Friday, September 30, 2011

RAD Anti-Compartmentalization and Four Dimensional Green Roof Biodiversity (Not! Wait - 5 Dimensional Biodiversity! - Well maybe 4 1/2 Dimensional BD)

We can learn so much from nature.  Every day my eyes are opened to new paradigms, especially to those about green roof biodiversity, and green roof and living wall plants.

Sometimes nature's biodiversity maxims scream at me like 'Wake Up! The house is on Fire! yet I just don't get it, my eyes and thoughts unwilling to shift from automatic to manual focus.

Other times, like this morning, I sit straight up in bed at 2 am, the compact fluorescent light bulb in my head, flashing - not flickering - on.

I had led three tours of the Breaking Ground Contracting Green Roof late yesterday afternoon.  The Tappouni sisters hosted a Thursday event for the Interior Designers Association (IDA), a lively group of artists.

Ruairi, my son and I arrived at the roof perhaps an hour before the event was scheduled to begin, checking out the roof to make sure all looked good.

With my eye to pruning a few stragglers, cleaned back those headless stems - I didn't realize just how many flowers had been cut over the year.  One of the wonders of the BGC green roof is the massive amounts of flowers provided for the office below over the growing season.  While I was pruning, Ruairi was taking photos.

BGC's Green Roof wildlife population is significant, always allowing for special photo moments.

While October waits just a few days into the weekend, the shortening days and changing seasons have set off the seed alarm on may of the native wildflowers.

The fall flowers are splendid.  Most of the summer flowers are gone - thought there are a few remaining and even a very few starting to bloom.

I anecdotally suspect something different in nectar's message and power between the lively summer bloomers and the fall flowers of harvest.  I know the color hues shift, but I propose there may be a chemical message somewhere in there recognized by the pollinator's DNA telling the insects time is coming for wintering over.

Ruairi was shooting most of his photos around the Remaining summer bloomers - many of the Asteraceae.

Again, those native hairy pollinators were hitting the summer blooming native asters and that is where most buzzing activity was occurring.

Yes - still occurring - the native pollinators prefer the native plants.  We've discussed this maxim in previous posts.  A well rounded green roof will have a solid three dimensional biodiversity palette - plenty of native wildflowers to keep the pollinators interested in the ecosystem sot e food plants and other plants can be properly pollinated.

Good three dimensional biodiversity employs native plants scattered across the green roof to attract the most efficient, hairy native pollinators across the entire roof, ensuring food and seed maximization.

Believing solid three dimensional green roof biodiversity rests fundamentally on anti-compartmentalization of plant placement, I design with the jungle look, food forest intent, scattering the buffet of flowers and nectar across every corner of the living roof, ensuring maximum contact of pollinators, native plants and food plants.

The IDA tours were fun and inspiring and I enjoyed the opportunity to talk to brilliant interior designers.

Animated rooftop yaking is draining though and I was exhausted when I got home, heading for bed with the MacBook Pro only to quickly set it aside for dreamland.

The native pollinator cloud over the portion of the late summer bloomers kept jumping into my mind.

There had been a barrage of questions concerning plant selection and I'd discussed CAM, C3 and C4 photosynthesis design theory, talking of how C4 (Poaceae) and CAM (many succulents) processes are very similar - they both protect water in the leaf.  Yet C4 and CAM are also different - the main anomaly being one of C4 photosynthesis protects water spatially (by embedding part of the Calvin Cycle in protected vacuoles) while the CAM processes protects water, not spatially, but through time relationships (the stomata protect water by opening at night).

C4 (spatial) v CAM (time).

Space v time.  Time is the fourth dimension.

I sat up in bed.  I had witnessed the fourth dimension of biodiversity this afternoon!

Sure, my green roofs are spatially anti-compartmentalized.

But the few remaining native summer wildflowers wer stretching biodiversity functions not only across space, but across time - providing continuity functions of plant DNA replication throughout overlapping seasons.

Staggering seed planting across the season allows for staging of plant life, flowering, fruiting and death creating a much broader opportunity for net gains in plant evolution.

Yes, I know this is staggering of planting is an age old permaculture practice.  BUt it never struck me just why!

Spatial anti-compartmentalization and now time anti-compartmentalization!  Four dimensions of biodiversity.

I could slap myself for not realizing this before my 54th year.  But hey, better late than never.

Four dimensions of biodiversity!  This is truly high-tech green roof thinking...

LOL.  I'd probably get a failing grade on this proposition as a thesis but I know staggering seed sowing and planting of the same species will anti-compartmentalize the blooming component on my green roof natives, and keep the native pollinators interested longer into the season.

And I'll put these anti-compartmentalized green roof designs for the hot and dry and cyclones up against any others!

Four point five dimensions on the green roof biodiversity issue.  Totally RAD.

Friday, September 23, 2011

GreenRoofs - bring it all together, Pollination and Biodiversity

MetroVerde Florida Green Roof's summer blooms!

MetroVerde Florida Green Roof Butterflies & Biodiversity

MetroVerde GreenRoof  Late Summer Echinacea Blooms
It is so amazing to watch green roofs grow and provide beauty.  Though we are still in a heavy drought, we have had a little rain last week finally - and the green roof plants and flowers respond with their splendor and beauty!

As the rain hits the roof the water is quickly adsorbed by the plant roots, minimizing urban runoff and scavenging nutrients and other pollutants from the runoff, helping keep our rivers and waterbodies clean.

The wildlife attracted to the green roof is simply amazing to watch.  Such a wide array of insects, amphibians and reptiles now live across the roofs.  A jungle in the urban core field of concrete!

Walking on the roof the oxygen is thick, plants strategically placed near air intake vents for optimum interior air quality.

Carbon is sequestered and life is brought back to the Urban Core.

I love Green Roofs.

MetroVerde Florida Green Roof at Breaking Ground Contracting

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Green Roof plant root architecture and the importance of shallow soil media in hot and dry climates and a really cool root architecture video (SimRoot).

Finding the right depth for green roof soil media is so critical in hot and dry climates for when the rains come the roots must be in place where they can take full advantage of any and all rainfall.

This design maxim is why we use shallow soil media depths of 100mm or less, usually ranging in the 50mm thicknesses.

Green Roof plant roots will spread horizontally once they reach an impenetrable root barrier or the bottom of the green roof system.  If your green roof system is deep, then many of your green roof plant roots will travel downward, vertically.  If your green roof system is shallow, then the roots will spread out horizontally.

Most plants in nature have a horizontal root architecture.  I see large oak trees sometimes blown over and their entire root mass is no more than 60cm or so deep (1-2').

Here in Jacksonville, Florida we have been experiencing a severe drought this year and for several years past.  Our weather service has classified the local vicinity as being under a severe drought.  I understand from speaking to others across the south, some areas, such as Houston has not received any significant rain in four months.

Yet for the last two days we've had strong intermittent thunderstorms and rain.

The flower pots were filled with water and buckets overflowed.  However this morning when I was working in the garden I noticed the soil below 20mm or so (an inch approximately) was completely dry!  I had expected this, having seen rain time and time again when it comes, barely penetrate the ground surface layer.

Shallow, extensive green roof systems encourage horizontal root architecture.  When the rains do come here, I need the green roof plants installed on our nature irrigated green roofs to be ready to adsorb as much of the rainfall as possible, wasting little if any.  They cannot exist deep down, hidden in the dry.

With a deeper green roof soil media, even if the media is well drained, I still see almost complete dryness just below the surface after a typical thundershower here.

Shallow green roof soil media can promote horizontal root architecture, and in turn capture more rainfall for use in the plant's photosynthetic processes.

Additionally, shallow root architecture can facilitate enhanced nitrogen and nutrient uptake.  Nutrient uptake is  important for several reasons, including of course plant nutritional requirements but also the removal of available nutrients from stormwater.  Shallow root architecture cleans stormwater and allows for optimal plant growth.

The root architecture model, SimRoot developed by Penn State is shown in the below video clip to illustrate how nitrogen is taken up in the upper margins of the plant root architecture system.  Note how the root hairs take up the most nitrogen and water.

I've heard many arguments for deeper soil media systems.  Yet they are heavy, expensive and require so much more water wasted.  Rather than build heavy stormwater ponds on top of buildings, put them under parking lots for a much more reasonable cost.

There are many benefits to shallow green roof systems.  Water efficiency and nutrient uptake are just two.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Future Green Roof Designers - UF Students studying on the Green Roof

Students, Pervious Pavement and a Green Roof

Rehabilitated BGC Office, Example of Florida Green Construction
Dr. Kathleen Carlton Ruppert's students taking her Practicum in Sustainability in the Built Environment class visited the Breaking Ground Green Roof last week.

Questions poised by the students were very on point and I was pleasantly surprised their queries focused on many important issues with green roofs and sustainability.

UF has a broad-based sustainability effort across the campus.

Check out the UF Program for Resource Efficient Communities website here for some great Sustainability info.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Florida Green Roofs, Lines, Curves and Biodiversart. A boring Green Roof commentary about boring design.

Lines or curves on a green roof?  This is a question some green roof designers, as well as ground level landscapers ask on a frequent basis.

Most of us like to compartmentalize.  The theory behind compartmentalization arises in our culture's indoctrination of classical Greek logic.  Thank you Aristotle.  There must be a right and wrong.  Everything is black or white.  Straight lines are what we seek out with our straight driveways, straight roads, pin stripe shirts and square or rectangular houses, each perfectly compartmentalized.  Wearing a tie with diagonally lined stripes is pushing it.

Linear Design - Boring and Boring

Curves in a landscape or on a green roof?  I think so.  Why?  Read on.

Design by lines

Working with engineers for much of my life in the real estate development field, I've come to quickly tire of square parking lots, linear roads and especially square stormwater ponds.  So when green roof designs come along where stormwater becomes an integral function and engineers are involved I usually see more of the same square plots of the same plants, lines of the same species and not a curve in sight.

The Pensacola one-stop permitting center Green Roof, the largest in Florida is all compartmentalized by plant species.

There are a group of innovative designers, engineers and landscape people who use curves quite effectively though and I am always more attracted to flowing their flowing designs.

We can learn from nature though as to whether a linear design with compartmentalization or a curvaceously random planting approach is more appropriate for a green roof design, and why.

 Nature shows and tells us plants do not like to be contained in boundaries.  We edge our driveways and sidewalks because the St. Augustine grass does not stop growing upon reaching the boundary of the concrete, disturbing us in unexplainable ways.  Moral standing is many times based upon a family's lawn lines.

But as much as we fight nature, she ignores us and keeps growing circles around us, across our linear boundaries.

The Florida native groundcover, creeping mimosa, Mimosa strigillosa,  certainly has not minded the linear green roof edging installed here on a recent project we completed, spilling about in her own random, curvy fashion.
Green Roof plants that won't stay in the box

I propose we should move away from linear thought and linear green roof design and adapt the more random cuves we see in natures designs.

Whenever we start using random curves, our green roofs seem to function better.

Even those ultra-boring but equally beautiful sedum roofs I argue against never always look curvaceous, with their stunning flowing textures and colors.

All we really need to do is look and listen.  A bee visiting the green roof doesn't fly in straight lines, neither do butterflies, dragonflies or birds.  A green roof tree frog doesn't hop in straight lines and I can't think of a single plant who grows perfectly straight (though pine trees come close as does Scouring rush or horsetail, Equisetum hymale).  I've never heard a song bird screech out a monotone call and there are few if any one genus ecosystems around.

The greatest invention our fascination with liner design, compartmentalization and oneness was produced is either the parking space or the cubicle, both usually despised by those who live in them.

But curvaceous design does not need to lack formality.

I have seen some beautifully formal, yet radon curves in nature.

Here is why I propose we should try and strive for those complicated, random curves in our green roof plantings and designs.

First of all, for most normal plant ecosystems to survive long term, pollinators must be attracted so plant sex can happen. Then seeds are produced and more baby plants come along to fill in around the mother plants.

I categorize pollinators into two oversimplified categories.   The first are the clumsy and inefficient pollinators who end up knocking most of the pollen to the ground.  The second are the hairy, native pollinators who are very efficient at their jobs.

The clumsy, inefficient pollinators will get what they can take, plant design wise.

The effective, maybe magnitudes smarter pollinators are choosy and go for the curvy, more nature-like plant designs on green roofs.

In the end, the curvaceous, randomly planted green roof design will last longer, look better and survive where the linear designs wont.

While the linear green roof designs are being weed wacked, mowed or hit with Round Up, the green roofs all about curves will be posing for best design awards.

Just a thought.

Think of natures ultimate beauty creations - the nautilus, the helical strand or RNA, a long winding river.

Read this excellent article posted in the Guardian about the beauty and science of curves.

Make sure your next green roof contains many curves in plant layout and design.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Need a Snazzy Natural Green Roof Water Retention material? Bonzai Me!

Hint:  Read all the way to the end for a natural replacement to SAPs.

Polymer water absorption crystals have been a popular way to help keep plants watered in containers, hanging baskets and even green roofs.  There are many websites selling this product, such as Watersorb.  Even other vendors can be found by Googling the phrase "polymer water adsorption crystals".

Yikes!  These crystals can be expensive.  $15.00 per US pound or $26 per three US pounds.

How could one afford to use these on a green roof at this price?

According to one of the most convenient information sites, Wikipedia, these crystals are commonly referred to as super-slupers.

The Super-absorbent polymers, also know as SAP's are created by cross-linking and chemically interacting polyacrylamide copolymer, ethylene maleic anhydride copolymer, cross-linked carboxymethylcellulose, polyvinyl alcohol copolymers, cross-linked polyethylene oxide, and starch grafted copolymer of polyacrylonitrile to name a few, according to the Wiki article.

OK - now for our suggestion.  This is only a suggestion.  The process is working quite well for us here in the very dry (we are considered as being in a Severe Drought zone).  However, field trials should be conducted in other areas before using a material similar to Attapulgite.   Attapulgite is marketed by Agsorb from Ochlocknee, GA and according to their website is a Attapulgite mineral in the non-swelling bentonite class. It is commonly called Fuller's earth. It's low bulk density and high absorbtivity allows higher liquid holding capacity. Our mineral processing maximizes the granule's micropore space. Agsorb heat treatments impart a hard inert granule with a high resistance to attrition.

Remember - you must work out your own blends!  Clay like bentonite or attapulgite can present different issues if used without proper design and research.

We suppose some of the problems could be compatibility with roofing materials, clogging of drains and root rot when used in incorrect blend mixtures.

However in hot and dry areas where every drop (I am very serious about the 'every drop' statement) of water is precious on a green roof, these clays may really help with plant survival.

Sure, clay is not a substitute for proper plant design.  Build you wind break and perimeter with CAM plants interwoven with appropriate Poaceae and C4 type photosynthesizing plant species.

But when you are at wits end (like we stay here in Jacksonville) about where the next drop of moisture will come from and how to preserve the liquid life, then this material just may offer help.

Watch your pH, watch your drainage, weights and water retention characteristics.  Make sure you always study the MSDS issues.

Success will be found in the appropriate blend.  Try starting with a 1-2% by weight blend, then adjust according to the site's wind and light exposure as well as temperatures.

We have had super great luck with these types of clays.  As an added benefit many contain an amazing array of trace nutrients our plants require.

For a very interesting read on soil science, and the area from which we first started thinking about using clays see this very interesting article about Bonzai Soils.

And there embedded in linked article was ou answer to the high cost of SAPs or water retention crystals - and the alternative was a natural product, readily available (though mined :( - however it would behoove us to study the carbon footprint of SAPs v clays, including environmental impacts).

Oil Dry!  Kitty litter!

We found a great deal at Sams Club here in the states - 40 pound bags of oil dry for several dollars.

Hey!  Our green roofs are suffering in the hot and dry!

Good luck with your experimentation.  You may find the effort was well worth your time.  And your green roof may be able to stay greener longer!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Sorry Green Roof Design

You get what you pay for.

Sprinklers, erosion and a mess ont he roof
Another photo of a shoddy roof scape, destined to give the site owners a bad taste over green roofs and certainly hurt the reputation of green roofs in Florida.

The plant shown here is perennial peanut, a species that does well in the tropics, but questionable here in Northern Florida where the winter temps drop to the teens on a regular basis.  Though somewhat green now the plant quickly wilts without the overhead spray, most of which is evaporating.  I'm wondering what the owner will say when the roof turns a dead brown with first freeze.

The first batch of plant used was sedum and they promptly all died.  Then the peanut was installed but because the roof has no parapet and desiccating wind sheet flows across the roof, the plants must be watered constantly with over head whirly bird sprinklers.

The sprinkler in the middle is over shooting the roof mostly.  Green garden hoses dangle from the roof across the patios below.

Erosion is occurring, creating ruts across the green roof area and soil media lies in the storm sewer attached to the gutters.

This system belongs to a nationally know company.

It is really unfortunate that the bottom line was the cheapest way out.  You get what you pay for. Potentially grand projects that could benefit the industry can wreck the same industry's reputation.

I would hope better for Florida green roofs in the future.

Otherwise, the product will becoming a pariah.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Florida Native Food Plant for Living Walls, Florida Green Roofs and Backyards, Seminole Pumpkin, Cucurbita Moschata

One of my favorite vines this year is the Seminole Pumpkin, Cucurbita moschata.
Florida Green Roof and Living Wall plant, Seminole Pumpkin (Native Food)

A native to Florida, the Caribbean and Latin American, this variety of pumpkin or squash is adapted to the harsh, humid climate of the region.
Unripe Seminole Pumpkin, resistant to pests

A fast grower who provides ample shade, Seminole Pumpkin makes a great end of summer living wall and green roof plant.
Florida Living Wall plant, Cucurbita moschata

Thriving on neglect and drought, Cucurbita moschata, is ultra resilient to squash vine borers and other pests.  Here she is used as a cover to our geese pen, providing a wall of privacy, security, shade and food.
Seminole Pumpkin creates a living wall and green roof for the Urban Farm fowl
When thinking of native plants for tropical green roofs and living walls, they don't just have to be wildflowers.
Seminole Pumpkin is a heavy food producing plant

 Nature has provided us with some awesome native food plants who will thrive well on the hot roofs and walls.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Nature's Irrigation for Green Roofs

Nature's designs are always the most successful.

She knows when droughts come and rainfall is deficient, providing water vapor in the form of dew and fog for her plants.

Water vapor this am, no rain for days, Nature-based Irrigation
Designing green roofs and landscapes to avoid irrigation from potable water sources is important in today's world.

Success of a nature irrigated green roof depends heavily on sourcing a steady supply of water through rainfall, fog, dew and even frost. Using biomimicry based on Nature's plant designs design allows for important air water vapor collection.

Additionally, understanding the principles behind Nature's plant designs of water capture successes lie in an understanding of air humidity.  Humidity is the amount of water vapor in the air.  Humidity is an important source of irrigation for nature irrigated green roofs and is often present when rain is lacking.  Humidity is often described in terms of ‘relative humidity’ and ‘dew point’.

Relative humidity is the phrase commonly used by weather reporters to communicate the percentage as the amount of actual water vapor in the air divided by the amount of water vapor the air could hold.  A relative humidity of 75% means air contains 75% of the amount of water vapor possibly held.

Dew point refers to lowest air temperature where water vapor remains in vapor form.  Once the ambient air temperature reaches the dew point temperature the water vapor condenses into dew or liquid.

Dew and fog reference and collection resources available on the web include;
Air humidity can be a significant component in the irrigation of any green roof system.  Consider those months with lower than average precipitation and check to see if dew occurs frequently.  Validate the average relatively humidity percentages.   Think of the times you have walked across a lawn in the morning to find your shoes soaking wet.

Understanding the value of water vapor in the forms of dew and fog can greatly increase your green roof's survival chances during a drought.  Potable irrigation is not the answer a smart green roof designer looks to for water.

Green Roof with sprinklers on top to keep plants from wilting during drought - giving our industry a bad name..

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Finding World Peace and Defeating Hunger with low cost living architecture and green roofs

Food is so easy to grow in the harshest of places, with little of no soil and even when water supply is limited.  All it takes is a basic understanding of the important factors impacting growth, such as wind, light and available water vapor.

Though permaculture has always addressed simple food growing principles, most of the time this focus has been about ground level growing.

Growing food on walls, roofs, buildings, and shacks up off the ground is important in the crowded urban core, high rises and slums.  Ground level food production is many times impractical in cities because of the lack of open land.  But there are plenty of walls and roofs to grow food on!

We believe educating the young about how to grow 'rooftop gardens is a way to capture their interest, create economic opportunity for them, create habitat, restore ecology and bring peace to the world.

Harvesting Green Roof Seeds, Educating the children
This week we held a seed collection workshop atop the Breaking Ground Green Roof, teaching the next generation about how to identify seeds, how to collect them, how to resow the seeds and how to save them for the next season.

Young children's minds are so fresh and thinking so quickly!  They see opportunities to improve and enhance our green roofs, living walls and rooftop systems.

Offering the next generation hope through empowerment is what we need to be doing every day.  Placing control of their food and water supply into our children's hands is so important.

Making educational videos about rooftop permaculture to teach the children.
It is a path to world peace and freedom from those who may want to try and control other's lives through food and water.

And growing food and recycling water does not have to be expensive or difficult.  This is why education is so important.

But we have a fight ahead of us.  Large corporations see opportunity through control of food, water, seeds and the knowledge of how to grow food and collect water.

The 'I don't have a green thumb and can not grow food' storyline is often repeated and many of the world have come to believe they can't grow sufficient supplies of food in the urban core.

We must show our children the path to breaking reliance from those who would control our lives and souls in exchange for food and water.

A small living wall or rooftop garden can provide enough seeds in a growing season to grow five more gardens the same size the following year.  Seeds are free.

Systems can be designed to cheaply capture and store water and to grow food on even shacks made from rusty tin.

The students harvested a giant luffa sponge from the roof this week.  Organic luffa sponges cost five dollars or more in the store.  The enterprising young person growing luffa gourds across the roof of their inner-city barrio could earn hundreds of dollars each season.

Plants not only provide food but they provide security, shelter and medicine.

I love Lydia Cabrera's quote I use over and over, paraphrased "there are more spirits in the plants than in the sky".

Aloe growing out of walls and on roofs becomes the local doctor's office in many instances.

Low cost Barrio-type house with living walls, food roofs & water recycling
Structure walls made from wire with grapes abundantly growing provides fruit, sugar, vine and community opportunities.

Rooftop beans and peas can feed the masses, not only providing daily food but offering up the following years crop of seeds.
Reusing water and controlling flooding

Native wildflowers planted across window openings and on the roofs and walls bring in the pollinators, crucial for food production.  One must have native wildflowers growing side by side with food plants.

Collectively we have found a way to travel to the moon, harvest the atom and talk across the globe.

But this awesome generation has forgotten how to feed themselves.

Now is the time to relearn.  Now is the time to show our children how to break leashes and create freedom.

Give me one month and the seeds I can carry in my pocket, a few wiling youth from the urban core and  the plants of medicine, food, fiber and economy will be growing across the landscape.  It can be done in a desert or a wetland, hurricane or earthquake prone areas.
UF Hurricane simulator we've tested green roof system with
We've answered the critics who say it can't be done, designed systems withstanding cyclones, created highly productive food systems in 30mm of sand, implemented bee hives on roofs, built water storage systems for practically no cost and are working now on a rooftop chicken system.

Control of your food is the path to freedom and peace.  Reliance on the corporations for food is the path to bondage.