Guerilla Gardening: Eating The Suburbs

The Age recently had an article on the emerging practice of "guerilla gardening", taking a look at the "Gardening guerillas in our midst". This concept seems to have steadily increased in popularity in recent years (admittedly from a very low base) as the permaculture movement's ideas have been propagated through the community.

Unlike the usual approach taken when trying to grow food in the suburbs - converting spare land on your own property (as discussed by aeldric previously and, more recently, in Jeff Vail's series on A Resilient Suburbia) - guerilla gardening involves cultivating any spare patch of urban land that isn't being used for another purpose, which could provide a substantial addition to the food growing potential of suburbia.

Genesis Of The Guerilla Gardeners

The idea of planting on vacant land has been around since at least 1973 when New Yorker Liz Christy and her "Green Guerilla" group transformed a derelict private lot into a garden in the Bowery Houston area of New York.

Since then the practice has spread to the US west coast, the UK and there have been reports of rogue gardeners in action in Brisbane, Sydney (with the Sydney Morning Herald calling the practitioners "bewilderers") and Melbourne.

What Does It Involve ?

In his book "On Guerrilla Gardening", Richard Reynolds, a 30-year-old former advertising employee who now runs, defines the activity as "the illicit cultivation of someone else's land".

"Our main enemies are neglect and scarcity of land," says Reynolds, "Land is a finite resource and yet areas like this are not being used. That seems crazy to me. And if the authorities want to get in the way of that logic, then we will fight them - but peacefully - through showing them what we can achieve with plants."

Guerilla gardening is a crime in Britain (digging up land you do not own is classed as committing criminal damage) but Reynolds insists it is a victimless crime and is clearly unfazed by encounters with police.

Practitioners plant herbs, vegetables and fruit trees in roadside nature strips, along railway lines and in other unused pieces of urban land. They then encourage the local community to tend the plots and reap the harvest.

Choosing the right sites is important for guerilla gardeners to avoid running foul of councils and other landowners. As one gardener noted in The Age", "It's got to be somewhere that no one wants to use. The whole idea is to turn something that was totally useless into something beautiful and useful. If you can find solutions like that, no one's going to hassle you."

Energy Bulletin co-founder Adam Grubb (sometimes known as Adam Fenderson) runs another web site called "Eat The Suburbs" and has achieved a measure of fame in his home town of Melbourne encouraging people to engage in "urban foraging".

Another person encouraging urban gardening, much to my surprise, is new London mayor Boris Johnson, who has launched a project called "Capital growth" that aims to convert 2012 London rooftops and patches of vacant land into vegetable gardens, with a target date of 2012.

In a way this seems to be a revival of the English tradition of "allotments" - a more organised form of urban gardening from a previous age.

How much food could be grown this way ?

I haven't got the foggiest how much additional agricultural production could be achieved if the world's urban areas were swarmed by bands of guerilla gardeners, but walking around my own suburb and imagining every tree along the roads being a fruit or nut tree, and every little scrap of land that has been abandoned to weeds or scrub turned into a wild herb and vegetable patch, makes me think that everyone could have a much healthier diet and save a lot on their food bills if this was the case.

And we'd avoid a huge amount of "food miles" (and the oil consumption this involves) while doing so.

Cross-posted from Peak Energy.

Interesting concept. I reckon the Royal Botanical Gardens and Albert Park is fair game for some gardening! :D We could divert the yarra river by night and irrigate the crops.

Hmmm - I was at Albert Park on Sunday and you are right - it could definitely do with being put to the plow...

I can't imagine who would do such things.

Ned Kelly ?

Just think of the potential productivity of the highway median strips.Irrigated by runoff from the bitumen.Very accessible - just watch out for the B-Doubles.

Heavy metals. Mmm, tasty.

In all seriousness, what, if any, metals, pollutants, etc and so forth, issues would you have growing food next to or within highways? I assume there would be some potential for problems, but how serious would it be?

Given living within 500 ft. of a heavily trafficked road increases lung damage, etc., significantly, I'd not dismiss the problem.


In some Adelaide parks there are olive trees that are harvested on a regular basis. I can see a problem with trees that are on median strips with harvesters being run over.
Many opportunities in suburban streets. If trees are pruned so that fruit is out of reach this would keep the shade tree value and allow more organized harvesting ( preventing some early picking). Best to have fruits that stay on the tree or can be picked green to avoid messy fruit drop.

I'm more of a guerrilla bush regener than a guerrilla gardener. I find uncared for weed-infested Council land, spray the weeds, plant natives and follow up every few months. If you choose the right trees you'll have native forest in a few short years. Its very satisfying, especially when you get some natural regen happening ... and just think about all that carbon being sequestered away!

Excellent that someone should draw attention to this on here. I do believe a lot of 'crash-mitigation' can be done through growing food everywhere (although I realise the caloric difference between an acre of wheat and a fruiting bush next to the road are huge).

Two corrections to the article: the earliest known guerilla gardener (not counting horticulturalism throughout the ages), was Gerrard Winstanley, who is commemorated right outside the Kremlin.

And most guerilla gardeners do NOT concern themselves with planting fruit and vegetables! Most are in it for the beautification aspect, though a significant portion, like me, genuinely love the idea of growing food in the city.
For a representative sample of what guerilla gardeners are up to, check out
They have pictures, and their forums are full of enthousiasts.

Guerilla gardening, like starting to grow crops for the first time, can be very rewarding or unrewarding, depending on your attitude, knowledge, experience and luck (but mostly attitude!). For example, I've grown lettuces alongside a busy intersection nearby. Several neat rows grows in the grass. But I've also planted several types of seed in various places, that didn't do much of anything. I've sown flowering bulbs along trees in front of my house, that each year come up, but get cut under by the greenery maintenance men, who weed around the trees with hoes.

But it's very rewarding in the sense of being a learning experience. I've found out there's lots of open space around my area, including barren industrial plots. I've learned most good land is either well maintained, or has tall weeds growing on it, and that the open spaces usually mean crappy sandy soil. Making a piece of land ready to be built on usually involves dumping a layer of sand on it here in Rotterdam, which makes a great many open spaces very marginal. I've also learned that buried but unprotected nuts and avocado seeds will be dug up and eaten by rats, and that raising seedlings instead takes a lot of space and effort, and is no guarantee for succes.

But I persevere, because with every failure I learn something, preparing me for potential agricultural work despite not having any land to cultivate of my own.

This summer I'm going to try and grow more vegetables along the roadside, and some date-palms next to the parking lot behind the trainstation. It's sandy and dry there, and they should be hardy to the dutch climate in those conditions. Even if there's no hope of them growing any dates, it's going to be fun to try.

Sidenote: not sure eating leafy vegetables grown next to the road is a safe proposition. Anyone know what is safe to eat and what not, when grown in a polluted environment?

The goal is to build organic matter. Since time is on your side, think in terms of feeding the soil. Sourcing some carbon like sawdust is your biggest bang for the buck for carbon at some 300:1 The goal is to create a 30:1 carbon to nitrogen ratio. I think that a sheet composting approach would be the least amount of work. Since you probably don't have access to horse cow or sheep manure. Think of offering the carbon to the bacteria in the soil which would then require a year or so to try to digest the carbon.

The 300 is a weight not mass reference.So a high number for sawdust at 300 versus hay/straw at 12 goes further. Physically ground compaction can be remedied with a tine that you could push down into the soil. This is also achieved with legumes. Sweet clover, and alfalfa can fix large amounts of nitrogen and help to punch holes through compacted soils with their roots.

One of the biggest problems facing agribusiness is compaction.
Because of their size (many acres) they routinely work the land when it's wet (or by the calender). In sandy soils this is less of a problem but in clay or clay loams this is big mistake. Think about trying to grow in concrete. This is why we don't see 4,000 h.p. tractors because in order to take advantage of the horsepower in order to get enough traction you would create even greater issues of compaction. This is why you will see double wheeled rear tires on many tractors.

There was a very interesting (imo) organic farmer in the 40's named Freind Sykes (Authored several books one titled: 'Humus and the Farmer')and he along with Sir Albert Howard were very aware of the effect of spreading slag (tailings from iron ore production) on the land. The calcium was a great improvementto the grasses. Later they realized that plow pans (which are created by moldboard plowing) created an impenetrable layer that restricted nutrients and moisture flow. With the increased use of chemical fertilizers this killed the earth worms and shut down the area from where plants could draw nutrients from.

Getting earthworms to live is a huge indicator of heavy metal toxicity. A farmer in my neck of the woods applied sewage sludge from the city on his fields some 17 years later he still couldn't get earth worms to live in it. We can use plants to cleanse soils that have become toxic.

Another good indicator crop is apparently beets. I have have heard that they are very sensitive to toxicity, but that needs to be confirmed some plants even some honeys can be toxic depending on what's in the soil.

Earthworm castings greatly improve the bio-availability of nutrients to plants and help aerate and improve the tilth of the soil.

Other thoughts that maybe somebody else has raised and I missed is contemplating succession and ecotones or edges. These are vectors in nature where different mixes and combinations of forest water and field come together. The mix of the 3 provides the greatest opportunity for wild life. Buffers and hedges along fields can provide great benefit for wildlife.

Putting plants where they can help, is a wonderful soul-filling act. And if enough people do it, it will no doubt attract inspector types to try to regulate you out of existence.
Go gardeners go!

Thanks for the note about Winstanley starting this idea - I didn't know anything about him (or why the Diggers were named that way) until I read your link.

Where will the soil come from? I don't live in the suburbs - I live in farm country - but without my horses (and all the off-farm inputs brought into make them into 'compost-machines', I couldn't grow much here.. IOW, guerilla gardening is going to need a large 'capital investment' of soil to get to a level that reasonably can renew itself from it's own waste.

In most cases, the soil is already there.

You can use various techniques to improve the soil without totally replacing it, sheet-mulching is a good one:

I live on the urban/suburban fringe and we've been planting different things based on the soil/light/drainage conditions. We have a dry gravel hilltop nearby that we've been planting things like black locust, raspberries, and jerusalem artichoke (with some added topsoil). In other places we have some fairly deep mucky soil that we've planted pawpaws, nut trees, and various maples. This is public land that is mostly used for recreation trails. No one cares because it's mostly full of invasive trees that we're trying to slowly use for firewood (seasoned buckthorn is a fruitwood!)

The local birds are doing a great job of planting things like mulberries in parks, and we help out with an occasional raspberry, shade tree, and nut tree. The only problem is that the wild rabbits like to eat most of what we plant, and any tree tubes we use to keep the rabbits out end up being bottle-rocket launchers around the 4th of July.

I live in a 9 story condo building in Jersey City. My wife is head of the building and grounds committee. I told her that we should be pooping in the yard. She says she'll have me arrested. :)

Seriously though, there should be a way to recycle urban wastes so as to enable urban gardening.


Right now my disposal instructions specify cremation. I'm starting to wonder if there isn't a better way.

But then,

To what end
does one grow wiser
when one ends
as fertilizer?

Have you guys (and gals) ever heard of poopoo gardens? When I lived at The Island School ( for a semester, all of our waste was diverted into these gardens which were incredibly lush and full of greenery. We did not grow food in it though, because people didn't like that idea. Most of the greens (lettuce and whatnot) is grown with aquaponics, and they sell the left over stuff to the local market! Additionally, the research institute has the largest PV array on the island by far! (31.2 kilowatts) Check it out:

Guerrilla excrement

"Seriously though, there should be a way to recycle urban wastes so as to enable urban gardening."

A lot of cities offer free compost bins, tied to housing (as in: the compost bin belongs to the house, and isn't sellable).

You could also do what many vermiculturists do: have a box with red wigglers (type of worms) where you throw in your kitchen scraps on your balcony, and regularly spread the 'results'.

In Mexico City they've had some luck using humanogenic liquid organic fertilizer to grow veggies in the slums:

I'm ready to enter the carbon cycle again!

In New Orleans, ALL soil is alluvial silt/sand, most of it with humus.

The neutral grounds (medians to y'all) have traditionally been, in some spots, used for herbs. No one needs very much, so a clump can serve the local community. Usually found in areas with no yards at all.


I live on an acre of land, and keep chickens [one dozen Light Brahmans]. The coop is next to the veggie-patch [nice solid deer-netting fence between the two]. In late fall/ winter, they run the entire acre, in summer during veg season, I coop them and feed them weeds and veg cuttings, and give them lawnmower clippings as coop bedding. In winter, I toss the compost onto the veggie patch and let it sit till I dig it in in spring. I also compost table scraps, etc.
The eggs are amazing, and the garden [which is small, but I am an old hand at intensive growing] puts out enough to keep us in veggies year-round.
And yes, in other places at other times I've been known to buy a truckload of manure, mix it in with my own soil, build raised weedless beds, and call it good. There are many ways to do this.

enough to keep us in veggies year-round

Don't you know of the 100 yr old woman who said her secret of longevity was that her mother had told her never to eat vegetables as they were bad for one's health. By contrast Irish people in the 1840s had potatoes as their main food source.
So that phrase above is meaningless.

The easiest and first step in guerilla gardening is to colonize the 'parkway' in front of your house if you live in the city, the strip of grass between the sidewalk and the street.

I just built a 6'x6' raised bed in front of our house in Hollywood and used layers of steer manure/newspaper/compost/soil/mulch to prepare it for planting. I'll probably just leave it sitting there for a couple months for everything to sink into the soil before I plant anything in it.

Here's a good link

Here in LA the city govt is pretty lax so we can get away with this, in some of the more uptight suburbs the homeowner's associations might get upset with you I guess, that will change in time I imagine though.

I'm trying to decide what to plant out there, at least one great big artichoke and perhaps a few 6' tall amaranth plants would be fun...probably tomatoes beans and squash too altho I will run out of room quickly. Fortunately there is more parkway to colonize all around the house...

I planted two varieties of Amaranth this year in a 10x 10 patch outside my regular veggie garden.
The climate here isn't ideal for the Greek variety, which has a long growing season [but I tried]. They seem to be more greens-oriented. However the Seeds of Change variety "Manna de Montana" did very well and gave us a lot of seed as well as greens. I left the Greek stuff standing and the birds have been picking at them all winter, so at least it's good in that way.
The greens are excellent although they have a "different" aftertaste- excellent cooked in a savory kind of dish [barley stew, for example] or as part of a mixed green salad. VERY high protein, and you can peel the bark off the stems, as with broccoli, and the steamed inner pulp is delicious- texture like asparagus.
Have 3 gallons of seed, too, which I keep intending to pop and make into "ricecake" sort of things [but haven't yet]. All from one pkg of seed.

You didn't say where you are.  I'm interested in such things if they'll grow in SE Michigan.

I thought you were in Kansas ???

"I don't think we're in Kansas any more, Toto."

I posted my final Clean Tech coverage from Kansas last year, but that was just a waypoint; I was in North Carolina at the time.  The total trip covered several times the distance from Melbourne to Perth.

One note of caution - old railway corridors and former industrial sites may be contaminated. Railways used arsenic herbicides quite heavily. Roadside areas might have lead and/or heavy hydrocarbon contamination. Get your garden soil tested!

Thanks for the post Big Gav.

Thanks for mentioning Gerrard Winstanley, Egregius. I'd heard about him before, but only recently was I able to get a copy of the movie "Winstanley" (1975) from Netflix. It's a low-key, haunting piece by Kevin Brownlow. I think he is a key figure for the beginning of a lot of movements (Quakers, Dissenters, agrarian reformers, communists, socialists, English radicals).

Nate Hagens wrote:

guerilla gardening is going to need a large 'capital investment' of soil to get to a level that reasonably can renew itself from it's own waste.

Important issue!

The bulk of our food will continue to be brought from rural areas into cities. The problem is that food leftovers and human urine/excrement mostly go to waste right now - e.g. landfills and sewer treatement. All those wonderful nutrients buried or flushed out to sea!

Hopefully as a society we'll become smarter about recycling nutrients.

In the meantime, individual households can create vermicompost by putting food scraps and paper into worm bins. (Easier than regular compost piles in my opinion.) More adventurous types can also use urine (either composted or diluted).

Energy Bulletin

The problem is that food leftovers and human urine/excrement mostly go to waste right now

I agree with Bart. It is easy and fast to build good soil if you are using food waste and human waste...humanure works fast.

Hey y'all

A word of caution... was engaged in some late night food planting activities on a piece of vacant land last month with some fellow conspirators, beans corn and pumpkins. Couldn't for the life of us work out why such a prime piece of growing land was abandoned in the centre of an expensive suburb? It turns out that the land is seriously contaminated due to some questionable industrial activities in years gone by.... (timber treatment amongst other delights)

Beans are growing well though, just don't think we'll be eating them! May have to strip the plants so some unsuspecting forager doesn't end up ingesting dioxions..

Targeting abandoned houses and house lots now, much less chance of nasties in the soil. Results are so far patchy, but good for set and forget gardening I reckon...



Planting fruits and nuts gets around a lot of these problems, hardly any contaminants actually make it into the fruits.

Guerilla planting trees and vines makes far more sense than vegies anyway, the return on work done is just so much better. Permanent, high yeilds every year that you just need to pick when you walk past(and prune and water occasionally...). Match your your tree and site selection to your rainfall, plant in winter and mulch as thick as possible and thats most of the work done.

For nutrient, we have a massive oversupply in cities! We just need to start seeing where it is and diverting it to better uses...



My interest with regard to my small town would be along the margins of public lands, utility right of ways, etc. The typical situation here is that nothing has been planted in any sort of deliberate way, but neither has anything been cut down unless it becomes a hazard (trees leaning over a roadway after a storm, for example). Very laissez faire, in other words.

What I would like to do is to sneak in some seedlings of native nut trees like Black Walnuts, and some of the larger native fruit trees like Persimmons. These should thrive in such an environment of total neglect, and will eventually (beyond my lifetime, unfortunately) reach bearing size. They will be a good asset for the local community. People don't tend to plant these in their yards, because they are large trees -- too large for the typical residential lot, and because it is unlikely that they will harvest anything during their term of residency. Thus, these magnificent, valuable old trees are slowly disappearing from our landscape. Planting them would be a particularly worthwhile project.

A good source for seedlings for native plants is a nursery in Michigan Oikos Tree Crops: I'm stratifying a bunch of persimmon seeds from fruit from a local tree to plant along tree lines in adjacent plats. I do have a few persimmons on my property that I have planted from choice grafted cultivars and some large seedling trees from Oikos. Grafted trees will produce fruit quicker, maybe even in your lifetime.

FYI Walnut tree roots give off a hormone that impedes veggies from growing so plant the walnut trees far away from the veggie garden!

True. Walnuts are allelopathic, suppressing weeds. Some plants aren't bothered by it though; more info on what you can plant under walnuts here:

Walnuts are easy to grow, require little maintenance, but can be extremely messy I'm told. Not good to have standing over a paved walkway.

Reading the Nate Hagens article on renewable ammonia it stuck me that we will not be able to grow enough dryland crops several hours drive out of the cities. The combination of PO and GW means
- less energy embodied in material inputs
- less effort by machines
- greater seasonal rainfall variation
Perhaps add to that a general reluctance of young people to take up broadacre farming. Therefore suburban food production though not of the guerilla form will have to make up for the inevitable shortfalls of remote farming.

One approach that may solve these issues and perhaps that of contaminated soil is farming by gantry systems over raised beds. A Melbourne area nursery system is
Simpler uncovered systems might even be able to speed grow wheat and corn in the suburban fringes. The advantages are less tractor fuel, fertiliser, water and labour. Some of these inputs as well as artificial soil could be derived from sewage. The killer is high capital cost. I think a State government should allow a private operator to set up a trial farm in a failed suburb and give them a break from state and local laws and charges. Ideally the site should be on a transport corridor with a beeline to the city markets.

Attitudes to farming could change very quickly if people are hungry /out of work. There are many young people with jobs in the city now, whose parents are still on the land (just) and aging fast, who may have no alternative but to return to the family farm. What won't happen however is that dad gets bought out by the son or daughter and then retires to the Gold Coast. They'll have to stay put on the farm and contribute as best they can through gardens or childcare, domestic work etc while the younger people do the hard yards in the fields.

Farms will need to return to a basis of "feed the farmers first" with any surplus bartered or sold for other inputs. The surpluses will become much smaller once the fossil fuel subsidy is withdrawn, which will put an end to debt financing of farm operations.

There are at least 25 different edible "wild" plants that can be found in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. I have picked blackberries until I was (almost) sick of them.

Ginger, miners' lettuce, bay leaves, rosemary, and many others are free for the taking (outside of the Botanical Gardens, at least) in the more wild areas. I have rarely seen anyone else picking, even at the top of the blackberry season.

Blackberrys are considered a pest species in my part of the world where they have a tendency to grow over creek banks and gullies and choke out access to everything else. Farmers and local councils have a constant battle to control blackberry which can grow to an unharvestable size very quickly. The fruit gained is negligble to the lost production from other species that are choked out by it. Geurilla gardeners, while well intentioned, have the capacity to become eco-terrorists if they plant inappropriate species that either escape or spread disease by being untended and neglected in the future. Fruit trees need pruning and harvesting at the right time, protection from birds, fruit bats and especially fruit fly. They need to have an owner (sponsor) who has responsibility for the lifetime of the tree. Hopefully guerilla gardening will evelove into co-ordinated community gardening where local knowledge, authorities and resources come togetherto build up the resilience and beauty of urban areas.

Blackberrys are considered a pest species in my part of the world where they have a tendency to grow over creek banks and gullies and choke out access to everything else.

Wild blackberries can be a real problem. I have patches on the east and south sides of my property that I have to go in every year and whack to the ground and thin out with roundup each summer. I don’t remove them completely because their location prevents soil erosion. Better dealing with a few blackberries than a larger gully. I might replace the ones on the south with some willow. I grow my own cultivated varieties which are much better in yield and flavor and thornless. I don't know about your area, but the prevailing attitude among many farmers around here is that if it isn't grain or grass, kill it - and that includes trees that might prevent a few more bushels of grain to be harvested. Unfortunately, in their vigilance to control unwanted plants they wind up with weeds that are useless for any purpose. I’d rather have the elderberries.

I live in a rural area between Sydney and Melbourne in what is called the breadbasket of Australia. We are relatively lucky in having plenty of diversity in ag within 100 miles (160Km). I think the attitude in the early part of last century was to clear everything from the land and plant crops, but a century of droughts and floods has taught us the hard way that we have extremely fragile soils here in this ancient land that can blow away with the wind if not tied down. Rabbits have also done a lot of damage to the landscape and the foxes that were introduced to control them, have become a menace to both livestock and native fauna. 20 years ago however the Landcare movement was founded and funded by government to help rural communities tackle the damage caused by a century of farmers who clung to their own patch and had no regards for the consequences of their actions on their neighbours downstream, or the broader ecosystems which provide vital inputs such as pollinators and the watersheds to their land. Landcare has been very successful in some areas and weeds are usually at the top of the priority list for each group.

I think that the knowledge sharing has been the fundamental agent for changing attitudes in what is a very conservative group. Unfortunately, our new Labor government sees the Landcare constituency as a political enemy so they have underfunded this program in this years budget. Ironic really in that they were swept to power in no small measure by the perception that they were the greener of the two options. Still, Landcare is a great model for bringing communities together and could be adapted to urban settings to help direct and control the efforts of guerilla gardeners.

If you prune the wild berry plants in early spring, they'll put out a respectable amount of fruit- enough to make blackberry jelly by the bucketful. And blackberry leaf tea is extremely good for you.

That said, the potential for rust and other diseases is larger if they're anywhere near your intentional vines. But if you're keeping the vines in place for purposes of soil retention, consider clipping them into manageable shape and then leaving them be, rather than using the Evil Monsanto Juice on your land.

Actually, blackberries are produced on one year old wood; this is why you mow them down after they produce during the summer so they will have one year old canes to produce fruit the next year. Raspberries can be cut in spring to produce a fall crop. I have no problem with the judicious use of Roundup. There are much worse herbicides out there. Try managing weeds on a ten acre plus plot without it. Believe me, I have, and it’s virtually impossible. I just don’t let ideology get in the way of rational thinking in regards to a chemical that if used minimally is fairly safe. Lawn fanatics do much more damage to the environment than I do.

inappropriate species indeed.
I shuttered when an above poster mention planting amaranth in Hollywood. I don't know how well it does in that area but it's a potential nuke/weed

There are parts of the world where Amaranth sells for more per acre than corn. It's just that our culture in the US doesn't know how to use it.

For those worried about soil contamination many states offer free soil testing through state ag departments. And cover cropping and sheet mulching are wonderful ways to build soil without tremendous amounts of inputs from afar.

I think we have much more space for growing food in our town and cities and in our suburbs than we think we do.

While not the suburbs, I’ve been planting the tree lines and fence lines in and around my very rural property with herbs, Jerusalem artichoke, fruit bushes and trees. Asparagus particularly likes the old fence lines. I’ve got a new batch of elderberries, paw paws, aronia, persimmon, and sea buckthorn stratifying in the fridge for next spring’s planting. Once in they grow wild. The sea buckthorn are an excellent erosion control plant and produce fruit very high in vitamin c. I’ve also re-introduced native species, such as ramps (wild leak) in my forest and the adjacent woodlands . Don’t forget mushrooms. I grow shitake, bolete, and oyster mushrooms on my property; spores travel widely, so these mushrooms should start appearing elsewhere. By using adjacent properties which have untended sections I could possibly expand my growing area tenfold. The irony is what is growing in the area wild is ignored, except for American ginseng, which the locals will drive to extinction shortly because of the high prices paid by Asian customers.

Good post.. I'd recommend people stock up on propane instead of charcoal, but be careful for obvious reasons. I'm investigating solar cookers as well.. seems like the most sane of alternatives...

I'm noticing a fork in the road between media types. On business channels the suits talk about building new highways and coal trains. Maybe that train already left and they should have been on it. In the public media not only does TOD regularly discuss food localisation but the BBC talks of a major rethink on food. The Australian ABC just ran a show on primary/grade school kids growing and preparing their own lunches. They said they had to put together a show on home food growing due to popular demand. Time will tell how the ABC's UK imported show hosted by Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall will rate with its greater emphasis on meat. The local paper has a two page spread on 2008 as The Year of the Potato particularly on the reduced need for inputs.

All of this says some of the stimulus money should go on helping set up community gardens or other forms of urban food production. That help should be a one-off for materials. If the locals can't get it to work then leave it idle until others can.

wood vinegar from production of charcoal or biochar

wood vinegar, pyroligneous acid, cas 8030-97-5
stcc 4910428

vinegar is pesticide, in sufficient strength herbicide.
could it be considered over plastic mulch ?

on weed control using vinegar

European Parliament is due to decide on a new Regulation on the placement of pesticides on the market, concern over the removal of established crop protection products from the market.

Wood creosote is a colorless to yellowish greasy liquid with a smoky odor and burned taste. Other than looks and taste, the chemicial makeup is totally different than coal tar creosote. It is made of guaiacol, creosol, o-cresol, and 4-ethylguaiacol, plant phenolics, rather than petrochemicals.

Wood creosote has been used as a disinfectant, a laxative, and a cough treatment, but these have mostly been replaced by newer medicines.

The popular Japanese Kampo anti-diarrheic Seirogan has 133 mg wood creosote (from beech, maple or oak wood) per adult dose as its primary ingredient.

Our local council (Nelson, NZ) has a policy of planting nut and fruit trees in amongst its other plantings on communal land. Its such an obvious an easy thing to do one wonders why other authorities are not doing it. Many of the trees are visually stunning when flowering and the benefits are obvious.


All my output, liquid and solid, goes back into my permaculture operation here. The pee goes first into a collector bottle, then out on to the comfrey plants, who convert it to superfood for both my other food plants and my livestock, with excelllent high nitrate content. The solids go into a dry composting loo, sweetened after each use with a small scoop of sawdust or woodash-plus-biochar, (from my cooker/heater Winiarski-Rocket stove), or dryish forest-floor soil, to keep it inoffensive. (They each do that, very well). When full, this goes into my composting bins, then eventually into the raised beds.

We have no phosphate bottleneck here. Nor potassium, nor nitrates either, for that matter. As well as the nitrogen in the pee, I use a lot of perennial, creeping white-clover ground cover around the food plants, to fix atmospheric nitrogen. (I also happen to like peas and beans a lot, fresh and for drying for stored staple foods. So more air nitro-fixing there)

Cuba blazed the trail:

During their 'Special Period' (when the USSR was collapsing, and could no longer take the bulk of their sugar monocrop and send them lots of oil, and the imperial gics (gangsters-in-charge) in Washington were continuing their long effort to starve and bully and terrorise Cuba back into the US empire), the food supply in the whole island got very hairy. Part of the solution was getting people to grow food everywhere. City and suburban intensive organic (that is, low oil-input) gardening became state policy, improvising growing places in every nook and cranny that people could think of. Quoting from memory, I believe that Havana now grows something like 80% of its own vegertable food, and a considerable quantity of smaller meat, eggs and dairy animals, within the city limits.

This example is now urgent for the rest of us, and -- whaddya know -- erupting spontaneously from the -- erm -- grassroots all over the place in the over-rich -- no, make that the ex-over-rich -- countries.

For the deepest of deep green guerrilla gardening, google 'seed-bombs'.

Concerning Cuba and its "special period" and today, I wrote this article.

In brief, Cuba lost 20% of its oil supply from 1989-92, but natural gas went from just 1.1 billion cubic feet in 1989 to 26.4 in 1997 and is now 14.126 billion cubic feet annually. And coal consumption went from 254,000t in 1989 to 41,000t today.

Overall, total Cuban fossil fuel energy use went from a high of 0.51 quadrillion BTU in 1989 to 0.458 today, a drop of 10%.

About 2/3 the oil used in Cuba is for electricity generation, and the other 1/3 in transport; they couldn't cut the electricity generation, so transport suffered heavily from the decline in oil supply.

In dollar terms, Cuba imports vastly more food than it produces; but in terms of actual nutrition (eg $10 of tomatoes does not keep you going as long as $10 of wheat), over half is domestically-produced, and a bit under half imported.

Cuba still has large-scale industrially-run farms, but most of those grow crops for export (tobacco, sugar, etc), or grains. However the bulk of grain consumed by Cubans is imported from the US and their industrialised farms. Whereas their fruit and vegies come from multiple organic gardens, some are communal plots of land, but the most productive are small privately-owned farms.

In terms of getting the most production in times of resource scarcity, it seems from the Cuban experience that,

- grains and cash crops should be done industrially with moderate fossil fuel inputs
- basic nutrition apart from grains can easily be handled by a combination of small private farms run organically with minimal fossil fuel inputs, and communal/backyard gardens with zero fossil fuel inputs

The opportunity cost of the ornamental tree industry must be high. It seems we could increase local food production if we could convince people to plant fruit and nut bearing trees instead of ornamentals. Add in berry bushes instead of the typical shrub found in peoples yards and people would increase their local food production at little or no cost.
Non food bearing plantings must be a product of an energy abundant age. It makes no sense.

This is the re-application of old model of the hunter-gatherers-part time agriculturalists, where all the land and its use was only limited by what the people wanted/could do as well as the competition of other groups (or even animals, the weather, etc.) In a modern setting, totally different, as food is grown by big corps with big org. and trucked about..

Various revolutions have had the aim to re-claim, or re-distribute, land. That is, changing the laws etc. that regulate its use. Often killing the despots who owned it. Or kicking them out!

Use by stealth, with the exception of quick forays (poaching, for protein, foraging for veggies) was, afaik, never terribly common, in total calorie terms or other such measures (?)

Usually, informal, or even contracted arrangements did the job.

Because growing food takes time, care, work, and can’t be hidden.

If the Gvmts. and the Corps have it all locked up, what is to be done?

This mildly subversive and minor move is timid and marginal. Naturally conditions have changed and comparing with the past is perhaps not useful.

Politics, anyone?

Not being sarcastic, I think it’s great. Long term effects, scope, that is another story. Change usually comes from way below or high up - from the middle not so much. (Pardon the wild generalisation..!)

Hi, I was brought to this site via two or three hops from an article I was reading on the subject. This is stuff I've been active in for more than a decade, and have become a designated "dead horsebeater" on the subject, as well as being ridiculed for my continual admonition to "plant beans" [they return nitrogen to the soil, are easy to grow, and are an excellent source of protein to boot].

There were several comments above regarding areas where pollution is an issue, and the safety of the food raised in such territory. The "takeup" of heavy metals, dioxins, etc very much depends on the plant in question, and the process whereby the food-portion of the plant is developed.

Reed beds are the newest high-tech/low-tech method of processing human waste- they are actually more effective than chemical methods [according to a waste-management professional friend of mine], and the water that flows out of a reed bed tests out as purer than most groundwater. The reeds provide habitat for wildlife as well... and hey, maybe someday thatched roofs will make a comeback.

Regarding pollution treatment- I saw a video with fascinating content on TED that I highly recommend. The url is here:

I think it's 17:44 minutes extremely well-spent, and the results he shows are amazing.

Nice to see others thinking the way I have been doing. If people laugh at you for it, laugh right back at them! You're on the right track.

Thanks for noting the Paul Stamets mushroom based remediation technique - I've linked to that talk before here a few times.

Another interesting technique is this one from John Todd:

Cultivating every patch of land available within a city is not unheard of.
The russians did it during WWII in Leningrad.

The city was under siege by the Germans and russians couldn't get resupplies in through the blockade fast enough.
They were able to drop seeds. So they planted everywhere. And saved thousands of lives that way. Mostly civilian lives that would have been lost due to famine.

Urine is an excellent liquid fertiliser for vegeatable crops. I have been using my own 'supply' for 3 years completely avoiding the use of bought in fertilisers (other than a few trailer loads of horse manure and barrels of seaweed collected when I am at the coast).

As for urine collecting a 2/4 litre fabric conditioner bottle is ideal. I collect 4-6 litres a week - which over the winter goes into a 180 litre barrel for summer use.

Also has the added advanatage of saving a lot of water in terms of toilet flushes - and I am on a meter so saves money too.

No idea as to the nitrate and mineral content - I suspect this varies. Would be interesting to see a comparison with standard NPK fertilisers

Allottmets are alive and well in the UK. If you go to google maps and soom in on london, then pan around a bit, it wont take you long before you hit a patchwork of allottmets.

Cheap as well. £16 a year for 125m^2. Best of all the council is legally obliged to make land available for cultivation if it is demanded.

Personally I dont have one as its easier and cheaper to buy a kilo of carrots from tesco.

Is that a national law or a London one ?

I remember first arriving in the UK in 1992 and catching a train from Waterloo out into Surrey and being amazed by all the patches of allotments along the railway line. You don't see anything like that down here...

Another option to grow food in urban areas is to legally lease small plots of land from homeowners. Spin Farming is a way for a farmer to make a decent living without a huge investment, simply by finding people who would rather have vegetables in their front yards instead of lawn.

Its a national law, but you have to have 6 signatories to petition the council. After that its all down to availability, legal precedent and boring stuff like that.