Who Runs Albopepper?
Bio: Al Gracian
If you're a new visitor to Albopepper you might wonder about the person behind this site. My name is Al Gracian III. I operate out of western PA, USA. My climate is a temperate growing zone of USDA zone 6. My personal gardening experience is shaped by that environment. Now allow me to explain my skill sets and philosophies.
My formal training earned me a degree as a graphic designer. On one hand, I'm not a credited, certified horticulturist or botanist. I haven't even taken a "Master Gardener" course. At the same time, before turning 18 years old, I had already worked for 3 different landscaping companies. Currently, I'm not a professional farmer. Rather, I'm a homesteader. Each year I grow more than $1000 worth of food which I use for self-consumption.
Do You Need a Degree to Be a Gardener?
A pragmatic approach to gardening and food production has taught me that you don't need a horticulture degree to be a good gardener or urban farmer. Rather that investing excessive time and money into secular training, I've been able to use free resources to enhance my skills and knowledge-base. Many university publications are available as free downloads in PDF form. And libraries are full of college-level books on gardening, farming, agriculture, horticulture, botany and more! I've purchased a few and borrowed many more.
Perhaps, we might be alike: Interested in plants and growing things, but lacking a costly degree. If you're young, you might be considering schooling in a horticulture related field. That's great! But what if you've found your gardening passion later in life? If you love gardening and want to learn more, then don't let a lack of degree limit you. Gardening is for everyone, not just an elite few!
How Academic Skills Benefit Gardeners:
I'm proud of my solid High School education. Each school district may have unique programs and curricula. But Earth Science, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Algebra and Geometry lay the foundation for a broad array of life skills. My schooling also included a couple years of drafting and four years of woodworking. This training has been quite useful as I've developed an interest in urban gardening. Gardening provides the content to fuel my design skills and stimulates academic skills like math and science. And oh yes, it also ties in very well with landscaping!
Video: MY Dad: -My Landscaping Teacher!
I grew up digging holes with my Father who took me on landscaping jobs when I was 6 years old. He's a hard worker who loves plants, loves the outdoors and recently regained his love for home gardening. I know he's influenced me. And as I've delved into urban gardening, I've inspired him as well. The concept of landscaping is always present with me when planning a planter or herb bed. My ideal approach would be an entirely edible landscape. I strongly dislike landscapes composed of purely ornamental trees, shrubs & flowers. Where are the fruit or nut trees? What about the lovely perennial herbs? Edible flowers? Sure! Why not? There are entire books about the idea and they're worth reading.
ORGANIC? Yes! I support organic gardening. I'm not a purist, per say. For me, it's not about being OMRI certified organic. But I try to adopt as many organic practices as I can.
GMO? I'm opposed to most GMO applications. Generally speaking, I believe that genetic engineering of plants is completely unnecessary. There are certain natural mechanisms of reproduction or propagation that have been used by humans for thousands of years. Humans might artificially select strains, but they do so within the natural framework of life.
I'm not afraid that GMOs directly make food unsafe. I simply disagree with many reasons for using GMO technology. The default way to find better strains should always be through breeding. Hybrids, and then ultimately Heirlooms, should be our future, not our past. These are techniques that all gardeners can employ, even at home.
Meanwhile, large corporations like Monsanto (Bayer) have invested enormous resources into producing GMOs that don't really benefit consumers. Despite noble promises, many GMO crops are not some sort of silver bullet. They are grown for maximizing profits, designed to withstand direct herbicide applications. Then they're funneled into animal agriculture operations to feed livestock. That's a predominate part of GMOs today, and that's the part I oppose 100%.
Of course, crossing a Cavendish banana with another banana variety that happens to be disease resistant... Well that's a different story. In this situation, GMOs actually make sense and I can really understand that sort of application. This is especially so, if conventional breeding practices fail to address an imminent threat.
PESTICIDES?I support the use of beneficial insects for pest management rather than toxic herbicides or pesticides. Predatory insects. Physical barriers. HEALTHY PLANTS. That's the key. Keep sprays to the minimum and only use organic. Save them for really bad infestations and only use them in those specific spots, like a scalpel. All of my sprays are organic, but I typically don't even use them anyway.
FERTILIZER? I understand the advantages of chemical fertilizers. I'm not religiously opposed to them. A good time-release fertilizer can provide reliable, trouble-free results. And remember, all of those "synthetic chemicals" get turned into organic matter which can then be composted.
But please do not rely solely on synthetics. I believe strongly in the inclusion of organic supplementation. This is actually not that hard, especially for a home gardener. Try to build a healthy soil profile of beneficial bacteria and fungi. Even in pots, I've had great success with organic fertilizers and I hope to gain greater success in years to come. It's worth it!
What is Sustainability?
I'm an Urban Gardener, with limited space. At times, sustainability can be a challenge. Container gardening, and in particular, SIPs require specific materials for optimal results. Of course, even the very concept of being sustainable can mean different things to different people.
MY PERSONAL GOALS IN SUSTAINABILITY: First and foremost, I've focused on waste reduction. In addition to obvious recycling efforts, I've tried to develop a system of reusing my organic waste. For me, the key has been hot composting with a tumbler and vermi-composting by means of red worms. These two combined efforts have resulted in the complete recycling of kitchen food scraps, tree trimmings, weeds and garden plants (even diseased plants). The compost is used in my in-ground beds. The worm castings are used in my containers and seed-starting mixes. Nothing is wasted.
For water conservation, I've found SIP containers to be a nice help. I use them in such a way that they harvest and store rain water. I also use a rain barrel, although I don't rely solely on that water for irrigation. But I definitely don't waste water on my lawn. In fact, I mow my tiny grassed areas with a reel mower (no fossil fuels).
What you eat matters. I've come to realize that animal agriculture is wreaking massive destruction on our planet. Eating meat three times a day is absolutely UNSUSTAINABLE. I could employ all sorts of pious, ultra "sustainable" methods when I'm out in my garden. But if I sit at the dinner table and regularly eat a 16oz steak, then I'm really not being very sustainable. Beef in particular saps our ecosystem of massive resources. As of 2018, I've been eating a 100% plant-based diet. This impact is huge when compared to many other choices I might make in my life. And since it yields a better health outcome, for me, it's a no-brainer! Check out my plant-based recipes.
WHAT IS SUSTAINABILITY TO YOU? Some people may have a rigid set of standards when it comes to permaculture and sustainable gardening techniques. Myself personally, I feel the most important thing is to garden! Just dig in and get started. As you learn and grow, you can refine your philosophy and techniques. But do your best.
And one last piece of advice: Don't judge other gardeners based on your own self-imposed gardening standards. Not everyone has the same level of experience or the same amount of resources. If a person is trying though, then that's a good start! Share ideas, without resorting to attacking a person or their methods.