered. The final additive is one cup of 10-10-10 fertilizer on day 10. Again, it is sprinkled on and watered in.


Did I mention simple? With this process, the bales are ready to be planted. On day eleven (and I am not on day 11 yet), a spatula is used to crack the bale. Seedlings are then put in up to their first leaves, the the crack is smooshed closed. Plants can be planted in the top, in the sides, and in the ends. I intend to put rooty vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, and cauliflower in the top of the bales. In the ends, I will put the viney things like squash, cucumber, and watermelons. In the sides, leafy things will work best, I think. My plan is a combination of herbs, like basil and chives, as well as lettuce, spinach, and a mescalin mix.


The beauty of straw bale garden is a combination of its simplicity, low cost, and the fact that anyone can do it anywhere. Do you have a patio? Straw bale. Do you have bad soil? Straw bale. Do you have a parking space you don't use? Straw bale. I will add pictures shortly and photo journal the progression of the garden.

Poll Will you consider straw bale gardening when you are thinking of your next planting? Vote now!

Our friend Rose Lord has a weekly email garden newsletter, Angels In My Garden, which tracks garden activities throughout the season for the beginner gardener.  Check out the link here:



An Illustrated Guide to the Birth of an Ecosystem


created at: 2009-08-31

The above view is looking out from my dining room window. It was important to me that this feature be viewable from the house.

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It is hard to tell from this picture but I outlined the shape we had decided upon in spray paint. The first thing I did was dig out the sod around the outside to give myself a buffer to do more wreckless digging in the center.

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Here you can see me continuing to remove shovel sized chunks of grass and soil. This was really the hardest part, though not the most nerve-racking. I didnt have a good idea of what to do with the dirt at this point so I made extra work for myself and Andrea by forcing us to deal with the material twice. 

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Not much left to stand on at that point.

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This picture has a few things going on in it. First of all, I had outlined what would be the deeper sections (18-26"), leaving a 1 foot ledge before the drop to deeper waters and a shallow (12") end. I am begining to dig out the deeper parts. The other thing that is important to notice are the hills of soil snaking along the outside of the pond in addition to the metal stud in the background. As I was digging out the pond I was using the removed material to level the surrounding ground. This is done so that when the liner is placed in the pond and the whole thing is filled, the water comes up to the same level all the way around the pool. I used the stud to bridge from one end to the other, adding soil as needed to bring the whole perimeter up to level.

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Here I am adding a layer of padding in the form of fine playground sand to protect the liner from rocks or roots. I did my best to remove as much large debris from the walls and bottom but the sand really smoothed it all out.

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I was in the pond intentionally, smoothing out wrinkles as it filled up with water from the hose, but I slipped, soaking myself. For this part I used several bigger rocks to hold the liner as I adjusted it and tried to smooth it out as well as I could.

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Here you can see the pond finished with duckweed floating in it. The duckweed should be handy in removing excess nutrients and if it gets to thick, I will just scoop it out and toss it in the compost. I used the soil in the background to help regrade around the foundation of the house, which had been sloping the wrong way.

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Here is another view of the finished pond.


The pond has already moved along. We have 3 water lilies, the duckweed, anacharis, hornwort and a few gold fish. In the week the pond has been in existance, I have already seen dragonflies and birds visiting. I am not going to use pumps or filters, just a good mix of plants, I want it to be natural, not just another point of consumption.

A pond like this provides a beautiful spot to sit and enjoy whatever may happen as well as diversifying the ecological possibilities of our yard. We now have a small water ecosystem with multiple depths that has a border of its own creating unique conditions for a variety of plants and animals. As always, there is more to do, but thats it for now.


I bought my house in February of this year. It is Point Breeze near the Frick Park Entrance. Here is what the back yard looked like. What you cannot see very well in these pictures is the significant slope, flat space and slope again.

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It's a pretty big yard, this picture is from the back porch. This picture is facing south.


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Here is another picture looking from the back of the lot towards the house, and this of course is facing north. English ivy is clinging to the house at this point, and there is an awful lot of grass.






To get vegetables started we did a really weak version of sheet mulch, one layer of cardboard and some landscape fabric to capture the heat. We made four 8'x8' beds.

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Also in this picture you can see the watering bags around the fruit trees (apple, peach, sweet cherry, and nectarine) and some old green roof trays strategically placed to kill some grass.  In the back you can see my pallet compost bin on the left and an Earth Machine compost bin to the back right. The raspberries are sort of visible halfway up the picture on the fence.

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Same stage of growth looking out the dining room window. You can see the hill a bit better from this perspective.






After quite a few blisters and several days of digging...

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These are pretty recent photos, you can see the watering bags and the trees.  I am trying to establish a guild under the trees comprised of chives, comfrey, lavender, and yarrow as the perennials, and nasturtiums, red clover, and borage as the annuals. The cedar mulch in the bottom right is a bed that is home to two blueberries and a couple hardy kiwis which are being trained along the chain link fence.

created at: 2009-08-06

Another similar view.  The blueberries are Reka and Chippewa. The kiwis are Anna. The Cherry is Black Giant. The apple is MacIntosh. The peach is Red Haven. The nectarine is Fantasia Red. The strawberries are Quinault.

created at: 2009-08-06

Around the stone steps that were dug into the hill we planted a combination of brass buttons and creeping thyme. You can see the comfrey right under the peach tree on the left.  I bought these as bare root cuttings and they filled out to this size in under a month. The comfrey is the Bocking 14 cultivar and doesn't produce viable seed, eliminating the invasiveness of this useful herb.


This is what we have done so far in the 5 months we have owned the house. In the works are an asparagus bed, a little pond, a large pergola, and I am planning to do hugelkultur beds where the vegetable plots are using some bushy material I cut out from the front.


I can't wait until next year when everything starts filling out and we are able to harvest some fruit!


If you have any questions or comments please let me know!

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