Friday, July 15, 2016


From the dust of the earth, the minerals, everything that lives is made. Single-cell organisms - microbes such as bacteria and fungi - eat the minerals - calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium, sulfur, selenium, copper, and many others. Larger, multi-cellular life forms - plants, whales, bugs, rabbits, toads, etc. - are each themselves communities of microbes that have learned how to get along and work together.

A healthy planet's ecosystem would have a diversity and quantity of life. Some times on Planet Earth things are more peaceful, on the whole, than at other times. This is not one of them. This is a time of great death and birth.

By focusing on the new age being born from the remains of the old, we can see a blooming of our civilization. Think about it; we are in the best and the worst of times. At the same time as we are experiencing the collapse of much of our living Earth's life-support systems (losing our up till now automatic ecosystem services which provided us with food, water, air), we are also advancing so rapidly technologically that it is beginning to look as if we could establish a literal Heaven on Earth.

The flowering of our human civilization is visible in all the high-tech wondrous settings such as Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Here some of us can afford (are blessed) with: comfortable ways of making a living; inexpensive water; relatively sane leaders who have enough sense to see that helping others is the only effective way of making yourself sustainably happy; many square miles of urban green to clean our air and water while moderating the climate; communications and other technological systems which function relatively reliably; and a work force which takes equality, honesty, and responsibility seriously.

To see that the flowering of our civilization, which is as advanced as it has ever been in the history of our species, brings new challenges and responsibilities, we must recognize that that flower must die. The new civilization to take its place may not look at all like our present one. Like the dinosaurs, who bowed out for another newer ecosystem which only included changed remnants of them, we also are being called, commanded, to accept the principal that, regardless how good or bad these times seem, This too shall pass.

Life progresses eternally, from success to frustration to new and bigger success to frustration to new and bigger success to frustration to... All our wonderful achievements are leading to a great new frustration, a new wall. To get over this wall, we will have to change the human heart. We must get bigger-hearted, not just smarter, to survive this great moment in history.

As simple, silly, and impractical as it seems, it's love and love only that will carry us through this most difficult time in human history. Those beings alive in the new better world coming will be both technologically and socially advanced of us. If there are not humans in this new stage of evolution, it will be because rather than taking the path of love (and all it's difficulties) we chose rather fear and all it's effects - war, environmental collapse, disease - all those wasteful and unsustainable and ultimately suicidal actions.

Jim McCue
composter and biotech researcher

Saturday, June 11, 2016


So what's going on at Everybody's Garden? Well, plenty. Children play and tear up and learn and have fun. Watering the garden on a hot early evening can become an excuse to get wet. A couple rabbits have been spotted. Frogs or toads are also in the neighborhood as in past years and they're certainly welcome in this garden.

We have high hopes for the play area and community space to be built across the street by the Kaboom Foundation. Our efforts at the corner of West Elizabeth and Lytle Streets will harmonize well with that.

Little by little, I think, we are all learning to re-connect with the rest of Nature. Early this Spring a child asked me if I would be building plants again this year. Rather than put on my teacher hat and deliver a lecture about how I don't build plants Nature does, I just said "Yeah", knowing that regardless of what I did, many plants were going to grow in this garden. And grow they did:

There's horseradish coming up all by itself; I potted up one in case anyone wants to grow it in their garden - just come and get it. There are daylilllies in bloom, and roses, and a whole living fence-row of rose-of-sharon. The peach and apricot trees flowered and got hit by a late frost; this seems to have doomed the apricots to no fruit this season, but the peaches are coming on. The fig trees - ever optimistic - always survive the winter regardless of whether they get protected from the cold or not; but they would really rather be living somewhere warmer such as southern Italy. Basil - welcome to all to come harvest. "Volunteer" tomatoes (ones that come up on their own from tomato seeds that fell to the ground last year). There are a couple pepper plants I wish people would let get completely ripe before they pick them. Garlic is such a healthful plant that I've put it everywhere in the garden; it's pretty much ready now, so help yourself if you know how to pick it - the bulbs are under the ground and so have to be dug up. There are a few raspberries and we had a few small strawberries. Maybe we'll get a few black currants this year. We're overflowing with oregano, chives, catnip, thyme. Volunteer squash is fixin to go climbing over the roses and rose-of-sharon (with my help training it so it doesn't bury the walkways). Various mints - peppermints, apple mints, spearmints, and others - are intermingling and spreading (and where they're not wanted I pull them and use them for mulch to improve the soil as they rot down in the walkways or compost). Sunchokes (Jerusalem artichokes) are becoming a weed and I'm mostly pulling them up since few know about them; they're a small tuber that are expensive if you find them in a grocery store. Cilantro (coriander) is growing in various places. Arugula is a peppery salad green I like. The one pine tree gets bigger every year. Collards re-seed themselves from previous years' plants so I never have to plant them. The same with chamomile, which provides a pretty little flower for tea. The irises (also known as flags) have already jumped up and flowered on a couple of edges of the garden and are now just green stalks waiting for next year to flower again. Potatoes are growing under one of the peach trees. The tough, fragrant fern yarrow comes up and spreads a little each year right nearby; it's an extremely bitter-tasting medicinal with a pretty small yellow flower. The insects - bumblebees, honeybees, and others - have not been super-abundant this year but of course they and their pollination services are most welcome. I've had to pull out a good many sunflowers that have sprouted up from seeds from last year that fell to the ground; they're beautiful, but there's only so much room. Purslane and lambs quarters ("edible weeds") spring up everywhere; people have been eating them for thousands of years and they are both very nutritious. As usual, radishes I planted shot up (they only take 25 days to grow) and they got tough before I got around to picking them. People don't know you can eat radish leaves since the green part has the same taste as the radish itself which grows under the ground. It's always nice to turn people on to chives as it's bud and flower is a beautiful purple and can be eaten the same as the stems; they're in the same family as onions and garlic, come back every year, and can be eaten raw or cooked in soups or salads. All the allium family - onions, garlic, leeks, scallions - are both food and medicine (as are all food plants, for that matter). Birds are always passing through having something to eat. Most everybody likes the high-vitamin c taste of French sorrel (named by one of the children "lemon plant"). And most everyone likes the taste of fennel, which has a feathery leaf. We have hyssop growing here too. Both fennel and hyssop have a sweet taste - similar to anise seed and licorice root.

It would be nice to have a little pond at Everyone's Garden some day, with: underwater plants to put oxygen in the water; snails to keep the algae down, and fish to eat any mosquito eggs that get laid on the surface or mosquito larvae that hatch into the water. You wouldn't necessarily have to have any expensive electric aeration system, as natural water ecosystems did just fine for millions of years before we humans invented all our fancy technologies.

Jim McCue
composter and biotech researcher 412-421-6496

Friday, April 15, 2016


Some are bored or afraid of the world around them. I'm in awe. So many things that have happened, or that people have done, leave me stunned. How did they build that building? How come it doesn't fall down? How did that tree get so big? Where in the world did all those flowers come from? And all that huge machinery moving mountains of dirt and pipes and stuff on the ALMONO site - how's that work? Trains coming through, trucks, ducks on the ponds, people working in gardens. How do we human people manage to get along so well most of the time? And the birds, how do they do THAT?

There is so much evidence of the beautifully miraculous all around us, we shouldn't need to be reminded.

Yes, the planet is full of tragedies also. Why? What is the meaning of all this suffering? What is it about life that it makes it so dam contradictory and complex? Why can't you just separate all the bad guys from all the good guys and then just get rid of the bad guys and everything'd be fine? And why do I have to be so open-minded all the time and try (or pretend to try) to see other peoples' points of view?

One thing that keeps ME breathless is Nature's recycling. Here you have paper, cardboard, orange peels and seeds, old cole slaw, baked goods starting to get moldy, coffee grinds, grass clippings, dead animals, chicken bones, used vegetable oil and grease, banana peels, manures from countless species of animals large and small, dead tree branches, etc. They fall to the ground and the next thing you know they're gone. The hungry soil (the hungry creatures great and small in or on the soil, to be more precise) eats them up and turns them into carbon dioxide, water, and mineral plant and animal nutrients. Is that not magic?

Oh, there's scientific explanation for all this transformation of waste, all right. But scientific advances at this point in history are pointing to the most jaw-dropping conclusion - Anything, absolutely anything, is possible. If you can imagine it, it is possible. When we were growing up my mother used to say to us things like: "You can do anything you really want to." Now every time I hear about some terrible massacre or environmental catastrophe in the world I remind myself of the Dick Tracy hand-held communication devices so many people carry around. And I think of the many thousands of scientists and inventors and activists around the world; they are gearing up to not only turn around this vast industrial destruction machine we are a part of but actually re-purpose it, using robotics and computers and human cooperative labor to regenerate, re-enliven the Earth's ecosystem.

So, with a can-do attitude (rather than focusing exclusively on the problems), we can set to work on solutions to the difficulties all around in this time of great change. They are solvable, just as so many seemingly insurmountable problems before were dealt with - with faith. You take one thing at a time, break it down, see what it's connected to, figure it out, and see how it works with the whole. When I was a kid and my bicycle wasn't working, my Dad made me work on it till I fixed it...Day after day that was my job, just work on that bike till I fixed it. And after a while I did finally figure it out and fix it. That was empowering.

So here's a problem we can work on. In fact (like that time with my Dad), this is a problem we HAVE to work on. We don't get a choice. We can't put it off and do something else; we have to deal with it:

We in our modern society have gotten into the bad habit of making waste out of once was resources - our dead animal and plant matter, and our manures. We invented the concept of "waste", meaning we came to consider certain things as useless and needing to be disposed of. Eat that chicken and throw the bones away because they're "waste". Makes sense, right? I mean, you don't eat the bones, they're no good.

But bones ARE good. Not for people food, but for plant food. You can pay several dollars a pound for natural bone meal fertilizer for your garden. Or, IF you know how to do it properly, you can turn your own chicken bones into bone meal fertilizer. You could grind them up the way the companies that sell bone meal grind them up. Or you could nurture the soil organisms that eat bones in an enclosed composter that did not have openings wide enough for any animals to get into.

The same with dead plant material. Feed it to the soil life - bacteria, molds, earthworms, bugs, etc., and the waste becomes plant food.

Manures also properly are a resource rather than a waste and should be fed to the land via the community of life in the soil. Manures and composts properly handled don't have to stink and they don't constitute health hazards. Let's be logical. Diseases may be CARRIED by certain what they call "vectors" (things they grow on), but the vector (be it a live plant or animal or dead organic material) is NOT a disease. A properly-run enclosed composting bioreactor nurtures aerobic (oxygen-using) organisms which compete with and so suppress disease. So an ecosystem (including the people in it) is more resistant to stresses from disease when it's inhabitants (including it's people) are more well-fed and live in a diverse community.

Kind of sounds like the best of Hazelwood to me. For all the (legitimate) complaints about our problems, and our very real pollution problems (including in the soil), there is a health to living here that comes from openness to have friendly relations with people from all over the world and all cultures. Our industrial history - condnecting commercially with all the rest of the world - has given us an open-mindedness an open-heartedness to all peoples. The high-tech company Uber has chosen to locate here because they think of Pittsburgh as the next Silicon Valley.

We're a city that values education and cooperative work. Let's make good livings fighting the REAL enemies - poverty, pollution, abrupt climate change, overpopulation, loss of biological diversity in our soils and environments generally, deforestation, overfishing, dying coral reefs, inequality, hunger, the loss of our soils' water-holding capacity, emerging infectious plant and animal diseases, ever-increasing earthwide refugee crises, wars, terrorism. And let's understand that all these problems are connected by both cause and effect. If we are to solve any, it must be by solving all - with whole system, big picture, long-term, wide-angle, all-inclusive, really democratic solutions. Nature used to recycle organics back to feed the community of life. Part of the way out of the hot water we're in now is to go back to that.

Jim McCue
composter and biotech researcher 412-421-6496

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

The Secret Life of Plants

The Secret Life of Plants: A fascinating account of the physical, emotional, and spiritual relations between plants and man

by Peter Tompkins & Christopher Bird

This is a most important book, written in 1973. The entire book is free online, takes a while to download. This book is full of advanced science and philosophy of science that links science with spirituality. It is a treasure, and has already had a huge impact. As with Autobiography of a Yogi, also available free online, this book provides keys to the reversal of the destruction of the ecosphere which has been thousands of years in culmination. We can use technology such as robotics to regenerate the Earth, establishing a new (though surely different) Eden.
Plants have consciousness, emotions, intuition. Bose was measuring plant emotional response a hundred years ago, and Cleve Backster about thirty years ago was finding they are intuitive. (The Secret Life of Plants).

Monday, March 14, 2016

Causes and Effects

Dear Reader,
I'm going to tell you what the politicians are afraid to. Brace yourself, this is the straight dope:

At this point in history, we humans don't have a snowball's chance in hot Hell unless ALL of us are willing to accept drastic lifestyle changes. I emphasize the word "ALL" because the whole world - all humanity - must get on the same page about this. Our only path to a future we can look forward to is to recognize our kinship with all peoples and all life. We must stop all fighting, all competition.

We have, for thousands of years, fought each other and the rest of the living world - resulting in escalating waves of ever greater destruction, till now we enter a world in which: relatively minute sections of the planet have any forest cover left; water everywhere is polluted; our food has become poisonous and expensive; and the air we breathe shortens our lives rather than refresh us. There are consequences to the actions we have taken, and we're seeing them now.

We need to drop all subsidies for fossil fuels and nurture renewables, immediately. We need to almost entirely transition from combustion processes in our industries. That means no burning. We can't burn gasoline. We can't burn oil. We can't burn coal. And we can't burn natural gas; it was wishful thinking to delude ourselves into thinking methane combustion was an okay transition ("bridge") fuel to get us through till renewables got on line and became affordable. Combustion (burning) anything means by definition the creation of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.

The horrendous environmental effects of our addiction to combustion include wars such as what's going on right now in Syria - caused by epic, years-long, drought which has made it impossible to live in the countryside there and so driven people to the cities and now becoming refugees from their own country. This type of problem is happening all over the Earth. There is no escape from it; there is no Planet B, we only have one Earth.

Parallel to the destruction we humans have done has also been enormous technological advancement. With this exponentially mushrooming technology, we now have the ability to renew, re-enliven our word, and quickly. In our purses and pockets we hold communication devices capable of collapsing space. Dial up any place, regardless of how far away, and you can (if you've the money) be there with your eyes, ears and mouth. Our ability to instantly connect at such distances allows us to fix problems so large they would have been overwhelming in past times. The merged creativity of billions is yielding solutions for problems as fast as the problems are reaching crisis state. The Paris climate talks of last year, for instance, allowed world financial and political leaders to agree that we all must change if any of us are to survive.

For a hundred years, inventors have been finding ways of providing energy without burning and they have been suppressed by those with a financial advantage in slowing progress. This must and will be stopped. Our schools have become instruments of propaganda by which the children are taught the lies the parents have come to believe. Ask yourself why the name of the world's greatest inventor, Nikola Tesla (who worked in Pittsburgh, by the way, there's even a street named after him) was not taught in the grade school you went to even though he was on a par with Albert Einstein. Every single one of us uses technology Tesla helped engender - motors, hydroelectric power, alternating current, fluorescent lighting, radio. Edison, Westinghouse and J. P. Morgan profited from Tesla's inspirations, then shut him down when his work threatened their profits. We do not need to burn anything to get energy, and Tesla knew this.

We do need to get working all together to regenerate the ecosystem. With the quickness.

Every plant is your friend. Feed it. Make sure it has enough water to drink. Give it the friends it needs - birds, bugs, worms, cats, bees,... We don't just have to stop making carbon dioxide, we have to extract a lot of the too much carbon dioxide that's already in the air - and plants are the ones to do it. That's the name of their game - eat carbon dioxide and make oxygen.

We have to stop doing things like burning fossil fuels to ship garlic grown in China to the United States. This is only one of many examples of how our economic system has been so perverted that it defeats common sense. Why would you feel the need to grow a plant thousands of miles away when you can grow it right here? Our world is all full of this kind of ridiculousness. Turn off your lawn mowers and let the grass and other plants grow; we need every plant we can get.

Plants and animals like us humans are family - we can't do without each other. It should be enshrined in law and made ethically sacred - Plants are alive and conscious, and must be respected. Only when we humans wake up to the fact that we're not the only ones around will the birth of the new age become a joy rather than cause of overwhelming suffering. We have the chance now to play our part in the creation of a new Earth. As the song goes, "We'll make Heaven a place on Earth."

And we have to stop wasting our wastes. That's for another article.

Jim McCue
composter and biotech researcher 412-421-6496

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Respecting Nature

The current crisis is worldwide, and is an interaction of changes. It is bigger than any past human crises. The planet's ecosystem is collapsing.

We have told ourselves that we humans are the only ones awake, conscious, able to have feeling, with souls. Demonizing life forms we want to control, we have written a false history that makes much of the non-human world seem monstrous. We've often done the same with human enemies, demonizing them to make it okay to harm them.

We do not have to master nature. We need to learn how to get along better with our fellow creatures, be they animals, plants, or microbes. We need them and they need us. In cooperation with each other and with the other life forms we could establish a Heaven on Earth.

There is consensus that composting should have a much larger role in our lives. It is a public hygiene measure. It helps grow plants to clean the air. We can grow food with it. It can feed greenhouse operations and be packaged for sale to residents. It can be used to clean pollution.

Thermophilic (hot) composting is larger-scale than the little composters people have in their back yards. Larger, enclosed composting bioreactors can be designed and operated in such a way that they both biodegrade synthetic organic toxics and chelate heavy metals (rendering them less harmful). It can handle a wide variety of organic wastes, from tree cuttings to kitchen scraps to all types of manures to cardboard to paper to grass clippings to paper bags. A well-run medium neighborhood-scale composting system would manufacture a valuable product that feeds the whole community of life with its application. All kinds of composting, including worm composting, suppresses disease by nurturing microbial biological diversity. Hot composting is faster and kills disease also via it's heat. A community would benefit by this diversion of organic waste from the landfill, where it makes greenhouse gases carbon dioxide and methane (natural gas). We should have been composting the organic sector of our municipal waste a long time ago, not sending it to landfill.

Power is often in the hands of those who are both afraid of change and afraid of others who are different than them. So progress from time to time requires crises - times where the system breaks down in order to re-integrate at a higher level. We are in terrible crisis now, but there will come a day when the whole planet will be just one country, and every resident will be an Earth citizen.

The environmental changes are forcing us to radically re-think our lifestyles. Unless we stop fighting and work together we're going to go extinct. With all the interacting changes, the only successful places on the planet will be those where everyone is on the same page. That is one of the attractive things about Pittsburgh - that we are as a whole maybe more cooperative than many places. But we have much farther to go. We have to drop our prejudices, our fears. And we have to stop participating in international conflict. There is an all-hands-on-deck attitude needed.

The same lesson we are learning internationally we are also learning via our relationship to nature: Fighting doesn't work, you only win in the short run with fighting. Wild plants ("weeds"), insects, birds and other wildlife large and small must be allowed their place in the scheme of things.

We humans have extinguished so much life on Earth that our ability to breathe and eat is even being jeopardized now. The single-cell plants (phytoplankton) - which provide oxygen to the atmosphere as they consume carbon dioxide - in the oceans have been in decline for decades. These microbes are at the base of the food chain and so are absolutely necessary for human food production in the oceans. We can culture algae and other plants for their ecosystem services (such as feeding larger life forms), as well as whatever other use we devise for them - such as production of hydrogen for fuel cells.

Rather than this current anti-life economy - in which useless and destructive products and activities make money just the same as really productive products and services - we need residential, agricultural, horticultural, and industrial nurturing of life. Instead of killing pest insects (manufacturing and selling pesticides), for instance, we can encourage a wide variety of birds and other wildlife that would keep them in check by eating them.

Nature as a whole is incredibly intelligent, unfathomably compassionate, and, in the long run, infinitely more powerful than Earth's currently most dominant species - Man. We disrespect the community of life at our peril.

In the face of so many challenges to life on Earth now, our only power is in working together as one. We'll make Heaven a place on Earth.

Friday, January 15, 2016

We grow

Great stuff developing in Hazelwood.

Dylamato's Market has a new grocery store.

Everyone's Garden is demonstrating that healthy food can be grown in a neighborhood with a history of industrial pollution.

We're working on getting established community gardens officially recognized as the precious asset they are.

Our children need more positive places to go, and there are people working on it. Learning programs at the library. We can have scheduled outdoor learning labs where young people work and/or play (depending on their ages, inclinations, and abilities) in one or more of the gardens or parklets.

Janet Evans and others at Roselle Court have gotten built eight raised beds for apartment residents.

Hazelwood Urban Farms, a half-acre "micro-farm" bordering the woods on Chatsworth St., is beginning it's second year as a CSA (community supported agriculture) operation with seasonal subscriptions to provide weekly groceries.

Community hopes for development at the former Gladstone School include an urban farming component, with possible rooftop garden(s), greenhouse(s), aquaponics operation, and life science career center.

A healthy local economy is one less dependent on the ups and downs of the larger economy. When you can buy better quality, fresher garlic or lettuce grown locally, why would you source something grown hundreds or thousands of miles away (as much of our food is)?

A healthy local ecosystem is one in which a good amount of the food eaten locally is grown locally, and grown naturally, without pesticides, herbicides, or artificial fertilizers. The richness of human life in a thriving diverse neighborhood is mirrored by the quantity and complex diversity of the web of life (aka food chain) in that neighborhood.

The Glen Hazel Garden on Johnston Street seems to be shaping up as a hands-on learning/working garden, with now a good metal fence and a tool shed on the way.

Volunteers helped build several garden sheds and a stage at the Summer Marketplace last year before the cold weather set in, and we will be getting them installed in the gardens as the Spring comes on.

The Hazelwood YMCA Community Garden is one place we enjoy working together, and expect to be getting plants started in the greenhouse there soon.

Progress is being made in establishing a little sitting park and flower garden and play area across Lytle from Everyone's.

We are working with the city to replace many of our vacant and overgrown lots with either managed areas planted with perennials or gardens. These green areas can be of many varieties:

community gardens with plots or beds for individuals to take charge of;

community gardens in which people work together on one bigger common plot;

whole plots cared for by single individuals;

plots with gardens dedicated to growing medicinal and/or culinary herbs and/or veggies and/or mushrooms and/or fruits for and/or potted plants (for sale or share with neighbors).

We can have areas with the kinds of plants that need very little care and re-grow by themselves each year. Picnic tables and benches where you can just heal from the jabber of the city. Or walk your dog in peace. We can, together or alone, start plants out to sell or give away this Spring. Aromatherapy gardens, specializing in the most fragrant species, providing a constantly changing mix of pleasant smells to passersby. Home-based businesses selling value-added home-grown products such as horseradish vinegar (a favorite of mine).

Garden seeds will be available for sale at both Floriated Interpretations and Dylamato's Market this year. Both these establishments are welcoming locally home-produced healthy products - Floriated Interpretations specializing in pretty and practical, Dylamato's quality and affordable.

By merging our best hopes we can make our part of the world a welcoming and more comfortable place. As environmental challenges increase, the only logical option we have is to deepen our relationships with each other and so cooperatively solve problems. Many things are possible to be done together which are absolutely impossible to be done by one person alone. Some of the dreams that pull me out of bed each morning:

Wonder gardens, designed to inspire awe at nature's beauty;

Happy, well-fed kids who enjoy playing outside and are familiar and comfortable with bugs, worms, insects, and other living things;

Food forests and curiosity gardens, where people are free to wander off the beaten path and nature is given a certain amount of free rein. One might be called The Serendipity Garden, another The Discovery Garden. We could have a Mister Roger's Neighborhood Garden. A Steel Industry Heritage Garden. A Garden for the Future. A Crop Circle Garden, for those of us (self included) who recognize that we are not alone in the Universe. We get help from afar (and we sure need it at this stage) to the extent we abandon our addiction to the superstition of materialism and become motivated to serve all life rather than just our own.