It's time to start thinking about planting — and maybe chickens too

It’s still winter at the moment, but the first official day of Spring is just over a week away, on March 20.  Some avid gardeners are already starting their seedlings indoors and considering new ways to protect their produce from groundhogs and other poachers.

If you’re planning on gardening or growing some of your food this year, a great source of information for urban gardeners is Grow Pittsburgh, an urban agriculture nonprofit.  They are a great resource for information — here’s their Growers Resources guide, with information on soil and compost; seeds and seedlings; watering; pest and disease management.

Grow Pittsburgh also offers classes, workshops, and events for new and veteran gardeners.  Upcoming events include A Garden Primer, which covers all the basics, including which tools beginner gardeners will need, what and where to plant, and when to harvest. The course is held over three evenings; the first session is already past, but the next two are March 18 and March 25.

There’s also a free workshop, Container Veggie Gardening on a Budget, coming up on March 23 from 10:00 – 11:30 a.m. at the Grow Pittsburgh office in Larimer.  Click here for more information or to sign up.

Did you know that the City of Pittsburgh has an urban agricultural zoning code?  If you have 2,000 square feet of more of land (including the footprint of your home), you can keep up to three chickens, and two beehives.  Click here for more information from Grow Pittsburgh

For even more information about keeping chickens in the city, check out Pittsburgh Pro Poultry People, or P4, who feel the current laws are too restrictive and are working for Pittsburgh Urban Farming Code reform.  Their site has a lot of great information, including a collection of old photos showing how livestock was an everyday part of city live in past decades.

Top photo:  a corner of the Wiggins garden — with groundhog trap.  PHCA photo.  Bottom:  some Polish Hill chickens, from the Everything Better Pittsburgh blog.


Phipps Conservatory Free Admission Day on Monday, February 25

Are you yearning for Spring to come?  Would it help to see growing things, flowers, and smell warm, damp earth?  Or just looking for something fun to do next week?

Thanks to a grant from the Jack Buncher Foundation, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens is pleased to announce that it will open its doors free of charge on Monday, Feb. 25, 2013 from 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.  Guests who attend this year’s free admission day will enjoy the warmth and incomparable beauty of the public garden’s historic glasshouse gardens filled with a variety of tropical plants, orchids, cacti, ferns, palm trees, and many other gorgeous specimens that will lift winter-weary spirits and carry visitors away to more pleasant climates.

Want to learn about organic gardening? Enroll in A Garden Primer

Don’t know the first thing about organic vegetable gardening, but want to learn? Know a thing or two but need a refresher?  Grow Pittsburgh’s A Garden Primer will cover all the basics, including which tools beginner gardeners will need, what and where to plant, and when to harvest.

Classes will take place on Tuesdays: February 12, 19 & 26   or Mondays: March 11, 18 & 25.

Classes will be from 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.  in the McKelvy Room at the East Liberty Presbyterian Church, 116 S. Highland Avenue in East Liberty.  The cost is $50 for Grow Pittsburgh members, $60 for the general public.  (Not a member? Join here.)

Tickets can be purchased at  Select February or March.  A limited number of scholarships and childcare are available, please email or call 412-362-4769 for details.  City Growers says: please select the month you wish to participate in carefully as they are not able to accommodate transfers to different classes or refunds due to complicated logistics.  Classes sell out fast so purchase your tickets early!

One week left to apply for Grow Pittsburgh apprenticeships and internships

The deadline is coming up for Grow Pittsburgh apprenticeships and internship opportunities for 2013.  This year’s opportunities include apprenticeship positions at both Braddock Farms and the Frick Greenhouse and Shiloh Farm, as well as internships at the Grow Pittsburgh main office in education, marketing and in data assessments.  Links to job descriptions for all of these opportunities can be found on the Join Our Team page.  Read each description carefully as varying skill levels are required based on the role.  Applications are due January 21, 2013.

As interest in food, farming and urban agriculture grows across the United States, it is increasingly important that the next generation of growers and advocates gain more exposure to working in the fields, with communities and also behind the desk, to support local food access.

As a nonprofit organization, Grow Pittsburgh is able to support potential new growers with a seasonal experience on their production sites.  They are also able to offer opportunities on the organizational side, so individuals can get a better sense of what they do behind the scenes.

Allegheny County's household hazardous waste collection day is September 15

Household hazardous waste is that portion of a household product that is no longer usable, leftover, or unwanted and has to be disposed of.  You can identify a product as hazardous by words such as CAUTION, WARNING, POISON, or FLAMMABLE on the label.

Each person in Pennsylvania produces an average of four pounds of household hazardous waste each year for a total of about 25,000 tons/yr. statewide. If carelessly managed, these consumer waste products can create environmental and public health hazards.

If you have materials at home that are not usable, you can dispose of them responsibly by taking them to the Allegheny County Household Chemical collection day.  The collection is on Saturday, September 15 at the South Park Wave Pool.  Collection will be from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm.  The participant fee is $2 per gallon, cash only.  Please consider getting a group of friends or neighbors to pool their items for the collection.

Items accepted at this collection include:

  • aerosol cans
  • automotive fluids (e.g., motor oil, transmission fluid, antifreeze, kerosene, brake fluid)
  • batteries
  • chemistry sets
  • compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) (Bulbs only- we do not accept fluorescent tubes)
  • gasoline and kerosene
  • household cleaners (ammonia, drain openers, acid cleaners, oven cleaners)
  • mercury thermometers/mercury
  • paint products (latex, oil based, alkyd based, arts/crafts chemicals, rust preservatives, creosote, water sealers, paint thinners, furniture strippers)
  • pesticides/garden (rodent killers, insecticides, weed killers, mothballs, fertilizer)
  • photo chemicals
  • pool chemicals

Items in leaky containers will not be accepted.  If possible, transfer materials to a new container.
Preserve the label and place in a zippered plastic bag to keep with replacement container.

Here’s more information and a list of items that will not be accepted.  If you have questions about specific products, call the HHW hotline at (412) 488-7452.

Here is Zero Waste Pittsburgh’s resource guide on hazardous materials and how best to dispose of them.

Penn State Extension Accepting Applications for Master Gardener Training Program

Interested in taking your interest in gardening to the next level?  Become certified as a Master Gardner!  Penn State Extension has announced that applications are being accepted through August 31, 2012 for the Penn State Master Gardener training program in Allegheny County.  The 2012-2013 training class will be held on Tuesday mornings from 9:30 a.m. to noon at the Allegheny County Extension office in Point Breeze.

Penn State Master Gardeners are volunteers trained and certified by Penn State Extension.  Once they complete their training, master gardeners support the mission of Penn State Extension by utilizing research-based information to educate the public on best practices in consumer horticulture and environmental stewardship.  Penn State Master Gardeners of Allegheny County answer the public’s “green” questions through the garden hotline, and they offer educational programs to all ages through school programs, a speaker’s bureau and Backyard Gardening Lectures at local garden centers.  They actively participate in civic beautification projects, demonstration gardens in North Park, South Park, and the Allegheny County Courthouse, and informational exhibits at various events.

Selected applicants will attend classes beginning October 2 and continuing until November 13.  Following a break for the holidays, classes resume on January 8 and continue weekly through April 9 when the final exam is administered.  The cost for the training program is $200.  After completing the in-class course, master gardeners are required to provide a minimum of 50 hours of volunteer service within the first year, and 20 hours each following year to maintain certification.

To obtain a Penn State Master Gardener application for Allegheny County, visit the website at, or contact the master gardeners at Gardenline by phone 412-473-2600 or e-mail  Completed applications must be returned by August 31 to Master Gardener Program, Penn State Extension of Allegheny County, 400 North Lexington Street – 3rd Floor, Pittsburgh, PA  15208.

City Growers Summer Skill Share events

Your garden might be well enough along that all you need to do is water, weed, and occasionally, harvest.  But the growing season is really only halfway through, and there’s lots more to learn.  Grow Pittsburgh has a series of free classes for community gardeners — taught at community gardens.

Pest Identification & Organic Control
6:00 pm Tuesday, Aug 7th    Penn Hills Community Garden, 1165 Jefferson Road, Pittsburgh, PA, 15235

An interactive pest ID walk through the community garden. Learn about non-chemical controls such as floating row covers, planting times, & resistant varieties. Also, learn the proper use of organic chemical controls, like insecticidal soap.
Presenter: Sandy Feather, commercial horticulture educator at Penn State Extension of Allegheny County

Pest Identification & Organic Control
6:00 pm Wednesday, Aug 15th    Southside Community Garden, The Bandi Schaum Field off Mission St, Pittsburgh

An interactive pest ID walk through the community garden. Learn about non-chemical controls such as floating row covers, planting times, & resistant varieties. Also, the proper use of organic chemical controls, like insecticidal soap.
Presenter: Sandy Feather, commercial horticulture educator at Penn State Extension of Allegheny County

Building Low-Tunnels
6:30pm Tuesday, September 4    Garfield Community Farm, Wicklow St and Cornwall St., Pittsburgh, PA, 15224

Extend the season into four seasons! Hoop bending demonstration and discussion of winter hardy plant varieties and seeding dates. Leave equipped and excited to keep your gardens growing all year!
Presenter: Cornelius Deppe, Garfield Community Farm

Composting at Community Gardens
6:00 pm Tuesday, September 11    Homewood YMCA & Community Garden, 7140 Bennett Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15206

Composting is simple, though composting in a community garden situation poses special challenges. Come and learn some tried and true approaches to compost bin management that you can apply at your community garden.
Presenter: Jessica McNally, City Growers Community Garden Assistant

For more information on classes, email City Growers coordinator Marisa Manheim.  And do check out Grow Pittsburgh’s website, which has lots of information and resources for local gardeners and growers.

Are there any young trees around where you live? Help them survive the heat — water them!

Tree Pittsburgh sent out a reminder that we’d like to share with everyone who received a street tree in the last few years, or who has planted their own young trees.

The very hot and dry weather is continuing with little chance of rain in the next ten days.  Trees throughout the city are wilting and dropping leaves. Trees planted in the past few years need to be watered 30 to 40 gallons per week (or about 1 inch of rainfall).  If you can, please water any young trees that are nearby–not just the ones near your home!  So many trees are stressed out from the lack of rain.

Water slowly and deeply.  Do not turn the hose on full blast — the water will just run off, and be wasted.  You can use a 5 gallon bucket with holes in the bottom to slowly water, turn your hose on a slow stream and place it in the tree pit, or use a gator bag (above).

If you want to buy a gator bag like the one shown here, Tree Pittsburgh has a few available for $25.  You can pick them up at their office starting on Monday, between 9am and 5pm.  Gator bags hold about 15 gallons of water and zip around the base of a tree.  When full, the water seeps out slowly into the ground.

Bee Wise…Plant Natives: free workshop on June 6

Allegheny County and the Penn State Master Gardeners will present “Bee Wise…Plant Natives,” a free program that teaches the value of bees as pollinators, from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. on Wednesday, June 6, in the Allegheny County Courtyard at 436 Grant Street in Downtown Pittsburgh. Burgh Bees, which partners with Penn State Cooperative Extension, will also be in the Courtyard with samples of different varieties of honey. Representatives will help participants learn to identify different native bees that visit area gardens.

During the event, master gardeners will also provide information on the importance of using native plants in landscaping and how to incorporate environmentally-friendly practices in garden maintenance. The first 50 visitors will receive a native perennial.

In 2009, the four existing planters in the Courthouse Courtyard were retrofitted and converted into rain gardens. Four downspouts were diverted into the planting beds, and the planters were filled with new soil and drainage material. Drought tolerant native plants were then placed in the new gardens.

The master gardener program supports the Penn State Cooperative Extension by utilizing research-based information to educate the public on best practices in consumer horticulture and environmental stewardship. The program provides interested individuals with extensive training in many phases of gardening. In return, participants dedicate volunteer time to teaching horticultural information based on university research and recommendations. The master gardener program also supports Allegheny County through the Courtyard Garden and demonstration gardens in North and South parks.

Yard debris special collection day on Saturday, May 19

Sorry for the late notice on this one — we only just found out about it!  Tomorrow, Saturday May 19, the City of Pittsburgh’s Department of Public Works, Bureau of Environmental Services will be doing a special collection for yard debris.

The usual rules apply — here they are, direct from the City, with stern emphasis:

Yard debris should be placed at your normal collection site on Friday May 18th. All yard debris materials will be collected by City refuse and recycling crews and composted on Saturday May 19th.

Bag Leaves for Collection: Residents must bag leaves in paper bags only and place them out at your normal refuse collection site. Bags should NOT exceed 35 pounds. Leaves in plastic bags will NOT be accepted.

Tree branches and Bushes: Cut, bundle and tie branches and bushes in lengths not exceeding 5 ft. in length. Tree branch diameter should not exceed four (4) inches.

Please note that City crews will NOT collect dirt, rocks, stones or cement. Yard debris left at the curb by contracted lawn care workers or independent contractors will NOT be collected by City crews.

Yard debris NOT meeting the collection guidelines will NOT be collected by City crews.

If you have any questions, please contact the Bureau of Environmental Services at (412) 255-2773 or (412) 255-2631.