Philly Water Dept and Rain Barrels for your small Garden

The City of Philadelphia’s Water Department has a great program for getting rain barrels to collect water run off from our rain gutters. We have had ours in place for 2 or 3 years now.  They are great for collecting rain water for your small lot gardens.

rain barrel
rain barrel

The rain barrels are delivered and installed free from the Philadelphia Water Department.  Here is their website:

All you have to do is take a Rain Check Workshop. Philadelphia Water and the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS) offer free Rain Check Workshops in Center City and neighborhoods throughout Philadelphia.  At the workshop you schedule a free install.

rain barrel connection
rain barrel connection

There is maintenance required.  Every Fall season you have to disconnect the hose from the down spout as leaf matter will clog the drain.  Just take a hose and wash it out.  The other maintenance is to remove the water from the barrel before the weather freezes in winter.


These things are great for watering your small lot garden, especially for raised garden beds we use in our.

Urban Potato Tower Garden

Attempting an Urban version of a potato tower in our raised Philadelphia small lot veggie garden.  I saw a video on Facebook about building a potato tower and I was hoping to give it a try.  As of May 2017 everything on the zoning challenge front is still in the fight, so I figured why not?  Our Urban experiment of a Potato Tower is documented in this blog post.  Maybe we will make enough potatoes to offset the property taxes.

The really neat thing about this potato tower is that it is above ground and when the potatoes are ready you just take the tower walls away and you have potatoes.

The original article was published in Facebook by Patricia Lynn via  It is a good thing I tried this because as I tried the link to the site, it appears that the original post is now gone.  However, there are plenty of articles out there just search “create-a-potato-tower-for-plentiful-potatoes”.


potato tower by patricia lynn
potato tower by patricia lynn
small green fence
small green fence

My problem was finding straw in the city of Philadelphia and building this tower.  I found substitutes Home Depot had this small green 10 ft in length fence for $6 each and I bought two.  They also had chicken wire for about $11 dollars.  So the cage is covered.

Problem, where do I find straw?

compost bin twigs
compost bin twigs from the Big Old 2st Tree


So I figured why not try a brown paper bag?  Plus we had plenty of tree sticks from our big old tree in our compost bin.

I figure straw won’t last forever, so why not try a few things that anyone would be able to find in an urban city?

I basically made a very simple square box with the small green fence and then created a circle wall with the chicken wire inside the small green square.  The chicken wire comes with extra little pieces of wire which I used to secure to the green fence wire.

Then I lined the inside of the chicken wire with a brown paper bag the I torn in half to cover the wall.  Once the bag looked a little stable I went ahead and lined the sides with twigs from the compost bin.

Here is my 4 year old recording me add the dirt and providing commentary as he is trying to call our Big Dog.  The video is posted in YouTube. It is funny, well at least to me.

The finished potato tower would look like this:

finished potato tower #1
finished potato tower #1

Now you just add the potatoes.  The instructions say cover with about an inch of dirt.  The seeding potatoes I had sat around for a while but some already looked like they were spouting.

I marked my Urban Potato Towers with the pictures from the seed potato bags.

Even though these towers were pretty close to the diy sites, I was worried that the dirt would dry out.  One of the issues of raised beds and flower pots is the dirt drying out.  So today I was shredding old papers and decided to try using the shredded paper to keep the moisture in.

I made about a 1/2 inch layer of shredded paper and covered it with dirt and watered.  I hope this works.  It seemed to work.

This is definitely an Urban Garden Experimental now.  Reusing paper bags, raised garden, compost twigs and now shredded paper.  Oh and I almost forgot our captured rain barrel water from the city of Philly. This will be cool if it all works.

Cheers and Happy Gardening in your Small Urban Garden Lot.

Some of the early May 2017 pictures of our garden.  Crossing our fingers.



Tree and Green Space Haters in Philly

Tree and Green Space Haters in Philly

We got a kick out of the comments on Facebook and other sites regarding our campaign to maintain open space and a 80 year old tree in South Philadelphia.  Some will make you laugh and others will make you go what?  Please help save open space in development projects and sign and share our petition today.

Here are some of the best:

Hey Suburbanites, welcome to Philly, land of concrete. If you want trees everywhere, move back to the Culdesac!

Want more trees. Move to Jersey! Worried about oxygen. Get rid of the factories. Car exhaust. Ride a bike.

If you’re stupid enough to live in an urban environment you should have to take a bus to see a tree.

Really?! Wildlife?!!!! Rabid pigeons? Rats? Roaches… Progress

Other comments for or against were items that one could discuss and debate.  We have learned a lot from all sides and perspectives.

The land of concrete one inspired the cartoon.

Hey look we missed a green spot...more concrete please
Hey look we missed a green spot…more concrete please

Please don’t forget to sign and share our petition to save small open spaces in new developments in Philadelphia.

Value of Small Gardens in Tiny Houses

Small gardens are now the in-thing to use in marketing and sales ads for tiny homes and small living spaces .

With people feeling like they paid too much for their homes, having a small piece of garden is an oasis in a sea of concrete and stucco.  We were walking along South and 2nd Streets the other night and noticed all the Real Estate images that contained gardens and patios in their sales pictures in the show room windows.

The city of Philadelphia calls for open space to be a part of any building project.  In the Philadelphia Zoning there is a RSA-5 requirement of 9 ft per Zoning Code Table 14-701-1 which reduces to 5 ft per note 7 for lots of 45 ft or less in depth.  Note 7 says: In the RSA-5 district, the minimum rear yard depth for lots less than 45 ft. in depth shall be 5 ft. for the first 12 ft. of building height. Portions of buildings above 12 ft. shall comply with the minimum rear yard depth as set forth in Table 14-701-1.


table 14-701-1

Also in the International Building Codes (IBC.2009) accepted by the State of PA and City of Philadelphia, Section 1206 Yard or Courts: 1206.2 Yards shall not be less than 3 ft in width for building two stories or less. Increase 1 ft for each additional story.

Yards help allow light and air to flow in to our homes and the building code was written with that in mind.

Roof decks across South Philly to escape the confines of small space living.

roof decks
roof decks with our tree providing some greenery for the view

Even cities like Japan cherish their small gardens.

Small Garden in Japan
Small Garden in Japan

Locally Real Estate agents will add the garden plug in a second.

full real estate sign
full real estate sign
full real estate sign w garden2
full real estate sign w garden promotion

Please don’t forget to sign and share our petition to save small open spaces in new developments in Philadelphia.

Tree of heaven – AILANTHUS – the Junk Yard Dog of Trees

Easy to hate, but very easy to Love.

The Ailanthus is a rough tree to kill and is probably why it is considered a weed.  They spread fast.  However, back in the day they were considered ornamental trees. But things change. In New York, this type of tree had for decades been the centerpiece of the sculpture garden at the Noguchi Museum in Queens.  From the article “A Tree That Survived a Sculptor’s Chisel Is Chopped Down” by GLENN COLLINS,MARCH 27, 2008 in the New York Times (

“It was a survivor, always there,” Ms. Rychlak said of the junkyard dog of a tree. The ailanthus, an invasive species brought to the United States from China, is currently designated a “noxious weed” by the United States Department of Agriculture. Given its offensive odor, it has won such epithets as “stink tree” and “ghetto palm,” thriving despite neglect, water deprivation and even physical abuse.


But the Chinese call it Tree of Heaven, and have long found its leaves, bark and wood useful in traditional medicine. And this ailanthus was spared by Noguchi when, in 1975…

“Ailanthus is about survival, and grows where no other tree dares grow, even in polluted soil,” said Mitch Cope, an artist with the collective. He added that the tree “is easy to hate, and just as easy to fall in love with.”

Another article

I would have to agree with Mitch Cope’s quote, it is easy to hate but it is very easy to fall in love with.

easy to love tree
easy to love tree

As many commentators have said, the tree is a tough one to kill and you have to dig deep into the ground to get the roots.  It is not a little expense to do so especially in such a confined space.  So we say, let it live until it has lived out its life and then we will do it soundly; much like they did at the Noguchi Museum in Queens.  However, we will have to take it to below ground, because the developers would just chop it again.  Plus add to that, the cost of repairing the brick wall and patio work that would have to be done.  This endeavor should not be done just for the sake of doing so. We hope the developer realizes the costs to do this and the choice they make on their own.

The tree’s annual rings revealed its age to be 75. But even as a stump, the Noguchi tree may have the final say. “The ailanthus is well known for regenerating from its roots,” Ms. Dixon said. “If it revives, the original could be here again, as a symbol for the museum.”

tree trunk in small space kissing the neighbors garage
tree trunk in small space kissing the neighbors garage

Please don’t forget to sign and share our petition to save small open spaces in new developments in Philadelphia.

Bumble Bees in the Garden – It would be Cool to make Honey

While in the garden today, there was lots of Bee action.  Today, I mainly saw Bumble Bees and a flew wasps/yellow jackets.  I wish I saw some honey bees.

Here is a video:

I remember seeing this youtube video below on facebook awhile ago.  Wouldn’t it be cool to set up a bee hive in Philly.  I bet the veggies would love it.  I wonder if it really works and if I could set one up in the City of Philadelphia?

Please don’t forget to sign and share our petition to save small open spaces in new developments in Philadelphia.

Gardens on Philadelphia Vacant Lots

With all this muckety muck going on about zoning and use permits and such, we did some research on vacant lots, licenses and gardens and we found this, under Philadelphia Code, Title 9, CHAPTER 9-3900. PROPERTY LICENSES AND OWNER ACCOUNTABILITY:

§ 9-3904. Vacant Lot License.
(1) Required.
(a) The owner of any lot on which no structure is built and no productive activity has been conducted with the owner’s permission for at least the past three (3) months shall obtain a Vacant Lot License.
(b) Exceptions. No license is required for the following:
(i) Vacant lots contiguous to and in common ownership with a vacant lot that has a current vacant lot license. This exception shall include building lots in common ownership within an approved subdivision, provided there is a current vacant lot license for the subdivision tract.
(ii) Vacant lots contiguous to or separated by a driveway from a building where there is common ownership of the lot and the building. This exception includes a contiguous lot owned and maintained by the abutting property owner as a side yard.
(iii) A lot that is continuously maintained as a garden.

The link to the code is here$fn=default.htm$3.0$vid=amlegal:philadelphia_pa$anc=JD_9-3904

My favorite line is under exceptions paragraph (iii).  So I guess Philadelphia is pro-garden after all. 🙂

We are not lawyers, but the code says what it says. I wonder if they know this?

The Tree of Heaven Nature’s Gardening Clock

The Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima) is admittedly a very tricky tree to maintain.  We have been maintaining our for many years now.  I have to say, it loves to create seedlings.  The Tree has a long Philadelphia connection.  From

Sprouts from the first tree-of-heaven in North America, planted in Philadelphia’s Bartram Botanical Garden 1784, still existed at the turn of the 21st century


In Philadelphia, tree-of -heaven sparked the interest of amateur and professional horticulturists alike as a desirable and unique shade and ornamental tree for the gardens of larger home and farm landscapes

I have to admit it is a great shade tree and I can understand why people used it in cities where gardens were small and limited.

So why do I call it the gardening clock.  If you get lazy at keeping your garden or yard cleaned and trimmed, this definitely reminds you of your gardening duties.  You will start seeing little sprouts.  I think this might be why people in Europe and America were so fascinated with the tree.  They would see it in gardens in China that were well maintained.  What they did not realize is that, it had to be done.  So the tree became its own promoter because the gardens were so beautiful.

This tree does keep its owner on their toes, but it rewards with shade, filter light and a great wind block.

Tree sprouts when not maintained
Tree sprouts when not maintained

Gardening on Small Lots

Gardening on Small Lots is a Great Idea.

Small lots provide many opportunities for families and local communities to enjoy nature and family time.  Our family has been gardening our lots for many years.  Every year we try new things.  In our 15ft 9in x 20 ft corner lot we have set up: two 4ft x 8ft gardens, a number of garden pots and even a crab sandbox for the kids to play in.  Next year we are going to try some vertical gardening.  I’ll bet we save a few hundred dollars a year in veggie savings.

This year we are trying Square Foot Gardening (if you are interested here is a link  It is a neat way of organizing the plants and rotating selections during the season.  We’ll put up more postings of pictures as the plants grow.

As a family, gardening is a great way for the parents and the children to bond.  Everyone gets to participate in the planting and harvests of the veggies.  I think the kids favorites are the strawberries and the tomatoes.  They tend to eat more than they put into the bucket.  The kids also love playing in the sandbox and create little worlds in the sand.  The big dog loves her piece of dirty we set aside.  I think she just loves being along side her family and guard her family.

Fresh Garden Tomatoes

Little gardens also give neighbors a chance to meet and share.  We love sharing some of the pickings with neighbors.  I know our neighbor around the corner likes the peppers we gave him.  He even dropped of a surprise gift of a gardening book for us.  So you know, he always gets his peppers every year.  We also have a teenager in the neighborhood that loves to take pictures of the flowers my wife grows.  She is always welcome to take pictures of the flowers.