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Growing Together 

Having a vegetable garden is great -- except for all the planting and weeding. Why can't nature do the heavy lifting?

It can, thanks to an approach called "permaculture," which is the subject of an April 29-May 1 symposium.

Unlike conventional agriculture -- in which humans clear space for crops -- permaculture emulates the web of relationships found in nature. Complementary species are planted together, often in each other's shade, to mutual benefit.

"It's about making a dense growing system," says Juliette Jones, cofounder of Pittsburgh Permaculture.

Still, it takes effort for things to come naturally. Initially, "there's a lot of time spent thinking about what plants need," Jones says. "But once you set up the system, there's much less work."

Indeed, the Pittsburgh Permaculture event -- "Healthy Land, Healthy Water, Healthy Community" -- promises techniques for creating "high-yielding, low-maintenance backyards with lush ripe fruit and perennial edibles." Presiding over a two-day workshop ($150, partial scholarships available) is Dave Jacke, who co-wrote the permaculture manual Edible Forest Gardens. Jacke will also give an April 29 lecture ($10 contribution requested).

The workshop will be an "experience," Jones promises: At one point, "Dave and myself will be dressed up like chickens." And "we're hoping [participants] begin developing a local network." Because in permaculture, that's how things grow.

Lecture: Fri., April 29, 7-9 p.m. Eddy Theatre, Chatham University, Shadyside. Workshop: Sat., April 30 and Sun., May 1. Phipps Garden Center, 1059 Shady Ave., Shadyside. 412-780-5833 or pittsburghpermaculture.org

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