Monday, September 15, 2014

Clean and Green

Clean and green are action words. Nothing stays clean forever, so you have to keep cleaning it. Take midnight dumpers, for instance. Every now and then one or another of our less socially-motivated fellow citizens decides to break the law and dump a pickup truck sized pile of roofing or other waste on the side of the road. If they're not caught, the city or neighbors have to clean it up. Generations of wonderful volunteers have worked their hearts out cleaning up after the dummies. I say find them, fine them, make them clean it up, and publicize them for being bad citizens - maybe that would make for a cleaner Hazelwood.

And how about the businesses that leave behind pollution that stays long after they are gone, like the lead smelter that was at the corner of Path Way and Gloster Street? It closed it's doors some fifty years ago; isn't it about time we stepped up to the plate and cleaned up that mess? Since lead is a pollutant which is now spread throughout our world (though concentrated at certain sites), there has long been discussion of both the cleaning and the greening possibilities for that particular pollutant. Levels of this poison could be reduced from our local environment by: removing it from a site of concentration to the extent possible; covering lead-contaminated soils with organic matter such as wood chips (to make it less likely to come into contact with anyone); and/or adding healthy soil with complex communities of microbes and plants and animals (which make lead less biologically available). So here we could combine cleaning with greening by making wider use of our organic waste streams to both remediate our neighborhoods and literally green them up with more plants.

Among many green technologies being ramped up in the world today are facilities which feed the pollutant carbon dioxide (which by now everybody knows we've way too much of) to algae in fermentation vessels of various shapes which make use of artificial and natural sunlight in greenhouse-like structures. As climate change highlights the need to both drastically reduce our output of CO2 and sequester (absorb) CO2 already in the environment via various processes such as growing algae and other plants, the economics of the situation will create a market demand for any process that either uses this pollutant as an input or lessens the need for it to be produced.

I'm convinced the key to the future happiness for our species is waking up to the beauty and importance of the rest of the living world.

Jim McCue

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Miracle of Life

The fragility of life has been obvious to me over the years; from childhood friends dying to learning about how destructive World War 2 was, I've always known how easy it is for bad things to happen. But only as I've grown older have I come to appreciate how unfathomably miraculous it is also.

There has been discovered to be a self-organizing principle. The Universe is evolving harmoniously, consciously.

The best proof for me that there is a power of good in the world is how Nature (if allowed and given encouragement) can take a damaged piece of land and turn it into a productive place that's a joy to visit. What was the aftermath of the demolition of a three-story apartment building at the corner of West Elizabeth and Lytle Streets is now a tiny bit of ecosystem whose plants clean the air a little. It has a place to sit and eat what grows there. From a basement foundation full of bricks (covered with sand, leveled off, and some straw and grass seed thrown down) has grown a corner full of living things that are part of the healing of the planet.

By nurturing the widest variety and the greatest quantity of life - and adding organic material such as wood chips, cardboard, leaves, grass clippings, newspaper, kitchen scraps, and manures - the land has been healed and is hosting honeybees and other insects, earthworms, beneficial molds and bacteria, and other living things large and small which work together to biodegrade pollution. Is this not a miracle?

From a government publication called "Compost - New Applications for an Age-Old Technology", which can be found at , it is clear that an enormous amount of good can come of simply changing what we do with the biodegradable sectors of our waste.

All over the world, humankind's increasingly powerful hand has been causing undesirable side effects. And everywhere new applications of ancient scientific/spiritual principles are coming to the fore to restore balance to an Ecosystem clearly in danger of capsizing. We are in an extinction event, and we are one of the species in danger of extinction. We need to respect all life. We are all connected. Love is the answer.
"A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely but the striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security."
~Albert Einstein (1950)
Jim McCue

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Community gardening

There are so many different ways of looking at things that it's hard to find agreement about how to grow a garden. Some gardeners have stable, set ways of thinking and so pretty much know how they want their efforts to turn out; to them beauty is aligned with simplicity - "I know what I like, case closed." I'm more interested in change myself, and so end up with what may seem a chaos of conflicting desires; gardens I've started have often been blooming jungles of surprises. Do you want beauty or peace or productivity or learning to be the product of your garden? Do you want food or medicine from it? Do you want your garden efforts to result in a friendlier neighborhood?

Maybe you just want a garden to be a place to be alone in and let nature heal with its sounds and smells and comfort. A healing garden might combine medicinal with aromatherapy plants - a place where some can harvest plants to make salves and soothing or invigorating teas while others find the sights, sounds, and smells all the cure they need. Maybe you want a garden that's a place for people to get together, or a place of memories.

Everyone's Garden (at the corner of West Elizabeth and Lytle Streets) is, true to it's name, a little bit of everything, the creation of many people. I used to be strictly a food plant person - only interested in growing something if some part of it was edible; but relationships with other gardeners have opened up my mind and heart a bit. Neighbors planted iris and several other plants I still don't know the name of, but which yearly come back and add to the beauty. People complimenting the garden have led me to more often slow down and smell the roses. Bee balm is in flower inside the little circle of salvaged bricks where Fran Soltesz is remembered.

I yearn to produce great quantities of food, but this garden is ideal only for introducing various food plants to people; real production will have to take place where more controlled conditions are possible. It's a wonderful thing to be able to show children food plants and how to harvest and what parts they can take home to eat; but picking something before it's ready (and sometimes just for kids to throw around in a food fight) just can't be allowed in a working food production garden. Everyone's Garden is a public amenity similar to our parks; it isn't fenced in to keep out either wildlife or wild people. So rabbits and raucous neighbors are free to eat and/or trample plants there. Someone just walked off with our three pairs of hand clippers.

Learning for me has been partly via the School of Hard Knocks, which I notice quite a few others are alumni of. The work-in-progress appearance of Everyone's Garden is the result not only of my learning but also having to consensus with others with other goals and opinions. All in all, I'm grateful for the opportunity to work together with people producing satisfaction and community as best we can.

Jim McCue

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Green tech

Along with the mushrooming interacting problems in the world today, there are also quantum leaps in the number of potential solutions to those difficulties. And the quantum leap in humankind's communication capacity makes those solutions ever more easily applied where they're needed. Technological progress has miniaturized computers (which when they first came out took up the space of whole rooms) so that they can now be made small enough to fit in your pocket. That same technological capacity is now exploding with solutions to the environmental problems we have. Applied research is allowing us to do what we want to do with smaller amounts of materials. If we humans manage as a species to get past our belief in conflict (belief that fighting - including economic competition - is necessary), then we will not only be able to survive all the perfect storms in our present and near future, we will be able to thrive in a paradisical world of our own making. We can literally together create a heaven on Earth.

Central to our being able to work together is the humility to see past our own contexts to the bigger world we each are a part of. It is our unconscious arrogance that makes us so sure what we think is right. It is arrogance to think that our group, whatever it is, is the best. And it is sheer (if unconscious) arrogance to think that we humans are the greatest piece of work the whole Universe has managed as of yet to throw up. Once we grow up and stop being afraid to face the fact that we humans are the ones doing the damage to Spaceship Earth, then we will start noticing there are many other ways of doing things that are less harmful or even healing. Once we stop being afraid to think because we're afraid to change, then we'll find ourselves with millions of others sharing so many amazing solutions. Then the times will feel miraculous.

We don't need nuclear power; perhaps somehow it could be re-designed to be safe from cradle to grave, but that's not happening right now. We don't need natural gas, coal, or oil; we need to minimize combustion processes generally. Our suffering from climate change will keep increasing because of changes already in the works. But we can lessen, and adapt to, those changes by making drastic lifestyle changes such as going to local distributed energy and food. Our problems are ultimately spiritual. The extinction event we are in makes it clear we're approaching The Final Exam, as Buckminster Fuller put it. Universal Intelligence is leading us to a renewed reverence for all life, so that we can regenerate the ecosystem of which we are a part.

Once again, come see Everyone's Garden and celebrate this little corner full of Nature's Beauty at W. Elizabeth and Lytle Streets. Growing at Everyone's:
an evergreen tree and bush, stinging nettle, hyssop, squash, radishes, sunflowers, pumpkin, sunchoke, roses, okra, peppers, asparagus, collards, lambs quarters, garlic, cleavers, purslane, onions, strawberries, endives, arugula, 6 peach trees, mints, cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce, dill, fennel, parsley, coriander (cilantro), fennel, tomato, rose-of-sharon, sage, eggplant, 2 apple trees, 2 apricot trees that are not fruiting yet, a bunch of fig trees that (barely) survived the cold winter, thyme,...and rabbits,...and wild kids who sometimes pull up garlic and pick fruit before it's ready...

Jim McCue

Wednesday, May 14, 2014


A better world than the one that presently exists is possible; in some ways a better one has already existed. As a kid living in Greenfield I remember the produce man coming around in a truck hollering "Fruits and Vegetables!" or "Vegetable man!" or something like that. You could buy groceries fresh picked from farms nearby. Local farms were the only farms you could buy from. Our present system, in which massive amounts of fossil fuels are burned to carry food grown in all parts of the world to be sold in all parts of the world, is based on very poor short-term business strategy. The disruption of the climate is only one part of Earth's ecosystem which is being harmed by our addiction to Big Ag and Big Energy rather than small local food production and distributed power. The pollutants from transportation combustion processes MUST be curtailed, drastically and quickly.

Productive intellectual work in this time of great change includes considering the possible advantages of making changes that actually go back in time to the way some things were done in "the good old days" (not that those days were necessarily all that great as a whole).

The Hazelwood Initiative committee called Small Food Vendors in Hazelwood has the goal of increasing affordable access to healthier food for residents while providing income, training and experience in the food industry. Several committee members are working on plans to start their own small businesses selling fresh unprocessed and/or prepared foods such as soup and sandwiches off of trucks, along with delivering food.

Beginning this summer, fresh locally-grown produce, locally grown herbs (both whole plants in pots and cuttings) and various home-cooked specialties and baked delicacies will be available via outdoor stands on Second Avenue. Loss of funding all over the Pittsburgh area for the farmstand program is being ameliorated by new creative efforts via the YMCA's garden program and others to take up the slack. Local individuals and groups able to grow and/or prepare healthy foods for local sale will be welcomed. I will be offering cut herbs, potted herb plants, and unusual easy to grow wild edibles such as purslane and lambs quarters free to try - part of my effort to get more people to recognize how we can all grow at least a little of our own healthy food. Drop off any plant pots at Everyone's Garden at the corner of W. Elizabeth and Lytle Streets to donate to the effort. Our many-years goal of establishing a farmers market in Hazelwood is taking another step forward.

A much better world is possible by playing one's part in the community of life. A re-defining of what it means to be productive is taking place. Right now we only have an ice cream truck that spreads the sweet but short rush of a sugar high to our residents. We can and will do better. Sweet is not the only good taste. In fact, the different kinds of sugars in all fruits and many vegetables, naturally grown, can re-ignite a complexity of food tastes we have forgotten. Sugars are all made by nature, but our refining and concentrating them - throwing out the enzymes, minerals, and vitamins from the sugar cane, sugar beet, and corn plants - is causing much of the poor health we are suffering from.

A new understanding of the need to nourish the community of life at the level of the soil is also yielding a much-needed paradigm shift in our transitioning to a more sustainable world. A garden will not produce a healthy crop of plants for beauty, food, and medicine if the ground is not replenished with organic matter. So we need to set up neighborhood recycling of organic wastes to the soil. The Earth cannot produce if we do not feed it.

Jim McCue 412-421-6496

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Wonderful Water

We live in an amazing time. Paradoxical, seemingly contradictory, results of quantum physics experiments lead to the inescapable conclusion that mind and emotion somehow have a direct effect on matter at the subatomic level. The same physics that is behind the breathtaking sequence of new inventions we've come to expect nowadays is also telling us that there is more to reality than just the physical world.

The best of science is dancing us back to a more earthy spirituality. Hard-nosed researchers, with disciplined protocols to ensure objectivity, are coming up with some of the wildest conclusions. Some are making seemingly wacky statements like that the emotional state of a person has an effect on the water that person comes into contact with. And there is a long history of tests showing that meditation and prayer somehow change the characteristics of things such a crime rates. So somehow - though humanity at this time is enmeshed in an unfathomably complex interaction of changes (many of them human-caused) - we still can know that our individual efforts can have good effects on the future. Your mind and heart make a difference.

Water has always been associated with life; no wonder, as no life form can do without it. The more I learn about biodiversity the more enchanted I become with using a variety of living things working together to clean a flow of water by making use of its pollutants as nutrients. The concept of the "living machine" comes from the recognition that a controlled water flow traveling through numerous varieties of life can filter and biodegrade toxics - using toxics as nutrients to produce, for instance: fish; earthworms; watercress; algae for food and/or fuel and/or feed; oysters or clams; greenhouse plants. This combination of constructed wetland with organic waste recycling takes problems and turns them into products. By first running the polluted/nutrient-laden water through stones, then smaller and smaller mesh-sized gravel, then smaller and smaller sized sand, and maybe finally through clay (which is even smaller), the system filters and uses the filtrate as food for the plants, animals (mostly small like insects), and microbes living in the system.

One of the reasons Pittsburgh became a great city was the abundance of water here. Back in the day (I mean WAY back in the day, before any of us alive today were born, when forest covered most of the country), people got maybe a third of their protein from the rivers. De-industrialization in recent years has allowed some of the river life to come back. Because of the abundant rain, many plants and animals can live here that can't make it some other places. To the extent we have vegetated areas, the rain is slowed down on its journey to the rivers and then to the sea. As the living things - microbes, plants, bugs and larger animals - drink the water they hold it back. That's why planting trees, for instance, is a way to prevent the nutrients in the soil from being washed away. The trees brake and drink the water and then sweat it into the air. This even affects the weather, as more water vapor from vegetation makes for more clouds. By recognizing our dependence on our fellow creatures - plant, animal, and microbial - we can better assure our own future. So, paradoxically, simply by deepening our enjoyment and appreciation of the beauty of the life all around us we can be most productive.

Jim McCue

Friday, March 14, 2014

Green up!

Green up!

The chives are coming up, and will have beautiful purple buds when they're ready to harvest. Snip some for your salad or soup or mashed potato dish. Anybody want sunflower seeds I got em, lots of them and a bunch of other seeds. I can't wait till I get some arugula going; I love it's sharp tangy wake-me-up taste. Speaking of wake-me-ups, mints are easy to grow and have been shown by scientific studies to perk your brain waves up - make you more alert and in a better mood. The smell of any flower can be aromatherapy; all you have to do is enjoy it.

Either hide where you plant or be willing to share your cantaloupe and watermelon - their sweet taste is mighty attractive to humans and other people. Stake and/or fence your tomatoes unless you're into feeding the wildlife and the soil dwellers. With global warming we might get a super-hot summer, so I'm getting interested in stuff like okra which loves the heat. I found out the hard way - mistakes repeated until my hard Irish head finally gets the message - that beans and peas don't like garlic, putting out some kind of signal that wards off legume competitors (No wonder I haven't been able to grow peas or beans well).

Be careful out there: garden injuries laid me up three times last year. Take your time and focus on enjoying your work rather than looking at it as if it's a chore.

I finished three new beds last fall before the cold really set in. Minnefield contributed both equipment and labor to move the mulch pile to the Flowers Avenue Garden, where it needs spread. Now that the mulch is gone from Everybody's (corner of W. Elizabeth and Lytle), there's room for a couple more beds, which need dug say two feet down and the rocks and bricks removed. Most of the older beds already have garlic and/or some perennial herbs growing in them, so their space is taken up right now. I will re-seed cilantro (coriander). I've more than I can give away of oregano; come get transplants from me. I want to increase the variety at Everybody's, so contributions are welcome. I gave away the comfrey last year, so I'll walk over to the Hazelwood Food Forest and get some more to transplant from there.

Not being a "garden expert" (only a soil expert), this Everybody's Garden I steward could use more well-rounded expertise. Don't be afraid to enjoy giving your own unique contribution to our gardens - whether it be labor or sharing plants or dropping off grass clippings or whatever. You can soak brown cardboard and paper bag in water and mold it in the bottom of a planter or planting area as a way to nourish the soil life as it rots down.

We really need a neighborhood garden education program, so that volunteering gardeners' work doesn't get destroyed. I'll plant "greens" (kale, collards, chard) and parsley this year, for instance, but I'm hesitant to plant brussels sprouts and broccoli because people around here harvest the leaves for cooking - not knowing to wait for these crops to bud. A similar problem with peppers: Lots of people like green peppers, but don't know they're more digestible and nutritious if allowed to ripen to become sweet RED peppers. And there is such a demand for them people pick them when they're small instead of waiting till they get bigger.

I decided I really like butternut squash and will plant more this year. It keeps well, cooks easily, and tastes great. But I'll be growing zucchini and crookneck squash too; I love the outlandish productivity of a healthy zucchini. I'm looking forward to radish, which pops up and is ready to eat (greens and root both) in less than a month. Radish and the onion family especially remind me of the old adage "Let food be for your medicine". Researchers are finding now that greens, especially uncooked greens, are especially important and need more emphasis in our lives. I found out you can eat daylily flowers, and they taste great! But try and leave some for the honeybees and to add to your garden's beauty. Rose of sharon gives lots of flowers, and they're edible but to me don't have much taste. A couple neighbor's with better noses than me told me the roses we got started at Everybody's smell wonderful, but I can hardly smell them. I have to find some room for fennel; most everybody likes the anise licorice taste. One more time this year I'll try cucumber, but I haven't had much luck with them. I always try to grow some really long long beans to brag about, with little success; this year I'll try again. I want to spread the asparagus this year, but it's such a temptation to eat it rather than let it spread for next year...The same problem with French sorrel, which one little girl named "lemon plant" for its taste. So many people like it it gets all eaten up and I have to go find more to start and try to spread the next year.

There are a growing number of (especially younger) aspiring gardeners who, not owning land, are taking commitment to Earth to a higher level by discretely planting and maintaining (on land they don't own) native, medicinal, culinary, and decorative plants in various places for all to enjoy and make use of. Property owners should welcome them, as they are raising the intrinsic and monetary value of the land.

The figs at Everybody's Garden will likely give little or no figs this year because, lacking help, I never got them covered and we've had a helluva winter. Fig trees wish they were in sunny southern Italy or somewhere warmer like that.

The Squirrel Hill Food Pantry intends to get a garden going just down from the Flowers Ave Garden this year, and will be needing volunteer and expert help, so maybe there'll be some days people needing a little fresh air and exercise will want to help. The nice thing about volunteering is there's no pressure; you say goodbye and go home when you want.