Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Low Cost Greenhouse for Green Roof Plants or Urban Core Permaculture

We are now proud owners of a low cost, easy to build greenhouse in our Urban Core backyard.

Low Cost Seed Starting & Green Roof Plant Greenhouse
Greenhouses are so very useful in starting seeds, rooting cuttings, potting up plants and providing warm weather plants a head start on the growing season.
Greenhouse's interior includes areas for potting plants, storing soil media, supplies and plants
Greenhouses though can be terribly expensive when purchased as kits.

Our greenhouse above is eight feet wide and twenty eight feet in length.  Height in the center is ten feet.  This gives us plenty of room to move around, store supplies and start seeds.

Growing areas are also added under some of the shelves and in a growing extension to the right of the front door.  Plans for this growing area include tomatoes and peppers.  Plastic can be added over the hoops if our Florida nighttime temperatures drop too low.

Cost for the entire structure was less than two hundred dollars.  Much of the material used was recycled from other construction projects or salvaged from neighborhood throwaways.
The greenhouse beginning, a frame from recycled fence components
The greenhouse project was begun by hammering used fence posts into the ground and adding horizontal shelf framing, all fastened together with plastic wire ties.
DIY Greenhouse Frame detail
Grey plastic electrical conduit (one could use bamboo) was inserted into the top opening of the fence posts, 'looped' over to the opposite side of the greenhouse and inserted into the post on the far side wall.  The grey electrical conduit costs less than two dollars for a ten foot section and lasts for many years in outdoor service.
Greenhouse frame ready for plastic covering
Finally, four or six mil plastic was added over the hoop rafters, shadecloth added to one end and lattice around the bottom edge.

The entire structure is held together with electrical zip ties.  Our other greenhouses we've built similar to the above have easily survived numerous tropical storms.

Grapes are now planted to several areas around the base of the structure.  Grapes will help cool the greenhouse in the summer and when their leaves drop, allow for solar heat to fill the growing area during winter.

Greenhouses don't have to be expensive to be functional.  Once the coral honeysuckle, grapes and other vines weave their tendrils into the lattice work, pollinators should come in droves.

Hoop architecture with inexpensive conduit has proven itself year in and year out.

DIY greenhouses can add wonderful opportunities to any urban core permaculture efforts!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Harvesting Fog and Dew for Drinking Water and Vegetable Garden Irrigation

With natural water supplies drying up and disappearing and areas affected by drought increasing in acreage every day, learning how to harvest all available atomized water from the air is important.

Alternative forms of irrigation for green roofs and living walls can sometimes be the primary irrigation source for rooftop plants.  We use air conditioning condensate and dew catchers on many of the green roofs we design.

This morning our lanai screen was covered in water droplets though there was not a cloud anywhere to be seen in the sky, a reminder of the available irrigation potential.

Dew available for Green Roof Irrigation

Additionally, a quick early morning walk through the garden offered up the opportunity to see dew droplets all across the vegetable leaves and other plants.
Dew available for irrigation in the garden

Dew can be an important source of 'free' irrigation.  Learning how to harvest the condensed water vapor is easy, as humans have been tapping this resource for ages.

Check out the TreeHugger article here for an informative look at how dew catchers provide drinking and irrigation water to some of Peru's underdeveloped areas.

Then check out an amazing YouTube video showing the construction of a DIY dew catcher!

Always consider dew as an irrigation source when designing vertical green in the Urban Core.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Extreme Rooftop and Roadside Micro-Biodiversity

Sometimes we can't see the forest for the trees.

US1 Highway, Flagler County
Sometimes we can't see the forest for the rooftops


Breaking Ground Rooftop
Nature can teach us so many things about biodiversity. With a little bit of wild seed source, always available from bird droppings and wind currents, Her wildflowers thrive even where most don't notice.

The Green Roof shown above has over fifty different plant families represented, well as hundreds of genus and species. Native plants, food plants and wildflowers flourish, providing habitat for insects and wildlife.

Mother Nature knows how to care for her own, even along roadsides and above rooftops.

Take a look at the very first photo in the post here. First glance portrays a lonely FDOT rights of way with grass and a few skinny looking pine trees. But in reality the biodiversity here is exponentially greater than the Breaking Ground Contracting Green Roof with hundreds of plant genus occurring across the plantings.

When I see a wet swale such as the remnant pine flatwoods alongside a highway, adrenalin surges through my veins, working against the beta-blockers I take to protect the smooth muscles of my heart from Marfan Syndrome damage. Even in the dead of winter I know this place will be a living jungle, a damp, rainforest-like wilderness zoo of exotic plants and wildlife.

Advanced Biodiversity May Not Always Be Visible
Take another look at the photo. How many species are visible?

Clearly there are pines and mowed grass. Yet the open canopy, sandy nutrient poor soil and high water table come together to provide another, barely visible micro-world full of amazing plants and wildlife.

And I knew that as sure as driving by the other day, I'd be back with cane and camera. One of these days I really am going to invent a more friendly swamp hiking cane or walker for hobblers like myself.

So camera in hand I came back and sat down with the tape measure to find out what was really growing on a one square meter of otherwise barren looking roadside. The richness in biodiversity was mind boggling, for growing under the mower's blade height were tiny wildflowers, unusual native grasses and a host of carnivorous plants.

Nature abhors monocultures of anything. As soon as we try to straighten and organize the landscape, She is at work dropping seed source and encouraging complex communities exhibiting intense interactivity and preforming endless important functions. Tidy gardens, neatly planted green roofs and organized landscapes such as the mowed roadside have little significance in Her quest to create fields of biodiversity. Plant a neat row of flowers and in one month she will have planted and sprouted ten times the varieties of plants in the same row.

As I sat on the damp sandy soil looking across the extreme micro biodiversity I noticed my shorts were wicking up some of the plentiful surface moisture, creating a damp cooling effect, calming my excitement generated adrenalin flashes. But with the winter sun quickly fleeing towards the western horizon I knew my task of identifying all the plant species in a one meter square would be impossible in one afternoon's brief time. In fact, it'd probably take an eternity to just begin to understand the living complexity of the habitat lying before me.

Though a few of the photos are included showing all the wonderful plants, I've saved a surprise for the last.

The meter square bit of sandy soil provided a habitat for many plants.

Florida Native Wildflower, Bantam Buttons, Syngonanthus flavidulus, Flagler County, January 2012
Though not blooming, the beautiful rosette of Bantam Button's leaves covered the ground as far as I could see.

Vanilla Plant, Carphephorus odoratissimus, Florida Native Wildflower, Flagler County, January 2013
Beautiful and fragrant vanilla plant, Carphephorus odoratissimus bloomed profusely even though cut and stunted by maintenance mower's blade, growing side by side with mosses and sundew.

Vanilla Plant, Carphephorus odoratissimus, Florida Native Wildflower, Flagler County, January 2013
Coinwort, Centella erecta added interesting colors and textures while cleaning the water and providing nutritious forage.

Florida Native Carnivorous Wildflower Butterwort
Florida Native Carnivorous Wildflower Butterwort
The carnivorous plant genus, Butterwort, Pinguicula contributed to the one meter biodiversity as well as different species of Florida's native grass, Panicum.

Though at first I thought I'd discovered a great surprise in the small, unusual shaped flower above the tiny little sundew, further examination revealed what I'd expected. The yellow flower belonged to another Florida carnivorous plant genus commonly known as Bladderworts. This particular bladderwort, Utricularia juncea, also known as Southern Bladderwort, present a single thin thread-like stem growing upwards through a stunningly brilliant pink sundew, Drosera capillaris. Two intertwined carnivorous plants, thriving in a seemingly visual desert.

Florida Native Carnivorous plants, sundew and bladderwort
Nature' complexity is mind-boggling. But then She gave me my real surprise. Reviewing and enlarging the photos on my Canon LCD I noted what I thought was a speck of trash, and there was that annoying feeling of 'must clean the lens and reshoot'. It is hard enough for me to position myself to take the photo the first time. But this was no speck of trash. For on the tiny, barely visible bladderwort stem were even smaller, newborn green tree frogs. I was speechless.

The barren stretch of rights of way was really a jungle of rich biodiversity.

Think you can create a nice little, orderly singular row of flowers or parch of grass? Think again. Nature plays by Her own rules.

Newly hatched green tree frogs take refuge on a bladderwort stem