Monday, September 11, 2017



We don't have to DO anything. Being is enough. I play/work with plants, animals, microbes because I WANT to; I don't HAVE to.

Carbon dioxide is much more than a greenhouse gas. All plants need C02. We human animals use co2 to grow plants, outside and inside (such as from co2 canisters in greenhouses). This molecule is a wonderful thing, not just a "pollutant".

By looking at only the bad in any context, we don't see so many good possibilites. There are both positive and negative feedback effects; why focus only on the positive ones?

To the extent our species awakens to all the good possibilities as well as to the bad, to that extent we will thrive.

Jim McCue
composter and biotech researcher

Tuesday, July 11, 2017


There are a thousand different ways of looking at something like balance. Not too much exercise and not too much intellectual work. A balance between yin and yang. Ecosystem Earth is both dying and being born. To maintain a balanced mind you don't wanna be too optimistic or too pessimistic. Balance work and play. It's good to be doing things for others, but you have to balance that with taking care of yourself too.

The balance of nature is upset in many areas. A healthy, diverse community has many different types of people, plants, and animals. In a healthy soil, disease is kept somewhat in balance by the births, lives, and deaths of trillions of microbes and larger life forms. A balanced diet means eating a variety of healthy foods. To have a balanced attitude, one must pay attention to problems while looking for solutions.

What's growing at Everybody's Garden? The strawberries are done; there were only a few. Figs, apples, peaches aren't ready yet. Chives, sage, tomatoes, tomatillos, mulberry, leek, berries, fennel, lavendar, rosemary,sunflower, sunchoke (aka Jerusalem artichoke), thyme, roses done already, purple irises done, rose-of-sharon flowering, comfrey, 2 six-year old or more apricot trees have yet to yield a crop. The kids try the apples before they're ripe, so we'll see what happens this year,...

Denial of drastic environmental change having become impossible, I've got some more than thirty papaya trees started in a little oval bed under the peach trees. Papaya doesn't normally grow where winters get below freezing, but I don't think we're ever going to see a normal winter again. We may not get that cold again in this part of the world. Papaya likes to be in say the Caribbean. Hopefully we're not going to burn up, like millions in other parts of the world, and Pittsburgh will continue to pioneer new technologies to serve other parts of the planet that are becoming hotter. I don't know how tall these papaya trees will grow; they are from seeds in papaya fruit I bought in the Strip. But I had them and banana trees growing in Miami about 8 feet tall before I had to move. Where is there room to transplant some of these baby papaya trees to?

It is a continuing effort with me to convince that, just as with predator/prey relationships and how they keep epidemics of e.g. rabbits by more e.g. hawks being born having having had plenty of rabbits to eat, microbial biodiversity suppresses but does not eliminate disease - by competition and predator/prey relationships at the microbial level.

O, by the way, the only animal I've seen in the garden, other than cats or dogs, has been a couple of toads and a family of rabbits. Come visit. Everybody's welcome.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017


Regardless of when or where one begins life, there will be problems. The June 6 Green Building Alliance Inspire speaker series featured three people telling of how they are turning problems into solutions.

Stephen Ritz started out in the South Bronx in a neighborhood with heavy industrialization, severe pollution, violence, and other related problems. Presenting to us about how the poorest schools are turning around with growing plants for beauty, food, medicine, and building materials - outdoors, indoors, low-tech, high-tech, for money, for free, on walls, on roofs, in basements, in towers, in apartment buildings, in backyards and front yards, Stephen gives us faith that Yes, Si, se puede, we can. Having worked with the Obama White House and also Hawaiian farmer Oprah Winfrey, Stephen is now going international, educating about using plants to heal and feed.

The second speaker, Raqueeb Bey, came up in the Uptown or Soho section of Pittsburgh. She dealt with similar problems. Working with Uptown Partners , Landslide Community Farm, Hill House, the Larimar Green Team, and inspired by the work of Will Allen in Milwaukee, Queeb is another mover turning big problems into big solutions. Moultrie Street Garden, Monticello Street Garden, YMCA Homewood Garden, Mama Africa's Green Scouts, Black Urban Gardeners and Farmers of Pittsburgh Co-op and others are partly due to her efforts. She is involved with Phipps HomeGrown Project and is also involved with the building of a 31,000 square foot urban farm. Raqueeb makes her living in the financial services industry. Her children are not interested in junk food, and they enjoy working in the gardens. Now she is getting involved with Hazelwood greening.

Will Allen | Growing Power

Uptown Partners

Karen Washington worked at New York Botanical Garden. She co-founded

Karen Washington

Rise & Root Farm and Black Urban Growers "I feed peoples' bodies and minds," she said. "Forget about a seat at the table," she says, "We makin' our own table, and our own seats."

Spring Plant Sale Welcome

The speakers spoke of: children; poverty; pollution and the environmental changes; the interconnection of all our problems; and the integration of all our problems into wholistic solutions. They spoke of food from the points of view of planting, growing, preparing, cooking, eating, preserving, and recycling organic waste back into the soil. Of people learning urban agriculture and making good money at it. Of all kinds of people getting along in a healthy society.

There will always be problems. There will always be solutions. There will always be new beginnings.

Jim McCue
composter and biotech researcher 412-421-6496

Wednesday, May 10, 2017


There is a time to take it easy. One doesn't always need to be doing something. Sit back and rest on your laurels.

Our species has come a long way. It's good to pay attention to all the things that are not good in the world; but, for a balanced perspective, it's good to recognize both the wonderful and the terrible things we human beings have been and are engaged in. I know enough of the rotten things we have done to each other to choose at this time to emphasize the positive.

There was a time when those living in this part of the planet got eaten by big cats, cougars or panthers or mountain lions. Not much of a worry now.

We in the Pittsburgh area once got maybe one third of our food from the waters - rivers, creeks, ponds, marshes. Clams, fish, oysters, water snakes, crayfish, turtles,... Now we get the majority of our fish, for instance, from fish farms - both in open ocean and in contained water systems on land.

We get a huge amount of food from microbial processes - yogurt, bread, buttermilk, sour cream, cottage cheese, kefir, sauerkraut and pickles (if it's REAL sauerkraut and pickles, made the traditional way), cheese (REAL cheese, not American cheese, which is processed without microorganisms), tofu (REAL tofu, not what most Americans know as tofu, which isn't fermented and so isn't as healthy as the original tofu which took soybean curd and - like making cheese - let it ferment into curds),...

Fish often used to be fermented also, by the way:

"...Fermented fish: A traditional preparation of fish. Before refrigeration, canning and other modern preservation techniques became available, fermenting was an important preservation method..."
This is a list of fermented foods, which are foods produced or preserved by the action of microorganisms. In thi...

Today, many are finding new ways to obtain the health benefits of traditional ways. The bacteria humans co-evolved with (e.g. via milked soured accidentally - refrigeration having been invented only recently) are some of the same ones in both the human stomach and healthy soils. People are now taking pro-biotic supplements and consuming foods such as yogurt which add friendly bacteria for healthy digestive and immune systems, rather than taking anti-biotics which kill the bad "bugs" but end up accidentally ENCOURAGING diseases such as those caused by antibiotic-resistant microorganisms.

The life in soil - earthworms and other creatures both larger and smaller - has often been described as Nature's digestive system, recycling nutrients back into the other plants, animals and microorganisms.

Our society I think is too often stuck on the idea that we've always got to be DOING something. We engage in so much useless and even destructive activity out of fear - fear of not having enough money, for instance. At this time of year, with the weather so often about just right, it IS time to take it easy. Let's stop blaming each other and feeling like we always have to down each other to justify ourselves.

Let's take it easy on ourselves. Just be.

Monday, April 10, 2017



I have learned that there are thousands of ways of looking at things.

I started out in about third grade falling in love with the living things I could see under the microscope - green leaves you could see right through, paramecium swirling around in water, spirogyra algae single-cells (microbes) green with chlorophyll inside each cell in a spiral, each cell linked with another cell in chains creating what without a microscope we call pond scum,... I was looking at all this through a microscope my parents had bought for me. Some microbes move by a wee like whip which is called a cilia which moves them around. A much larger (but still too small to be almost impossible to see with either a magnifying glass or the naked eye) many-celled animal are rotifers. These guys eat by using their cilia to draw water and food towards them.

Now, 50 or so years later, I'm still learning. I've learned that, if you take a poll of say what's going to happen in the United States in the next ten years, you'll get hundreds of millions of ansers, none of which will be entirely correct. The future will always none of the above (I think) .

One possible future I hope for for Hazelwood is that the area where the old J&L mill used to be include: one or more greenhouses of various sizes and designs; a flowing water functional work of art which takes rain from the hillside and feeds a fountain sprayer which waters a food forest where people can picnic, have lunch, grow and eat berries, pick herbs, and fruit from trees, look at flowers (wild and cultivated, local and from other lands); an educational/entertainment marina on the Mon with the history (e.g. of what lived and what still lives in the river - oysters, clams, crayfish, many types of fish [some huge]),...a celebration of the past such as that Mark Twain piloted a boat up here from the Mississippi...a celebration of the past and possible future of the Pittsburgh area as far as inventions, applied science, and...

Pittsburgh participated in the birth of the nuclear industry. John Chapman (Johnny Appleseed) planted and sold trees here. The beginning of radio. The beginning of educational tv. The great humanitarian inventor Nikola Tesla. The great preacher Kathryn Kuhlman. My mother. My father.

Nature heals, such as from the terrible burden of pollution that this city has suffered. Let's let it. From those living things too small to be able to be seen (such as the fungi that, unnoticed, have such an important role in our soils' health and so our own health) large wildlife such as the bald eagle which, by being part (along with us humans) of the web of life, the community of life must be protected and nurtured.

Friday, February 17, 2017

We may lose the Y community garden

YMCA is getting bids for the land on which we've established the community garden/orchard there behind the former YMCA building. If no individual or group purchases that land in order to allow the garden there to remain, once again we who volunteered and donated (including the Heinz Foundation, which provided money to help establish that garden/orchard years ago) will have our efforts...

A similar catastrophe happened with the Hazelwood Food Forest, the construction of which was accomplished with all volunteer labor and a much smaller amount of money.

I call on everyone for support in keeping alive this community garden/orchard - with greenhouse, tool shed, raised beds, compost bins, tools, rain barrels, see-saw water pump, fence, and plantings. It was envisioned from the beginning as a community asset - not just for YMCA members.

Jim McCue
composter and biotech researcher 412-421-6496

Friday, February 10, 2017


People all want the same things, basically. Delicious food, refreshing drink, a safe/peaceful world, friendly neighbors, a pleasant natural environment - these are all parts of a common dream. We're dreaming the one big dream together. And I believe that each of us is playing our own unique part in building that dream, ever so slowly making a better world.

What would I do if I had a million dollars? One thing, I'd buy that lovely piece of property on Flowers Ave where we started building a garden. And I'd plant there...well, let's see. Hydrangeas would be nice, and peppermint and orange mint and apple mint and lambs quarters and marigolds and lilies and sunchokes and zinnias and French sorrel and sunflowers and purslane and bee balm and comfrey and tomatoes and tomatillos and hemp and garlic and lettuce and cantaloupe and squash and watermelon and roses and aloe and daylily and horseradish and thyme and flags and amaranth and gladiolas and strawberries and asparagus and dill and fennel and onions and chives and fern yarrow and papaya and bananas and........

Bananas and papaya!? I've been growing papaya here in Pittsburgh, but frost kills it. They're a warmer climate fruit tree. On the average, our weather is getting warmer, so who knows what will grow around here? The leaves of the papaya tree (I grew it in Miami) are where we get the enzyme papain for meat tenderizer. Indigenous Americans would fold fish in papaya leaf overnight before cooking it.

There's a tiny little stream coming down the hill to that garden. I'd have calamus (which is like ginger) and watercress (which has a nice, tangy peppery flavor) growing in that tiny little creek, along with other water-loving plants such as rushes (which have edible roots) and mints (which can stand too much rain or not enough and still carry on).

With part of that million dollars I'd set up an enclosed medium scale gravity passive solar composting system, somewhere where neighbors could donate cardboard, leaves, kitchen scraps, grass clippings, and paper, and then share in the healthy soil material produced from yard and kitchen organic waste.

I'd invest some of my money in a plant-starting business to supply Floriated Interpretations, which sells potted plants and related items on Second Avenue.

I'd set up a little manufacturing operation to build low-cost composting toilets, all certified of course with the Allegheny County Health Dept. There is a great need for this type of ecologically wiser human waste processor as our weather will perhaps continue to become more unstable as to and so power outages and plumbing functioning may fail more often.

With herbs such as mint and basil currently selling for more than a dollar an ounce, the revenue from the garden ought to easily start making more money with my money underbidding these big chains. Meanwhile, with all the need for jobs helping to transition the economy with green industry, I know some people uniquely qualified to train eco-landscapers to replenish/preserve Nature's ecosystem services such as pollination.

And, like at Everybody's Garden (which is at W.Elizabeth & Lytle Streets), I'd get peach trees going, and apricots and apples and figs and...

Aside from growing for food and medicine, we can also grow trees (and other plants such as bamboo) to provide building material for anything from greenhouses to bird houses to bee motels to compost structures.