The Guerilla Gardener

May 20th, 2012 § 7 comments § permalink

It’s time for unlawful mischief.  It is time to plan swift small-scale attacks and organize aggressive mini mobile units to exhaust opposing forces.  It’s time to take back orphaned land all but forgotten.  To arm yourself with trowel, seeds, bulbs, saplings, and a vision of verdant green.  It’s time to plant everywhere.  Anywhere.

Fare-the-well sterile orphaned lots with rubble and rubbish—vacant unloved spots thrust between broken buildings and wildness!  It’s time to whisper plans to each other—to break ground and work silently, stealthily—to race home and dance with heart exposed and arms in the sky.  We will win!  We will win!

Guerilla Gardening.  Unbeknownst to you perhaps, this (slightly) unlawful silent underground movement—the unauthorized cultivation of plants on otherwise neglected public or private land in response to dwindling green space—is cropping up all around us.  The idea is to reclaim green space, regardless of who actually owns it.  Technically, guerilla gardening is illegal.  You must accept the fact that some might view seedbombing as vandalism, just performed with plants instead of spray paint, rocks, matches or eggs.  One part beautification, one part eco-activism, guerilla gardening is a burgeoning movement of green enthusiasts—free-range planters on a mission.

But, it’s more than just planting.  It’s putting green where it’s not expected—putting something common in an unusual place or something uncommon in a usual place—surprising people and making them re-evaluate their position in the natural world.

Never underestimate the power of a plant.

Before grabbing your spade (Holy moly!  I can’t wait!), ask yourself the following:

  • Will you be part of an organized gang (launching your green thumbs into an unstoppable offensive of wax myrtle at Calumet and Main) or will you work solo, impulsively scattering shooting star seeds in pavement cracks on your way to the post office?
  • Will you be a one-time guerillero, or will you be making this a regularly scheduled habit of dogwood debauchery?  You’re far more likely to avoid trouble if you bring smallish people with you.  This lends some credibility to your act.
  • Will you work in the early morning, evening, or furtively at midnight?  I highly recommend early morning hours to avoid detection from suspicious passersby.  Or, you may opt to be discovered.  If so, wear THIS.

Where Do I Plant?

If not working alone, you should meet with your trusty gardening team (mine has small, steady hands) and do some research.  Look around you and consider a few unloved orphan spots close to home—empty pots or concrete planters, abandoned public gardens, vacant car parks—even a gap in pavement can serve as a modest blank canvas.  Now, let’s be clear.  I don’t advocate tossing seeds or planting plants in your neighbor’s weedy flowerbed, and you don’t need to plant a farm or a community garden.  Just one plant will do for now.  You do need a sunny spot and good soil.  You may consider planting at first in a portable pot.  Placed near a street sign or next to the barber’s door, this may be the ideal start to a career of gardening with intention.  Of course, you should sneak by to water it every so often, or leave with it a kind sign: I’m yours.  Water Me Please.

What Should I Plant?

If possible, find a generous gardening friend with a good plant or seed selection.  Otherwise, purchase species from a local plant or seed supplier. Often, native wildflower seed mixes are available.  Select low-maintenance drought-tolerant native species that can thrive with intermittent care.  Choose perennial species wisely.  You certainly do not want to select invasive perennials that will threaten biodiversity.  Consider species that create habitats for other native species like butterflies and birds.  For a list of recommended native species in your area, visit the Native Plant Database.

The following are your planting options:

 

Before…..

Native Bulbs:  Usually planted in the fall, these miraculous little storehouses are simple to plant and bring a spring surprise.

Native Plants, Shrubs and Trees:  Just pop in a plant.  Choose hardy, preferably perennial native plants that are easy to maintain.

Annual Plants with Big “Wow” Factor:  Choose plants that will catch someone’s eye—plants with a powerful punch.

 

After….

Classic Clay Seed Bombs: These little fistfuls of compacted clay, compost and native perennial wildflower seed break down over time and eventually plants sprout in place of dirt, weeds and invasive species.  Seed bombs are used to surreptitiously improve areas that a guerillero is unable to reach.  Locked vacant lots or roadside embankments—all are promising native plant nurseries.  Keep in mind that seed germination is highly dependent on water.  Keep track of the weather.  Scatter the seed bombs on the ground—over a fence onto an empty lot—right before an early spring rainy spell to ensure germination.

Pre-made seed bombs may be purchased HERE and HERE.  Or, check back in a few days for my GREAT GUERILLA SEED BOMB RECIPE.

Please send me your before and after photos–I’d love to see.

Now, go forth and garden!

 

 

Egglings

April 11th, 2011 § 16 comments § permalink

Eggling zinniaWhoa, finally.  Spring has sprung. For short-summered gardeners like me, it is particularly important to get started early.  My gardening team and I start many tender annuals indoors.  We avoid purchasing seedling trays or pots and try to start most seeds in biodegradable handmade pots.  Cardboard tubes, newspapers, grapefruit halves are great options—we use eggshells.

To get crackin’, eat lots of eggs.  Prick a small drainage hole in the bottom of the shell with a pin or needle.  To remove the contents, create a small opening in the shell—about the size of a dime—with a sharp knife.  Reserve the egg contents for cooking my friend Jenny’s Back Pocket Quiche.  Carefully pinch the opening until 1/3 of the shell is removed.  Wash each eggshell.  Surprisingly, it does not take long for hungry, motivated gardeners to have a full carton of clean, empty shells.

Select some seeds.  Really, any annuals will do.  For a nice selection, see previous post on Spring Planning.  My gardening team is partial to fancy pinkish flowers and cherry tomatoes.

Egglings dozenWith small green fingers and thumbs, fill each eggshell with damp seed-starting mix to about ¼ to ½ in below the shell opening.  Place the soil-filled shells into an egg carton.  Using tiny finger, create a small indentation in the center of the soil. Follow the instructions on the seed package for proper planting depth.  The general rule is to plant three times deeper than the size of the seed.  Place a seed or two into the indentation and lightly cover the seed with soil.  Use a permanent marker to label each eggshell with seed type.  Moisten the soil again gently with a few drops of water.  Allow the water to saturate the soil before adding more water.  Be careful not to drown them!

Seed MorphologyThere are so many many types of seeds.  In a typical dormant seed, like a French bean or sunflower, two future cotyledons occupy most of the interior.  The outer covering is called the seed coat.  The seed coat is usually hard and protects the softer parts of the seed.  There is a tiny hole in the seed coat called the micropyle.  When the seed is ready to germinate, water is absorbed into the seed through the micropyle.  Rapid growth of the seed’s embryo ruptures the seed coat, allowing the radicle to emerge in search of nutrients.  The radicle becomes the root of the plant.  The hypocotyl, the space between the radicle and the colyledons, extends and emerges from the soil.  The hypocotyl is exposed to sunlight, straightens out and develops into a stem.  The cotyledons, two thick, leaf-like thingies, become new green leaves.  The tiny plumule rises up between the cotyledons and develops into the plant’s true leaves.

Seedling growthClearly, seed germination is highly dependent on water.  So, to help retain necessary moisture, cover the egg carton lightly with a large transparent plastic container. Monitor your seedlings daily for growth and water needs.  They should be kept evenly moist, but not saturated.  You should begin to see sprouts in 10 to 14 days, depending on seeds selected.  When the seedlings emerge, they will need space for growth, and sunlight for photosynthesis.  In general, sunlight on a warm windowsill is best.  Keep them in inside until they have 3 to 4 true leaves.

Eggling bunchBy the time playground weather comes around, your eggshells will house a flock of able-bodied, rosy-cheeked seedlings.  Before moving them out of the hen house, take a few weeks to “harden them off”—gradually introduce them to their new growing conditions. Move the “egglings” to a shady spot for increasing amounts of time, several days in a row.  Bring them back inside or cover them if temperature looks like it will drop.  Progressively increase the amount of time and sunlight they receive outside until they appear ready to venture out on their own.  This gives the seedlings a chance to acclimate to sunlight, drying winds and climate changes.  On a cloudy day, plant them directly in the ground, crushing the bottom part of the eggshell so the roots can emerge.  Water the transplants well, but gently.

Why use eggshells?  Eggshells provide good moisture retention for germination, less transplantation shock, a good source of beneficial calcium (especially important for fast-growing tender annuals), and the obvious environmental and monetary advantages.

Cheap cheap.

 

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