Kelly Rued

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since Aug 20, 2011
St. Paul, MN, USA
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Recent posts by Kelly Rued

Cj, I am a very private person so media circus would be extremely uncomfortable for me. I do really care about this issue though, so I will have to think about it.

The neighbors on this particular block have well-mowed lawns with the standard few Home Depot bought shrubs, arborvitae, hostas, daylilies, etc. hugging the house foundation, maybe a ring of decorative rocks around a tree here and there. There is a lady across the street who introduced herself to me as a Master Gardener, and her front yard looks the same as anyone else's with just the typical lawn bordered by a handful of low-maintenance perennials. I often see her "weeding" on weekends (walking around with a sun hat spraying Round-Up on dandelions in hers and the neighboring yard). But overall, it's not like we live in an upscale suburban HOA with amazing landscaping. Almost every block here has at least one rental property so overgrown grass at various times is not uncommon at all.

To put our neighborhood in perspective, when the home inspector came out to do the presale home inspection for us, he left his truck parked outside and ran some stuff into our place to set up, went back outside and his truck was gone. He had to do the police report and then finish our inspection. So... I'm not saying a super high crime area justifies us neglecting weeding for a few weeks, but given that I've got a neighbor selling weed 24/7 as their main family income... yeah, it is a little obnoxious that the city was so quick to come mess up our "weeds".

More than anything I came to permies today because I realized I just wanted to tell people who would understand how painful this was for us. We put so much hope and money and planning and positive energy into this garden because we really believe in permaculture. We are low income but thought it was IMPORTANT for us to do this, to make it more common to see this in our neighborhood, to take responsibility for our land and our place in the ecosystem here. It's just a bunch of plants, but it feels like we lost more. Security, freedom, something.
5 years ago
Thanks for the advice, Jennifer. We took some pics right away but I was almost crying and we were also trying to get ready for a family 4th of July BBQ (we didn't notice the damage until Friday morning) so I need to get back out there with a notebook and check everything again. The damage $ totals were just from casual inspection and then looking at my receipt emails (almost all our plants were ordered online so it's really easy to search back and see what we paid for stuff).

I think you are right that I should request an in-person meeting so I can show them my permaculture design documents, my species list, my damage photos, and they can see I'm not just whining about the $160+ fee (like I imagine they hear all the time).

I'm starting to think what I really want to push for is less vague language in the ordinance/notices. The word weed is not specific enough. I think that it should be more specific about the types of plants you can't allow over 8" tall (and maybe the context, because it obviously didn't apply equally over the entire yard or neighborhood or they would have cut down all our weeds and those of the neighbors).

I also don't see where overgrown grass is such an emergency that they need to do the work a week after the inspection rather than giving the home owner a month to get everything tidied up and then recheck (and fine again, sounds like more revenue and less labor expense than how they do it now). When you have a tail light on your car (which is arguably a bigger public hazard than overgrown grass) the cops just ticket you and you have to get the light fixed (or risk getting ticketed every time another cop sees it's still broken). Nobody sneaks into your garage while you're away from home and fixes the light for you. I think inspecting/fining would be enough to pressure compliance.

Asking for compensation is a nice idea, but it's not something I would waste energy on. I want the system to be improved so we can both crack down on truly neglectful property owners (slum lords/absentee owners) while not burdening people who are just trying to live more sustainably and support local ecology by planting natives, edibles, and other less-than-tidy looking but very valuable plants.
5 years ago
We got a nasty surprise just in time to ruin our Independence Day BBQ. City of Saint Paul workers plowed through our permaculture garden with a string-trimmer on July 3, while we were at work.

They destroyed around $45 in plants (so mangled to the ground that they look like the whole shrub went through a chipper) and slashed/gouged over $300 in other plants, including at least 6 young fruit trees (all within inches of the ground so we can't even prune out the damage, just have to wait and see if disease takes hold from all the damage). Most personally upsetting was the cropping to the ground of a 16' wide row of blackberries that had fruit just starting to ripen. We won't be getting any blackberries this season, and can only hope the plants will recover (they were just planted last season). Most of this damage occurred in our backyard which is surrounded by wood privacy fence on 3 sides and a custom-built super heavy duty espalier framework on 1 side with 20 espaliered fruit trees (planted 2 years ago). Because of the arrangement of our lot, you would need to be in our yard or our direct neighbor's yard to even know we had a garden back there.

Were there some grass and "weeds" taller than 8"? Yes, though we don't have that much grass left, and right now the neighbor directly next to us has the exact same height (and mix) of weedy grass still blowing in the breeze on his front boulevard. They trimmed ours right up to the property line, leaving his equally-overgrown grass standing tall, though on our boulevard they had to go around the $150 of newly-planted junipers (and $42 of russian almond shrubs we planted 2 years ago). All of our neighbors have spent (from what I can see) close to $0 in the past 3 years on making their boulevard look nicer because it's all just grass (except the second house west of us where the entire yard and boulevard are planted day lilies and other clumping perennials and tall weeds).

Did they give us written notice? Yes, but we don't think it was sufficient notice to actually address the problem. The notice was dated 6/23 informing us that someone complained about grass and weeds taller than 8" on our property. It gave us 72 hours to weed everything before an inspector would come and authorize the city workers to come whenever (there was no report from the inspector or notice of when the city workers would come). Now, for someone who just has to pop out after work with a lawn mower and plow everything to the ground on a tiny city lot, this is probably a reasonable request, but we have a ton of raised beds and most of our paths/areas without plants are well under 3' in width. We MUST hand-trim and pull weeds. We don't use commercial herbicide for weed control. We don't use a mower, and we barely have any use for a string-trimmer due to the amount of planting we have done. Our focus is edibles and native plants to support beneficial wildlife, and we have invested well over $3000 in our garden since we moved here just 3 years ago.

A little background: I love the eastside. This house was a cat 2 vacant property that was formerly a rental and it took several months of work and tens of thousands of repairs before the city let me move in. It cost less than $40k (the typical home in our neighborhood is between $110 and $160k). We consider ourselves some of the "good guys" in the neighborhood for rehabbing a blighted property AND moving in (not flipping or renting) AND investing in long-term landscaping.

Also, I am a certified permaculture designer (the Geoff Lawton online course) and I plan to open my yard for community ed classes in the future (once we have finished installing everything, have mature systems to demo, and have tested/proven methods to share). I spend many hours every week, even in the winter, doing something for my garden, even if it's just research and planning. I am not neglecting my yard because I don't care, don't know any better, or am too lazy (though not that it matters under normal garden circumstances, I have a disability that limits my stamina so I can only do physical labor in shorter bursts, not all in one big marathon session).

There is actually good reason our weeds and edge areas are overgrown (yes, present tense, because the city workers spent so much time completely cutting down raspberries, blackberries, cranberries, leadplant, oikos less-sting stinging nettle, dandelion, white and red clover, borage, asters, milkweed, roses, strawberries, horseradish, and dozens of herbaceous natives we got from Prairie Moon Nursery last year, they had NO time to cut the actual, unwanted, volunteer weeds that are like 6' tall outside our fence in the back alley). Ironically, our garden time lately was spent building, staining, installing, and planting up over $600 in new raised cedar beds and trellises (this year's "infrastructure" upgrade, along with a new second set of deck stairs once we get the permit). We prioritized the raised beds over the weeds because we wanted to get the growies in early enough for a good harvest this fall. With this much work and expense, it really sucks to get a letter from the city scolding you for not making your neighborhood a better place.

I understand the ordinances, and read them ALL before planning our garden. I am not mad that someone reported us because it looked weedy and messy (it did, we were neck-deep in landscaping work until last weekend, now we only have the potato boxes to finish so we have time to catch up on the weeding and pruning chores). I'm not mad that we didn't hear back from the inspector or have any way of knowing when the work crew would come out. Their notice system is probably semi-automated and the inspector didn't even have get out of the car to see we still had tall weedy looking stuff all over. The $160/hour fee? Totally fair, this is a revenue source for the city and there is labor involved in enforcing these ordinances. I am into ecologically sound gardening but I'm not anti-government hippie, I think the ordinance and enforcement was basically a fair process up until the point they damaged a bunch of non-grass non-weeds.

What I don't understand is why they did SO MUCH damage to our garden. You can plainly see we are avid gardeners. There are raised beds and fruits and veggies everywhere. There are gardening supplies and baby fruit trees and a giant wood compost bin. When you see this and then see that even the areas AROUND the raised beds have non-grass flowering and fruiting plants everywhere (recognizable stuff like strawberries, borage, clover, tons of flowering native herbs), wouldn't you stop and think before you run a string-trimmer through everything willy-nilly? Whoever did this work could not even tell a 4' tall sprawling rose bush (with hot pink 4" wide roses still hanging on it) from grass/weeds. Can't recognize a 16' hedge of blackberries with flowers and fruit all over them. Can't see that 18" is not enough room to run a trimmer past a bunch of tiny espalier tree trunks without flaying the bark right off them, etc.

But what can I do? I don't want compensation, I just want changes so this doesn't happen again. I will pay any fine and I will do the work as fast as I can (and you can be damn sure I will not let the weeds get overgrown like this ever again), but now I am scared they will see us as a cash cow. The notice said that we are responsible for more fees for work authorized by inspectors without notice in the next 12 months (hinting they will recheck us until they catch something they can bill for again). How can I comply if they say "weeds" over 8" when almost everything they consider a weed is something I am cultivating on purpose? How can I comply if the dumb shits they send to do yard work can't ID a useful plant from grass and weeds even when the plants look nothing like grass and weeds. I mean they weed-wacked a 2x2 ' highbush cranberry shrub (with the huge maple-sized leaves) down until it was just a mangled twig sticking out of the ground (not even a leaf on it)... if they can mistake that plant for an overgrown weed, what can I do to protect all of my plants that don't look like the same dozen ornamentals all my neighbors have? I feel like most of my garden is at risk and the city can show up any time and just cut down anything because "weed" is so poorly defined.

Any ideas? I called and left a message for the contact listed on the initial notice. I will definitely get on top of the weeding so we hopefully don't attract more trouble, but I am now so scared because I feel like we are now "on the radar" and they will be stopping back looking for problems. I've seen the horror stories of other cities removing entire food gardens from people's front yards and don't think Saint Paul would ever be that backwards but what happened here and the amount of damages we suffered seems really disproportionate to any problems we caused our neighbors by having weedy grass (that is actually the same height as the neighbor next door's boulevard, which we photographed today next to our bald super-short city-trimmed boulevard edges).

I feel like there needs to be a variance or something for people who are gardening in a permaculture style (like the equivalent of a religious objection to complying with mandatory health care laws, I would like to make an ecological objection to complying with the expectation that our yard contain little more than trimmed grass and obvious ornamentals). I would gladly pay an annual permit fee for a Natural or Permaculture Garden (so inspectors could come check on me, if they were EDUCATED and could recognize what was actually growing here, not just see all non-ornamentals as weeds). I just don't want my valuable food plants damaged again (it doesn't just cost us money to replace it costs us yield/grocery $ because it will now take even more years before we get yields from anything that has to be replaced).
5 years ago
thanks for the info, Dan!
5 years ago
I am not growing comfrey yet and am planning where to site it. I had the possibly bright idea that it could be interplanted with spring ephemerals (plants that bloom April/May and decline almost to the point of invisibility by June/July). I am planning on the Bocking 14 variety and wondered if anyone could tell me the approximate time it leafs out in the spring and whether the clump will fill in to full width before the end of May.

Thanks!
5 years ago
Jeanine, that's very inspirational. I don't know if eating more home-grown fruit and veggies will help my health improve but it probably won't hurt!

I wouldn't call it a primary motivator but I also share your desire to see our food-producing animals treated more humanely. I also am concerned about things like declining bee population and other beneficial wildlife. I think permaculture does the best job convincing gardeners to plant things for broader ecological purposes. In the 90s I saw a lot of homes with more native wild flower plantings and rain gardens or butterfly gardens and that was cool, but permaculture is like an evolution of those ideas into planning a garden that works for everyone who actually uses it (including all the wildlife, bugs, fungi, etc.). There is a certain humane and maybe spiritual quality in all of that, even if the main motivator is just getting a nice fruit set with as little culling/damage as possible. I think permaculture promises more win-win between the gardener and other animals.

Also, maybe permaculture does attract more loners or at least people comfortable with doing their own thing outside of the mainstream. I certainly prefer the company of plants to most people (and the company of cats to most plants).
7 years ago
Thanks for extra design info on keyhole beds. I was confused about what made a bed a "keyhole" design since I see some them in many shapes and varying degrees of roundness. Sometimes they have tall rear layers (like trees and shrubs) but usually they are knee-high or lower plantings and look a lot like normal raised beds with straight paths between them (though the paths may not go all the way through, creating that "E" shape).

From this thread it sounds like it's really all about the paths/access and maximizing the planting area.

I think we already built this kind of thing into our design but using patio pavers as stepping stones for access in deep beds. Not a good solution for wheelbarrows or carting in a lot of annual seedlings, but for no till perennial beds I think it will let us plant more space around/between the pavers.
7 years ago
I thought the USDA zones were based on annual average minimum temperature. I guess I don't follow whether a "normal" year would then be one with a low winter temp around that annual average or whether normal is just somewhere in a given range for each zone (like would this past winter be within the realm of normal here even though it was obviously much colder than recent years)?

I'm glad Kota was happy with the answer about zone 6 but I am still not clear on what the USDA zones tell us about the normal winter temps in a given place. If wondering about this is "terribly off topic", that's fine but I kind of dislike someone calling for a thread to die if other people had questions in it still unanswered, etc. I really am new to the USDA zone thing and not sure what it means (if anything) when your winter seems to be on the extreme warm or cold end of your supposed zone.

Here is a kinda cool animation showing changes in the USDA zone map (basic trend is warm zones moving north since 1990):

http://www.arborday.org/media/mapchanges.cfm
7 years ago
Normal depending on what time frame you are looking at?

I have read (but don't know for sure) that the past 100 years has been the truly abnormal weird weather because it was so consistent! In the past it may have been much more erratic.

Very interesting to hear some permies look at the past 20 years... I am nearly 33 so that would be from about age 10 to now. I wonder how reliable that could even be for predicting the future (all statistical significance/math arguments welcome).

I know Paul poo-poos greenhouses in general but crazy weather is one of the best arguments for developing better, smarter greenhouse designs. Climate controlled interior gardens could make a big difference in human survivability if erratic weather becomes more common than "normal" weather.
7 years ago
There is an overlap between permies and "back to the land" people in the country and even the "sh*t hits the fan" survivalist types. I see all different kinds talking about permaculture online. But permaculture itself is just a way of thinking about things as complex systems that can either be self-sustaining (inputs and outputs all used and generated within the system) or dependent on outside inputs or some outside way of dealing with waste streams (an unused output would be considered a system's "waste" if it is offloaded to someone else who isn't using it as an input). To practice permaculture, nobody needs to be a "self-sufficient" bug-out-bag-carrying separatist running away from their real life's challenges to live in an intentional community fantasy world. I can see how people get that impression from some of the stuff we all see online, but as others stated, I believe most practitioners of permaculture are likely fairly integrated in the normal social, media, and monetary ebb and flow in their broader communities. The totally off-grid, unplugged, far out hippies are definitely the minority, but they also bring value by really testing the limits and trying to live in ways that most people would find counterproductive or a little backward.

Most of us probably don't want to give up our arts, culture, safety nets, and DIVERSITY (which includes people who don't think like you and yes, a criminal element, and people you wouldn't choose to live with but we're all better for the challenge). And we all have very different reasons to try permaculture.

My reasons include:
- Best Practices. I'm the lazy type of software developer (I HATE reinventing the wheel) and I love standing on the shoulders of giants in terms of taking tested ideas from people who know more than I do. Permaculture has shown some amazing results. It makes sense to me.
- Commercial Chemical Distrust. I'm also self-employed now but have always had an interest in graphic design and marketing (my first post-high-school job was in this field, not IT). The amazing thing about marketing is how effectively the world can convince people they need and want things that are patently bad for them. I have a gut feeling that farmers have been seriously hoodwinked in the past 50-80 years. The only people profiting big from current ag practices are the chem companies. Follow the money and you will wonder why farmers ever thought dependency on chemicals was a good idea. I fear for our food safety, food supply, and the long-term ability to keep up with population growth. Not because there are too many people on Earth (I totally reject that hypothesis) but because our technology and ag solutions have just been totally wrong for the future. Sustainability lies in local, distributed food systems and permaculture ideals will help people advance these smarter solutions. We may have moved in the right direction sooner but there are big companies that profit greatly by keeping us all on the wrong track.
- Lover of Good Food. I really like food. I love fruit but find organic fresh fruit to be expensive and hard to come by. I resent that the best tasting fruit will never be available to me as a shopper (because flavorful fruit doesn't ship well and is sometimes only best after peak harvest, storage, bletting, or other home-grown processing). If I want the best, I have to grow it here.
- Cheap and Intermittently Lazy. I will get more from a food forest garden (per $ spent on plants and inputs) than I would get from a high-maintenance annual garden (where if you miss a beat you can lose entire crops). Permaculture earthworks and rain water harvesting promise reduced water bills, and saving $ is awesome.

You'll notice there is not a lot of hippie-dippy stuff on my list of motivators. I am not a save-the-planet-green-eco-tree-hugger because I believe the planet is already the boss of us. We are doing our thing, and it looks like we are destroying this or that, ultimately, a volcano could blow or a hurricane could hit and we're just ants under nature's foot. Our perceived power is simply arrogance in my eyes. What we need to do is focus on saving ourselves, which means protecting the life forms that evolved with us so we have a chance to live as long as the dinosaurs did... but beyond that? Humanity is not sustainable nor was it meant to be (everything at the "top" of the food chain has its day and then gets smacked down). To think we'll be stewarding Earth forever (or even more than a few million years) is not likely, imo. Doesn't mean I advocate trashing the planet while we're here, but I don't see us as the saviors of the world or having that big of a long-term impact. For me, permaculture is about a better today for me, and tomorrow for my kids. Beyond that, who knows? I try not to assume.
7 years ago