Category Archives: Stewardship

Graveplot Restoration

By Joe Byrne

In addition to restoring graveSTONES I’ve also been attempting to restore gravePLOTS (or family plots), many of which have been taken over by weeds and tall grasses.

First thing I do is weed the plot, Then I lay down two layers of cardboard. Then I put a layer of mulch on top of that. The idea is to kill off the weeds and also begin amending the soil so that things like wildflowers can be planted later.

Full disclosure, this is the second time around for both these plots. After the first time, and after the mulch degraded, they were re-invaded by weeds. But there were certainly a lot less weeds the second time.

This is the first family plot I did:

The second family plot was not that far away from the first (in the “pasture” or J section of the cemetery).

In this family plot, I’ve already begun planting. There is a St. John’s Wort plant in each corner. I would not mind if it took over the whole plot. It has pretty flowers and great medicinal value!

Gravestone Restoration: McKeownes

By Joe Byrne

The gravestones for Ellen and Dominick McKeowne were a lot more tricky to restore than the ones described in the blog entry immediately following this one.

As you can see by the “before” photo, the gravestone on the left was tipped over with the TOP half buried in the earth. The gravestone on the right was face down and almost completely buried. It took a lot of digging and lifting to get those stones out of the ground. And they were heavy!

Here is the “after” shot:

The one on the left is the one that was nearly buried face down. Which confirms something I discovered last year: having the inscription side of a gravestone face down in the earth actually helps preserve the inscription! I assumed the opposite, but whatever creatures or moisture are active under the soil, they don’t do much damage, compared to the open air, sun, and rain. (The kind of stone also makes a difference – some, like limestone, are more prone to damage than others, such as granite).

As much as I tried to make this particular restoration a one-person job, in the end it was beyond me and I called on the help of one of our super volunteers, Seymour. Thanks, Seymour!

Gravestone Restoration: Unknown

By Joe Byrne

During the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve been spending a lot of time outdoors. Don’t worry: I have a buffer of 22 wooded acres around me at all times! I realize I’m lucky to have an outdoors to retreat to, but I promise I’m spending most of my time outside WORKING.

Besides the general upkeep of those 22 wooded acres, I am doing some more gravestone restoration.

Such as this pair of gravestones. Unfortunately, I can’t read the inscription and can’t tell the names on them.

As the before and after pics show, there wasn’t much work to be done. I pried up the stone from the ground and lifted it onto the base (with the hole on the bottom of the stone fitting around the rebar).



Daniel Ryan Grave Restoration

By Joe Byrne

Last Lent, I made it a project to restore some graves here at St. Peter’s Cemetery, in West Baltimore. I was only able to do a few graves last year, and I’m late doing it this year, but every bit counts.

Last year I discovered the oldest gravestone I’ve seen here yet: that belonging to Daniel Ryan, who died and was buried at St. Peter’s in 1855, only four years after the cemetery was opened. Unfortunately, it was in the middle of a briar patch (actually, a patch of invasive multiflora rose and wine berry), which made it inaccessible and hard to read.

I decided to make Daniel Ryan’s gravestone my first project this year. I should say from the outset, that I wasn’t restoring the gravestone as such. It was remarkably well-preserved, given its age and that I was limestone, which wears down much quicker than marble and especially granite. What I did was improve the accessibility and readability of the gravestone.

After an hour, this is what the gravestone looked like:

I spent most of that hour pulling vines, and most of the vines were under the ground. I also pulled out the multiflora roses and the wine berries, as well as Amur honeysuckle, another aggressive invasive in the cemetery. I left behind a few tree saplings, and day lilies, which have colonized a good bit of the cemetery in the last couple years. Day lilies are also invasive, but I’m actually encouraging their growth, because they crowd out and out-compete other invasive plants (such as multiflora rose and wine berries), and particularly the vines. If day lilies can discourage vines from growing then climbing trees, that is good. Because inevitably they will strangle the trees and pull them down. When I no longer have a vine problem, I’ll worry about the day lily problem! Besides having lilies in a Catholic cemetery seems appropriate.

Here is the pile of pulled vines (though its hard to judge how big it is).

There are quite a few of similar vine piles in the cemetery. They need to be kept in separate piles so they won’t re-root. Unfortunately, they can’t go through wood chippers, lest they clog up the machine, so the piles pile up as it were. This is one of the vine problems we haven’t been able to solve yet.


We have begun our endeavor into raising chickens.  Our little chickadees arrived a week and a half ago.  At 7:30 in the morning we received a phone call from our local post office that a little box of peeping chicks had arrived.  Auggie and I rushed out to meet our beautiful new additions.  They are quite cute and we have been enjoying them thoroughly.  We spoil them rotten.  Digging up worms and dandelions daily.  They have already grown now and are trying to fly around.

Tucker and his father have been working diligently on building a nice coop for them.  We have had volunteers come weekly to help in the construction and we are nearly finished.  Now we just need to add a door and nesting boxes.  We will begin working on the run this upcoming week.

We plan on adding more Guineas to the fleet as well.  15 little Keets are due to arrive in June. Hopefully we will be able to keep our newest members happy, healthy and safe from predators 🙂

Humanure 2016

Joe Byrne helped the tree planting effort by harvesting some humanure. If you’ve never seen that term before, it refers to human manure, usually from a composting toilet.

This is humanure that sat untouched for a year.

The humanure was shoveled into the holes where the trees were being planted. Regular compost was also added.


Here’s the humanure before it was harvested.


Here Joe is scooping out the humanure and putting it in bags. In case you’re wondering: the humanure was dry as dust and gave off a woody (not a poopy) smell.


Here are a couple of the bags of humanure ready to be transported to the tree planting site.


Tree Planting

Shortly after we split our wood for winter, we put in some trees in the back portion of the cemetery, which we’ve decided to re-forest (we now call that section Jetta Grove, a place where the Buddha liked to meditate).

The trees were donated by Baltimore Green Space.


Here are some of the trees that we planted. There are a couple magnolia, and fir trees in the picture.


Tucker dug most of the holes ahead of time. This is one of about 25 holes.


Our good friend Booch also dug some holes, for the fir trees that now line the north fence.


Here Maia, Amy, and Dean work together to plant one of the trees.

Wood splitting

Winter is coming! So it’s a good thing we got all our wood split. We rented a wood splitter a few weeks back and spent the good part of a couple days splitting the wood we had on hand.


Joe had the first shift, with help from Dan Parr, Emily’s brother, who was in Baltimore for a visit.


Ardeth took the second shift, with Dan continuing as head assistant. Tucker is in the background deciding which logs to bring out.


Tucker also spent a good bit of time stacking the split wood.


Here’s the the wood pile after we finished splitting. You might not be able to see it: there’s a row in back, all the way to the top, one in front of that one about three quarters to the top, and a short row in front.

Tree People at St. Peter’s

Saturday, September 10, was a big day for tree people at Jonah House. We had two groups visiting simultaneously.

The Baltimore Orchard Project (BOP) had a canning workshop in the cemetery.



This was part of a year-long orchard stewardship program that Jonah House is participating in. The canning workshop was entitled “Sharing the Harvest Among Neighbors.” The participants discussed harvesting basics and learned about canning from the Caiti Sullivan. Caiti works at Hex Ferments and now works at Millstone Cellars. She is a canning expert as well as an artist.

Caiti was great but our own Emily would have done equally well in teaching a canning workshop. Emily gave me some excellent pointers when I wanted to can (jar, really) some apple juice I had made with my juicer. Now with Caiti’s AND Emily’s help, I’ll be able to take on other canning projects.

After the canning workshop, Dean Freeman, outgoing harvest coordinator from the Baltimore Orchard Project, talked a little bit about harvesting. He mentioned that the BOP had already hosted a couple of fruit picks at Jonah House (pears and apples). He also said that the Jonah House orchard is a model for what they’re trying to accomplish in Baltimore!

Meanwhile, on the other side of the cemetery, the Baltimore Naturalist Network was wandering around our 8-acre forest patch. The host was Charles Davis, from the the Natural History Society of Maryland, and about fifteen folks came out for the forest walk.


The Baltimore Naturalist Network is part of the Maryland Community Naturalist Network, which is a project of The Natural History Society of Maryland. The Network is attempting to provide nature mentors within walking distance of every neighborhood in Baltimore. The Network connects participants to a larger community of knowledgeable experts to promote skills of awareness, place-knowledge, and nature connection. Together they explore the nature of our neighborhoods and parks, and share what we discover with those in the neighborhood.

We look forward to future visits from the Network.


by Joe Byrne