Avoiding commercial pesticide use ūü§Ę

Factory farms commonly use pesticides, with pest- meaning a troublesome annoyance and -cide¬†meaning to kill, in order to target insects, weeds, fungi, and even bacteria that may feed upon their crops. ¬†These pesticides can be carcinogenic¬†(cancer-causing) and actively contribute to the world’s current antibiotic resistance crisis as they unnecessarily target bacteria (more about this here). ¬†Purchasing organic produce from the store avoids the pesticide dilemma¬†but said organic produce is often significantly more expensive than its conventional counterpart. ¬†One of the benefits of growing your own produce is being able to control what exactly your food is exposed to. ¬†It turns out that there are a number of effective and organic insect repellant recipes that you can make at home. ¬†This article from globalhealingcenter.com has 10 awesome do-it-yourself pesticide recipes. ¬†Additionally, attached are a few videos I have found to be relevant to the discussion.

Grow your own skincare ūüƨ

I’ve had acne on and off for years, it¬†usually flares up most when I’m stressed out (senior year Thank You!!!). ¬†If you experience something similar, my one tip of advice is to mentally reevaluate your priorities and realize¬†that acne is a tiny piece of debris floating in your sea of goodness (you have much more important things to think about!).

That being said, consider focusing on building up the overall health of your skin, rather than removing any “imperfections” you may have. ¬†Hydration and well-rounded nutrition are paramount in doing this. ¬†Living in Pittsburgh is great since so many fruits and veggies can be grown here: fruits and vegetables that fight extreme insulin spikes, have anti-inflammatory¬†properties, and often contain compounds like beta-carotenes and vitamin-C. ¬†While it comes as no surprise that consuming fresh produce can improve the health of your skin, you can also use the veggies you grow to make organic face masks (assuming you stay clear of harsh pesticides, but why wouldn’t you…). ¬†Face masks are great for your skin and can be √ľber-relaxing, and it turns out they can be made from ingredients¬†grown right here in Pittsburgh. ¬†When mixing up your own masks, consider using some of these ingredients:

Cucumbers are cooling, anti-inflammatory, and can reduce redness in the skin.

Butternut squash naturally boosts collagen production in the skin¬†and can naturally protect against the sun’s UV rays because of its bioflavonoids.

       

Strawberries and Asparagus are both great for their vitamin-C content, while both offer a slew of other vitamins and minerals. ¬†The presence of vitamin-C is especially great for its antioxidant qualities—stopping free radical electrons in their tracks and often eliminating their damaging effects.

Carrots are rich in beta-carotenes and vitamin-A.  Our bodies convert beta-carotene in vitamin-A which fosters healthy skin and mucous membranes (and immunity against pathogens, as well as good eye-health).

Tomatoes are awesome for so many reasons. ¬†They contain high levels of vitamin-C, contain lycopene¬†which provides protection against UV rays, and act as natural¬†astringents. ¬†Here‘s an article that explores 36 benefits of tomatoes.

Finally, and I know it isn’t something you can easily grow (unless you’re up for the adventure of keeping bees), honey. ¬†Honey’s highly dense sugary makeup makes it antibacterial and promotes wound healing, it’s loaded with antioxidants, and it’s a great pore unclogger and moisturizer. ¬†This doesn’t mean you should pick up any honey from the grocery store, though. ¬†This is a great opportunity to support your local beekeepers! ¬†Now that summer’s approaching, try checking out farmers markets to see if any honey vendors are selling. ¬†Here‘s a list of farmers markets in Pittsburgh that sell honey. ūüíõ

Remember that everyone’s skin’s different, so these things may or may not work for you. Try them out and find what you love!

Zippy upcycled planting ‚ôĽÔłŹ

Here is a quick collection of tips¬†and tricks (one might even go so far as to say DIYs) for¬†eco-conscious gardening. ¬†Not only is using recycled items to plant with great for the environment, but it’s also incredible for the budget.¬†‚ôĽÔłŹūüėĄūüćÄ‚ú®

If you’ve ever taken on a construction project, you may have spare cinder blocks. ¬†If not, they’re easily obtainable from building material reuse centers like Construction Junction if you live in Pittsburgh, or you could probably snag a few from any construction effort (just don’t tell anyone I suggested it). ¬†If these options don’t suit you, this isn’t technically recycling anymore, but you can get them from local hardware stores for under $1. ¬†Anyways, it turns out that cinder blocks are great for containing and separating plants. ¬†Not only are they either cheap or free, but they already have two compartments for separating plants, have good drainage capabilities, and are easily customizable with paints. ¬†In my experience, clusters of cinder blocks make especially great homes for¬†herb colonies.

Here‘s a beautiful article that shows several different ways to arrange cinder block gardens.

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Another abundant resource that happens to be great for gardening is plastic bottles.  Both 500 mL (16.9 fl oz) and 2 L bottles work.

For smaller, 500 mL bottles, I’ve previously turned them into a vertical, self-irrigating string of planters. ¬†While years ago, this project was very tedious and would likely have benefitted from me giving it several goes. ¬†This is especially true since I didn’t have much experience working with the circle drill bits I was using and my plastic bottles seemed to have been made of especially flimsy plastic. ¬†I still managed to come out with something functional and that I was happy with, so I’m sure it would be even nicer with more practice. ¬†This is the general blueprint I used for my planter:

          

I’ve never tried using 2 L bottles for planting, but I’m sure they can be used in a similar self-irrigating setup as above, or they could probably just be stacked and used as traditional pots with the addition of holes on their sides.

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As I’ve been researching gardening in Pittsburgh,¬†especially as the annual Three Rivers Arts Festival quickly approaches, I’ve been thinking a lot about Pittsburgh as a muse. Historically¬†Pittsburgh has raised and been the home of¬†many talented artists who must have found inspiration here—artists like Mary Cassatt, Andy Warhol, George Sotter, and much more. ¬†So just for kicks, I decided to look at some of these artists’ depictions of nature and, even if not always relevant, consider the influence¬†Pittsburgh’s natural scene might have had on them. ¬†Below is a small compilation.

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Mary Cassatt was born in Allegheny County during the mid 19th century.  Widely considered to have been a great impressionist painter, her works often depict women and children in intimate or private spaces.

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Andy Warhol was born in Pittsburgh in the early 20th century and was a leading figure of the pop art movement. ¬†Warhol’s works draw inspiration from many different sources and employ a variety of media including but not limited to painting, silk screening, and photography. ¬†He featured a ten-work series of screen printed flowers called his Flower Series.

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George Sotter was an American impressionist born in the late 19th century.  While born in Pittsburgh, he later moved to Philadelphia where he established himself as a painter and occasionally worked with stained glass.

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And how exactly do you sow seeds indoors?

Sowing seeds is the simple process of beginning a plant’s growth indoors so as¬†to give it a greater chance of surviving once transferred¬†to the outdoors. ¬†This is great if you’re interested in growing particularly sensitive plants or if you live in colder climates. ¬†If you’re living in Pittsburgh, sowing¬†seeds provides an avenue of raising many more plants than you might be able to do otherwise (excluding greenhouses… but isn’t that large-scale sowing anyways?). ¬†I talk about this more here, so do check it out if you’re interested ūüôā

Before you start sowing your seeds, it’s important to consult your seed packets to see what the planting instructions are for each plant. ¬†Something you should look out for is what the planting date recommendations are, you wouldn’t want to start a plant too soon or too late in the season or it may not develop fully. ¬†Before sowing, you should also secure clean containers to¬†plant in. ¬†Home depot offers starting kits like¬†this¬†and¬†this one¬†but you could likely find the same success using egg cartons or any other small container of your choice. ¬†Paper egg cartons are awesome since they’re typically biodegradable and can be planted directly into the ground. ¬†On that note, I’m sure you could even plant seeds directly into egg shells and then plant those into the Earth instead, just make sure they have drainage holes. ¬†A final preparatory step is to label (!!!) your plants/containers.

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Almanac.com¬†recommends a potting mix of soilless peat moss combined with equal parts vermiculite and perlite (to maximize water retention and oxygen flow). ¬†After mixing the “soil” (not actually soil) you should add water to dampen the mixture and fill your containers with it just below full. ¬†You should then plant your seeds according to individual package instructions (you can typically press the seed into the soil [not too deep!!] with your finger or pencil but it’s safest to consult the¬†package). ¬†You should then cover the containers with plastic wrap with small holes poked in it to allow ventilation and water to enter. ¬†You should then carefully water your seedlings, keeping in mind how gentle they are. ¬†Instead of pouring water directly on them, try using a spray bottle or a water dropper. ¬† ¬†Place your container(s) in a warm place until seedlings sprout, at which point you should move the containers into direct sunlight and remove the plastic wrap. ¬†Once you start to see more growth, you should plant the seedlings in individual pots, keeping them out of direct sunlight for a few days, before¬†transferring them outdoors. ¬†Good luck !!!¬†ūüĆěūüĆą

Free ūüöęūüíįūü§Ďūüöę seeds!!?

So you want to start a garden but have limited funds… ¬†You might feel¬†stuck but luckily, there are a few ways to get around this.

In my experience, forming relationships with your local nurseries and garden shops is key to maintaining a functional garden. ¬†A few years ago while working on another gardening project with my class, we found ourselves in desperate need of seeds. ¬†We decided to reach out to a local nursery that very graciously gave us all of the seeds we needed for free. ¬†The great thing about these nurseries is that they often want to help spread and cultivate (haha) gardening culture in their respective communities, making them a great resource if you need help getting started. ¬†Perhaps it was merely¬†a bunch of “cute” 12-year-olds requesting seeds that merited so much generosity from the nursery, but I would still absolutely recommend pursuing this avenue.

If this type of request isn’t your cup of tea, fear not, for there are a surprising number of online ways to receive seeds for free. ¬†With threats like global warming and the endangerment of bees growing ever more prevalent in our daily lives, more and more companies and organizations are encouraging people like you and me to go outside and plant something. ¬†This poses an amazing opportunity to obtain seeds and even saplings for free. ¬†Here are some of the best (FREE) opportunities I’ve come across:

Not necessarily seeds but free and gardening related nonetheless:

Finally, I wanted to mention that you might be surprised by all the seeds you encounter at home every day.  Your peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, and more, all contain seeds which you can plant and grow into more food (sounds like magic imo).  Here are some resources I found that detail how to do this!

Thanks for reading and good luck!!!!!

Season of planting X geographic location

Pittsburgh → Zone 6b

Based on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Plant Hardiness Zone Map, Pittsburgh is in zone 6b.

{This map assigns areas across the US numerical labels 1-13 with each corresponding to a different 10¬įF band, with each band further divided into “A” and “B” groups. ¬†Based on average seasonal lows, the higher the zone, the hotter the average* low‚Ć temperatures.}

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*Note that the zones are determined by average low temperature and not seasonal extreme values.

‚ĆAs the Zone Map continues to be updated over time, many places are increasing in zone number with an average temperature increase of 5¬įF. ¬†This is yet another not so subtle hint at the observable effects of global warming.

Which plants?

A¬†region’s zone number may indicate to a gardener which plants are most suitable and likely to thrive in their respective areas. ¬†Gardeners with lower zone numbers may find more success in either planting hardier plants or sowing seeds and waiting for the last frost of winter. ¬†I would suggest a similar technique be employed by those planning on gardening in zone 6.

While the springtime temperatures in zone 6 can be moderate, sowing some seeds early in spring will allow for a greater diversity in what species one can grow.

In zone 6, the last frost of winter is predicted to be May 1st with the first frost expected to be October 14th. ¬†For this reason, it is wise for Pittsburgh gardeners to get a head start on growing by sowing their more temperature sensitive plants. ¬†There are, however, some plants which thrive in colder weather and can be planted outside immediately following the last frost date. ¬†According to¬†gardeningknowhow.com, these hardier plants include lettuce, radishes, and peas. ¬†Some vegetables which should first be sown indoors include tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and squash. ¬†I found¬†this¬†article from Readers Digest and¬†this one¬†from¬†gardensalive.com¬†to be particularly helpful in relaying which plants to sow. ¬†I recommend cross-checking these sites with the¬†gardeningknowhow¬†reference to check if any of the plants you’re interested in growing are suitable for Pittsburgh weather. ¬†Some perennials* that grow well (according to¬†gardeningknowhow.com) are bee balm, coneflower, salvia, daisy, daylily, coral bells, hosta, and hellebore. ¬†Shrubs that thrive here include hydrangea, rhododendron, rose, rose of Sharon, azalea, forsythia, and butterfly bush.

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*Perennials are plants that live for more than 2 years.   These can often be flowers that cyclically bloom and thrive during summer and then die every autumn and winter.

When to plant!

I’ve found in my “research” that information of what periods to plant crossed with what to plant is often presented similarly among different graphs. ¬†So instead of making my own, I decided to include some of my favorites of the ones I’ve come across.

Here’s a map from¬†ufseeds.com:

Planting-Zone-6

Another chart is from veggieharvest.com:

zone-6.jpg

That’s all I have for this post. ¬†You can look below for some more information I came across while researching everything, I hope this helps!
Plant Hardiness Zones

Plant Hardiness Zones ctd.

More plants that are habitable in zone 6