Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Living with an Aortic Dissection & Marfan Syndrome

Living with a dissected aorta, Kevin Songer & granddaughter Cali
I experienced a 'root to foot' aortic dissection on November 30th, 2011.

Though I received a St. Jude's Aortic Valve and Dacron aorta, my descending aorta is still dissected from the graft down to my feet.

Its been just over one year now and I am still alive.  Challenges arise everyday though.

One of my most significant areas of frustration has been the lack of available information concerning  the dissection, my medications, available treatments, steps I can take to improve the condition, 'mysterious pains', 'what-if's' and so much more.

Granted, the National Marfan Foundation (NMF) is a great place to start yet my particular significant issue is the dissection.  NMF provides a good deal of information regarding aortic dissections but does not address many questions I have had over the past thirteen months.

Living in Florida, I've joined the Florida Marfan Support Network on Facebook, and subsequently been blessed with meeting many others encountering similar issues there.

Moreover,I've even began my own Facebook Marfan page!

And I've been wanting to start a weekly Aortic Dissection blog, so getting a jump start on the New Year's resolutions, here goes.  Look for my thoughts of living with a metal valve, Dacron aorta, Marfan and most importantly a dissected descending aorta that could aneuryize any day.

With a wonderful wife, grown children, two teens and grandchildren I want to stay alive as long as possible.

Whether you are experiencing an aortic dissection for the first time or a veteran of the disease, your thoughts and comments are also welcome.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Florida Living Walls for the Urban Core - Stormwater, Ethnobotany, Habitat & Heat Island Cooling

Florida Living Wall using Native Plants
Living walls are a popular method of adding vertical green to the Urban Core.  Living walls contribute important environmental benefits to the city.  Habitat is created, stormwater attenuated and purified, heat island effect calmed, air cleaned and oxygen produced.  There are numerous reasons to install a living wall anywhere downtown.
Florida Native Plant, Horsetail, Equisetum hyemale

Unfortunately though, when considering living walls many people think only in terms of very expensive vertical planting systems and trays.

There are many ways to create an Urban Core Living Wall.

One of the most simplest living walls here in Florida is the type where vines, such as Virginia Creeper, Coral Honeysuckle or Carolina Jessamine grow vertically across walls.

Rows of trees are an alternative example of living walls.

Even tall plants, such as those pictured above, can create stunning living walls.  The Florida native plant, Horsetail, Equisetum hyemale is used here to create a living wall against a concrete block wall.  The plants are thriving in heavily urbanized, high pH construction soils, surrounded with concrete foundations and concrete driveways.

I like using horsetail because the plant is evergreen, has a low leaf-litter habit, adds structural interest, grows well in low organic substrates and provides immense habitat.  Additionally, Horsetail acts like a living grate, filtering out most all trash from stormwater runoff.

Combined with vines planted in a living roof container and draping over a roof's edge, an entire facade can be covered with plants without having to install expensive and hard to maintain planting systems.

Finally, installing vertical green in the Urban Core has many benefits, a few being;

  • cleaning and attenuating stormwater
  • providing wildlife habitat
  • cleaning air, removal of CO2
  • fresh oxygen production
  • heat island effect mitigation
  • landscape beauty & plant art
  • noise insulation
  • integrated pest management
and so much more.  Think creativity when exploring living wall options.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Vegetated Green Roof Mats for Metal & Standing Seam Roofs

Green and Vegetated Mat Roof systems can easily be adapted to metal standing seam roofs.

Because vegetated mats are monolithic - an integral unit - and not comprised of individualized smaller modules, the system offers considerable "uni-body type" strength.

Vegetated mat systems are attached to the standing seam metal roof with roofing screws and washers but can also be cantilevered over the peak of a sloped roof depending upon the architect's or engineer's design requirements.

MetroVerde Vegetated Mat Design for Standing Metal Seam Roof
Included here is a typical design sheet for a standing seam metal roof with a vegetated mat overlay component - designed for Florida's 5 H's - Hurricanes, High Humidity, heat, Hard Freezes and High Winds!

A membrane/liner is used to separate the vegetated roof system from the standing seam roof panels.

Low VOC adhesives are used when necessary and the standing seam roof ridge-cap and end trim cover any loose mat ends.

With advances in sealant and adhesive technologies sloped green roof systems and vertical living wall systems can be installed across the Urban Core.

Finally, as the plants grow - the plant root systems criss-cross through the mat, interweaving themselves into the mat and with other roots, creating a strong panel of plants and locked into place soil.

Remember, I prefer to use Florida native plants and wildflowers because of their habitat and pollination value and some Sedum to become susceptible to unavoidable fungi attacks here in the Southeast US.

Food is another great option for sloped metal roofs!  

Regardless though, the important point is that of bringing green back to the Urban Core.  If you have a standing seam metal roof, don't let that stop you from adding plants!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Low Cost Housing - Sustainability, Scalability and Integration of Food Walls and Vegetated Roofs

I keep coming back to my favorite design for greenhouses where integration of food, stormwater and recycled materials creates a home for our plant starts worthy of living in.

Integration of Food Plants into Shelter
With my dissected aorta I am not supposed to lift anything weighing over two pounds at risk of a catastrophic aneurysm.  So this project MUST be easy.  Preferably one where I can tell my easily distracted teens what to do!

Photos are being taken as the structure goes up and they will be posted in a couple weeks as the roof & siding is added.

The design is based on the theory of integrating food, economy, shelter and community into an inexpensive to build housing unit.

Food is the largest source of commerce in the world.  Growing food for use and resale in and on the home is smart business creating opportunity for cash, family enterprise, community bonding, security and health.

Check out the ideas here on the project link and also Dr. Owen Geiger's blog here. check back often for updates on our progress!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Urban Core Shade Gardening Basics

This post is for Michael O'Connell and all the others interesteed in having a productive garden on a canopy tree covered lot.
Containerized plants do well under trees where roots are thick

Many established urban core neighborhoods are covered with large canopy trees, beautiful old trees providing shade and broad limbs from which hang innumerable swings.

Gardening under these trees doesn't have to be difficult.  Follow a few basic concepts and your shade food garden can be an important source of food, cut flowers and family pleasure.

Though the list of available shade plants is lengthy we will only mention a few here today.  Starting the garden is the most important step.  A half dozen food plants in the ground are much better than the fat package of seeds sitting in the garage waiting for planting.

First step to a successful urban core shade garden is to make sure the trees on your lot are allelopathic free.  Allelopathic trees are those species whose leaf drop is toxic to other plants.  Allelopathic trees have evolved this capacity as a mechanism to suppress other plants who may compete for nutrients and water.

Locally here in Florida, cypress (Taxodium spp.) is somewhat allelopathic.  Other allelopathic trees are listed on the University of Florida's IFAS website here.

If your urban core yard trees are allelopathic you may want to consider porch container gardening.

Secondly, tree roots need oxygen and water.  If you cover the ground under a tree with garden soil you may damage the tree.  If you dig too deep while preparing your soil you may damage the tree root systems (even nicked roots can damage trees through infections).

If you have a shady area free of roots then prepare the soil accordingly.  If, as I suspect most urban core residents will find in older, established neighborhoods, you have too many roots then you may should consider container gardening.

Containers are scalable and cost-effective.  Many containers are efficient with water conservation.

Most all my current gardening efforts are focused on containers.  Judy has the garden.  I have the containers.

We are moving into the winter season now and it is time to plant leafy greens.  In sixty days or so you can be enjoying wonderful pestos, salads and cooked greens!

You will find spinach and lettuces and many other leafy greens excellent choices for shady areas.

My Grandpa grew spinach in between his crotons through his Miami yard shaded by giant live oaks.

Garden fresh herbs and vegetables are a welcome addition to any kitchen!
Organic spinach, container or ground level grown loves shade.  Of course, some direct sunlight (even an hour a day) always encourages vigorous plant growth.  Organic spinach is quite costly in the local health food store and a number one shade vegetable.

Lettuces too most always do well in shade.  Our teens forage daily throughout winter afternoons, creating tasty afternoon crisp salads from the lettuces in our garden.  There are many wonderful types of lettuces available from most seed companies.  Check out the Seeds of Change selection here.

A cornerstone of our garden are our indestructible and evergreen Garlic Chives.  We use the leaves almost daily for accent or flavor to most any dish.

Garlic Chives grow well in containers or in the ground.

Keep a container of mint growing in the shade for tea, fruit salads, your favorite beverage or a number of other uses.  Mints I'd choose include spearmint, peppermint, chocolate mint, and orange mint.  Mints can take over though so they are best planted in containers!

Homemade cilantro dips and pestos fresh from the Florida Permaculture Garden!
Parsley is so tasty in salads, soups, on sandwiches and good for you too (full of zinc).  Curly parsley does very well here in the North Florida Urban Core.

Don't forget Cilantro now.  If you love cooking you probably love cilantro.  Cilantro is another great shade vegetable.

There you have it!  Start with these six plants and you will fill your kitchen with so many healthy foods at a fraction of what they'd cost in the organic section of your health food store.

Shade gardening can be fun!  No time like today to start!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Urban Agriculture, Photosynthesis & A Garden Where We Forget to Die

Green Roof plant photosynthesis has been a topic of conversation here on this blog many times.

Florida Permaculture Garden - Lots of Food in Small Spaces

Previous readers now know there are three types of  photosynthesis in plants.  What we may not know is the lesson in human longevity we can also take away from these three types of photosynthesis.

Remember,  photosynthesis is the plant process for converting sunshine, water, CO2 and nutrients into building blocks for growth.

Those of you following the blog will remember plants are classified as having either C3, C4 or CAM photosynthesis characteristics.

If this is new to you, no problem.  Just think of C3 plants as those plants who grow very fast and produce lots of flowers quickly because their photosynthesis occurs on the plant leaf surface, an area where sunshine, water and CO2 are  plentiful.  The downfall to C3 plants though is, because photosynthesis happens on the leaf surface they are prone to rapid desiccation if not continually provided with water and other necessities.

C3 plants grow quickly, make a huge impact yet may whither and die just as fast.

On the other end of the spectrum, CAM plants have embedded their photosynthesis processes deep in their leaf, protected by layers of guard cells.  Consequently, CAM plants experience slow to moderate interactions with water, sunlight, CO2 and more.

We all know CAM plants as succulents, such as the Christmas Cactus.  Aloe is another CAM plant.  Aloe is always there for us, if we water the plant or not.

CAM  plants are steady throughout the seasons.  Don't expect them to fill up your garden overnight but do expect them to be around after that extended vacation, when the other once beautiful, flowering garden plants are frazzled and dried up due to lack of watering.

C4 plants lie midway between the C3 and CAM plants on the drought tolerant and growth rate spectrum.  Many C4 plants have some measure of embedded photosynthesis systems,  Other C4 plants can switch back and forth between C3 and CAM functions.

C4 plants tend to be moderate growers and are usually fairly resistant to environmental changes.  C4 plants are slower growing than C3 plants but faster producing than CAM plants.

How does this relate to human longevity?

For decades I never saw the corollary.  Yet you probably already have.

Good permaculture principles have taught us to always plant perimeter wind break plants around our gardens.

We have always used tough and hardy CAM  plants as perimeter wind break plants on a Green Roof to protect the more sensitive yet fast growing C3 plants from desiccation.

CAM  plants not only can survive where other plants cannot, CAM plants also provide a 'safe harbor' for other plants to grow.

There have been times in my life where my behavior mimicked a C3 plant's behavior.  I'd jump up early before dawn, work my body and mind until I was exhausted, accomplish way more than many, then crash back into bed.

Little did I know about the damage occurring in my heart and aorta, fueled in part by genetic tendencies from Marfan Syndrome and compounded by the C3-like hustle and bustle of 'making it all happen'.

Whenever I'd reach the burnout phase, I'd briefly shift gears into the C4 mode.  High stress functioning and endless activity would be some moderated with a weekend of spring hopping, scuba diving or swamp exploration.

Yet memory of those many perceived accomplishments would quickly begin to diminish and I'd soon be ready for the C3 performance level again.

I found myself longing for the adrenaline rush of doing what others could not.

We built a two-story house on a small upland island in the middle of a mighty cypress swamp, dragging in huge poles and timbers with the power of our legs and backs, creating an amazing and beautiful herb and flower nursery, raising special children, going to law school and graduating near the top of my class, creating a successful environmental consulting firm, designing and constructing marvelous landscapes and living roofs, crafting an extensive urban farms comprised of geese, ducks, turkeys, rabbits, hens and food and medicinal plants, and so much more.

My Dad however would usually mention something along the lines of 'save some for tomorrow'.  But I did not listen.  My C3 accomplishment needs propelled me forward.  I was living the great dream of 'making it happen'.

Looking back now on life before the scene-changing aneurysm I can easily understand the C3-CAM metaphor.

Unfortunately, finishing all I wanted to do in life and making a big splash in a much shorter period of time than practical made me much more vulnerable to stress-related health issues.

Today, a multitude of artificial heart and aorta components requirements have forced me out of the C3 mode into CAM mode.

Life's activity is now measured, activities occur on a paced basis and there is little or no rush anymore to finish first.

Now Judy and I focus on growing much of our own food in her Florida Urban Permaculture Garden.

No, we don't live on a farm and in fact we have very limited space to grow plants on our tiny lot.  This summer though we've grown okra, tomatoes, hot and sweet peppers, lemongrass, basil, black eye peas, collards, kale, arugula, chives, sweet potatoes, sage, seminole pumpkin, blackberries, grapes, figs, grapefruit, oranges, bell peppers and a host of other herb, veggie and flower plants.

Our life's pace slowed considerably.  Our accomplishments were measured and we took time to  laugh or cry with the challenges and surprises confronting us.
Yet even with meds my systolic blood pressure would not drop below the mid 130's.

Then last week I decided to try eating primarily form the garden or food caught  from the ocean or foraged from the wild.  Knowing processed foods contained substantial amounts of salts, nitrites  and other chemicals and wondering if a simpler diet would have real benefits, I committed to staying away from foods-in-a-box for two weeks.

The results were immediate and surprising.

Importantly. I haven't really gone hungry.

Though only one week has passed since my diet changed, my body has begun removing all the salts and excess water previously stored around my waist.  Waist line measurements have decreased by an inch, overall weight has declined by almost five pounds and my systolic blood pressure has dropped by approximately 25 points from the mid 130's to around 105.

Foraging based and Urban Garden food preparation is certainly much more time consuming and a slower process than grabbing food from a package or box.

Hunger pains seemed to decrease in relationship to the amount of time required to prepare food or snacks.  Readily available food or snacks spiked with salt, fat or sugar were much more prone to be quickly consumed than the fresh produce waiting to be picked from the garden.  Spicy goldfish in a box were easier to count on for hunger relief than the flounder swimming in the surf.

The commitment of giving up the packaged and processed foods actually slowed and decreased my overall consumption of food 'stuffs'.

Taking the time to gather, pick and prepare food taught me an appreciation for the reduced quantity but increased quality  of edibles ending up on my plate.

A new light flickered on in my head, an appreciation for 'slow foods'.

Lower blood pressure could possibly add months, years or decades to my life.  Though the surgeons replaced a portion of my ascending aorta, the descending portion was still dissected all past my kidneys down into my feet, just waiting for the high stress event that could burst the remaining arterial lining.

Weight loss helped with my mobility, easing joint pain.

My eyes were opened to exciting new opportunities, including the adventure of creating a food forest on our diminutive urban lot where concreted lanai space rivaled open areas available for plantings.

Fishing now served to relieve daily stresses and provided an opportunity to gather healthy food.

And so I began to post updates of my progress on social media networks.

Creative garden-based (or as Judy says - 'yarden-based') recipes arrived via e-mail or messages, sent from friends and strangers alike.

And then a social media contact in San Francisco sent me this story last night.  A New York Times feature about an 'Island Where People Forget to Die'.  And it all began to finally make sense.

Slow is better than fast.  Ber rabbit does not win in the end.

CAM plants can teach us about longevity of life.

I am now forever committed to integrating my Urban Ag Diet into a daily routine.

No more 'grow, show and wilt' in a hurry.

Slow, measured eating practices and a yarden-forage diet may be a path for me to outlive my cardiologist.

Even in our limited urban spaces, Judy and I are creating our own 'Garden Where People Forget to Die'.

So can you.

Be sure to read the New York TImes article about longevity and life, in the Article entitled "An Island Where People Forget to Die.

Many thanks to Kerrick Lucker for the link.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Foraging Wild Edibles & Eating from the Florida Permaculture Garden

Urban Ag! Seminole Pumpkin Breakfast
Eating from the garden and wild foraging for the past week has been a challenge I must say.  In search of answers about Urban Agriculture and the practicality of feeding a city, I wanted to see if I could eat for two weeks either from wild forage or our Urban Permaculture Garden.

So far some surprising results!

First of all I've learned about the power of salt addiction.  Salt can be poisonous.  Salt has been used as a herbicide for millennia.  And salt has been responsible for countless human health issues, yet the mineral excites our taste buds in such unique ways it is hard to do without.

Processed foods are loaded with salt!

Going without salt for the first few days was hard.  Salt gave me a pseudo adrenaline-type rush once on my taste buds.  Salt enlivened otherwise seemingly dull tasting foods.

Now, after six days without salt-laden processed foods I've found that my desire for the mineral is rapidly declining.

And my systolic blood pressure has quickly dropped overt twenty points.  Before my foraging/garden diet my systolic blood pressure was running in the low 130's.  Now my systolic hovers at 100-105, an amazing benefit - especially with my dissected aorta condition.  I've had no other change to my diet or medications other than eliminate processed foods.

This morning I'd even been wearing my lightweight wrist weights for a couple hours prior to checking my blood pressure.  Long term a 25% decrease in blood pressure may result in many more years of life for someone in my condition.

In addition to the blood pressure drop there are other surprising discoveries with the yarden diet and I'll discuss those in the next post!

An Urban Agriculture diet that replaces processed foods may potentially create super healthy cities!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Eating from Urban Gardens, Day 3.5 Update

Eating from an Urban Garden can provide insight into many interesting concepts.  I've either foraged or fed myself from our very tiny backyard garden going on or the last 72 hours now, drinking lots more water than I normally used to.

Florida Permaculture Garden Cow Peas
Though I've yet to really get hungry, my want for salt and sugar spiked during the first couple days.  Going without salt has really had a significant impact on my body.

I caught several  fish Monday evening and have had plenty of protein.  Combined with sweet banana peppers, collard greens and black eye peas from the 'yarden' as Judy calls it, there has been plenty to eat.

Salt is pervasive in processed foods.  I never add salt to my food, except in the form of soy sauce or tamari, which I understand has lots of salt as an ingredient.

Yet by removing salt-laden processed foods from my diet, including soy sauce, for three days and drinking two gallons of water daily, I've lost a significant amount of previously retained body water.

My belly feels much less 'sloshy', I've shed four pounds water weight and my blood pressure has dropped by ten systolic points from 125 to 115.

The sugar urge has been easier to deal with.  Foraged saw palmetto berries have loads of natural sugars and 'quench' the urge for sugars.

I am looking forward and excited to see the end results after two weeks.

Eating from the garden and wild forage has also opened my eyes to an awareness of what the 'slow food' movement is about.  I spent four hours fishing Monday evening.  Four hours is a long time to spend on food, or is it?

Sitting in the beach chair under the brilliant early evening sky a calming wave of peace flowed through me.  All the stresses of the day soon disappeared and I felt one with the universe.  My breathing became deeper and more measured.  Not only was I fishing for food but I was also fishing for stress relief and health.  The experience was every bit as good as a yoga session or massage.

The effort expended with throwing the cast net for bait, setting up the beach chair and fishing rod and cleaning up afterwards actually moderated my appetite that evening.  Though I cannot do near as much as most because of my aortic dissection, I found clarity in the experience of actually spending effort for my meal.

Over the last three days I've come to realize just how addicted I was to packaged and quick food from the refrigerator.

Now I am just beginning to see the beauty of simple eating.  Our Urban Garden really offers all I need.

I am now seeing an amazing result around the corner as simple foods become more integrated into my life.

A small balcony or rooftop could easily provide a couple with all the food, year around, that they need.

More soon!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Urban Agriculture & Native Plants Diet

Many of us dream of growing our own, organic healthy food and breaking away from industrial pre-packaged groceries.
Dinner from the Florida Permaculture Garden, peas, okra, peppers and more

Yes, Judy and I have always had a healthy diet.  Virgin olive and sesame oils are the primary fats we've cooked with for almost twenty years.

Our garden has provided daily vegetables throughout the seasons.

Yet I've been asking myself if I could really break from grocery market food.

So this week I am giving it a try for a week, starting yesterday afternoon (Sunday, October 21, 2012).  The teens and Judy are welcome to participate if they like.

Anyway, I'll be updating my diet successes or failures daily on the blog here and posting similar updates to Facebook.

The ground rules are simple.

The only food I am going to eat for two weeks will come from the garden or will be wild foraged.

Right now I've gone twelve hours and feel fine.  Of course I am watching my blood pressure and INR. I am assuming my diet will include more green vegetables since we have so many in the garden   Green vegetables mean vitamin K.

Having artificial heart components I must make sure my blood doesn't clot around the titanium valve.  An increase in green vegetables translates into a probable increase in Coumadin to keep the blood thin.

Dinner Sunday evening consisted of sweet Saw Palmetto berries, a wonderful mix of garden veggies heated on the stove (including okra, black-eye peas, peppers and more - see photo above) and delicious Seminole Pumpkin from out back.

Seminole Pumpkin were cultivated by the native Floridians and originated probably in Central or South America.  This calabasa keeps for a very long time once picked and is absolutely delicious baked, tasting very similar to a cross between a butternut squash and a pumpkin.
Seminole Pumpkin from the Floria Permaculture Garden

Today I'd like to net a bucket of mullet running along the shoreline, clean, soak in vinegar and bake.  I also found an awesome patch of lentil-look-alike Florida native Thicket Bean, Phaseolus polystachios.  I easily had a bag of pods, leaving most on the vine, within five minutes.  We will see how tasty they are later today.

Florida native Thicket Bean, Phaseolus polystachios

Can I stay away from the commercialized and industrialized pre-packaged foods?  Can I stay away from Publix?

Each day you will find comments and recipes, creative I am sure, of my garden and forage adventure.

Why do this?

Preaching Urban Green and Sustainability is one thing.  Living the life is another.
Native, wild saw palmetto berries.  Many can not stand their taste but I love them!

Now is the time for me to see if I can really live the low-carbon footprint life and just how hard weaning one's self from cardboard boxed foods, is.

Day One Diet:

Saw Palmetto Berries, freshly picked;
Marvelous sauté of garden vegetables (okra, peppers & black eye peas)
Baked Seminole Pumpkin
hot Yaupon tea (black drink)

I'd love to hear about your experiences too!  Emailed testimonials of Foraged & Garden Diets will be posted along with my experiences.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Trees = Living Wall, Urban Greening in Small Spaces

You can add an amazing amount of vertical green in very small city spaces.
Living Wall using containerized fruit trees

Smaller urban trees can serve to shade walls, provide habitat, produce food, clean stormwater and so much more.  And the concrete does not have to be busted up to allow the trees to grow and prosper.

The photos included here are of a very small lot in a small urban core (downtown) trailer park.  The owner has created a living wall/forest with food trees.  Citrus, figs and fruit trees line the western exposure wall of the trailer.
Florida Living Wall, Urban Greening in small spaces using trees

If even a small portion of all the trailers, small houses and apartments with balconies create living walls from containerized plants, we'd see such a huge improvement to Urban Core air quality and heat island effect while butterflies, bees and dragonflies swarmed about.

Scaleability and cost effectiveness are huge components of a successful Urban Core Greening program.

We can all learn from this example, go home and do the same, creating a living wall with containerized citrus, fig and fruit trees.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Balcony Greening Jacksonville's Urban Core - Reversing Ecological Consumerism Trends

'Seeds of Green" efforts are beginning here in Jacksonville and Northeast, Florida as an effort to highlight important sustainability efforts no matter how large or small they are.

The inaugural post will feature the efforts of Michelle and Toi Chance-Sangthong of Jacksonville, Florida and I appreciate all the photos they have shared on Facebook - those you see here in this note.
Michelle & Toi's Balcony Garden, Urban Core Greening
Michelle and Toi live in an apartment with their balcony offering to best opportunity to garden.  Without plants, their apartment building is just another concrete structure in the Urban Core.

Michelle and Toi have grown and raised a number of plants on their quite small balconies.   Their example is what other apartment or condo dwellers should follow for several very important reasons.
Aloe, flowers and food plants line their balconies

We all know that grey concrete and black asphalt now cover what was once stretches of green in many cities.  With the loss of vertical and horizontal green, wildlife have suffered while habitat was paved over.

Plants growing in the Urban Core are vital for a number of reasons, including; clean air (they remove carbon dioxide and pump out fresh oxygen), carbon sequestration, stormwater attenuation and cleansing, wildlife and habitat creation, urban heat island reduction, wind breaks, stress reduction, food, beauty and so much more.
Urban Core greening, growing plants in small spaces

Though we might think that one balcony full of plants is a drop in the bucket, the cumulative effect of many inhabitants following Michelle's and Toi's example could make a profound difference in Urban Core environmental quality.

Looking at photos of their balcony I see food, flowers and important ethnobotanicals such as aloe.

Their intensive growing systems include micro irrigation techniques and containerized soil media units.
Michelle and Toi's milkweed, Asclepias curassavica

I've watch them post photos of different types of food they've raised, like cucumbers, on Facebook over the summer.

In many ways Michelle and Toi are becoming environmental producers rather than environmental consumers.  For instance, their balcony plants are replacing a significant portion of the oxygen they daily consume.  Some may say, "Hey, that isn't a big deal - the plants in our yard do that!"  However for apartment or condo dwellers in the Urban Core who do not have yards, their balcony plants can be the best way to offset eco-consumerism.
Urban Core Monarch caterpillars devouring Michelle's milkweed

Growing your own food saves energy too.  With the oil crises where it is, local food eliminates the need for long distance trucking of industrially grown produce, saving diesel and gasoline.  Some statistics show the average distance food on a family's evening dinner table exceeds two thousand miles.  Michelle's and Toi's average fifty feet or so.  Now I am sure all their food doesn't originate on the little balcony, yet their intent and efforts are what this world needs in creating a healthy and sustainable Urban Core.

Beyond the food are the butterflies.  Michelle and Toi grew Monarchs, unknowingly at first, across their balcony.  Michelle purchased a variety of milkweed, Asclepias curassavica from the nearby Ace Hardware store.  Soon her balcony was crawling, literally with Monarch larvae and caterpillars.
Monarch chrysalis on the balcony milkweeds

Michelle went back to the store to buy more milkweed as the caterpillars quickly devoured most of the millkweed leaves.

Michelle and Toi again were producing environmental gain for the Urban Core.
Thanks to Michelle and Toi, Monarchs find habitat in the Urban Core's concrete jungle

Michelle counted fourteen Monarch chrysalis with twelve surviving to ecolsion.

If just one hundred thousand others would follow Michelle's and Toi's example the world could boast of an addition one million four hundred thousand Monarch butterflies.

Little efforts add up.

'Seeds of Green' salutes Michelle and Toi's efforts in Urban Greening and hopes to see more over the years.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Green Roof and Urban Core Plant Extraordinaire, Bidens spp.

I was asked to contribute towards a new municipality green roof regulatory policy, one where there was considerable incentive given developers towards site entitlements if the project would include a green/vegetated roof.

Monarch Butterfly & Bidens alba

Zebra Swallowtail & Bidens alba
One of the committee members also invited was an accomplished technical/construction specialist - one with multiple graduate degrees in technical and mechanical fields.  But she did not understand plants.

Her past green roof projects had been designed around available landscape plants.  Choose the typical on-the-ground landscape plant and design irrigation and fertilizer and other accessory design criteria to support the landscape plants - was the motto.

Whenever we'd discuss native species or volunteer species showing up on the roof, she'd immediately try to quash the discussion by shouting 'WEEDS!  NO ONE WANTS WEEDS ON THE ROOF!' 

I think it was because she felt uncomfortable trying to work with the organic, dynamic complexities of nature.  Obviously she wanted no part of having native plants or wildflowers or grasses on the roof.  Moreover, I've seen some of her 'landscaped' green roofs and they quickly revert back to natives, or as she calls them 'weeds'.  I am sure selective herbicides are used quite often on her green roofs and with obviously little luck.

Now is the time to stop.  We must stop seeing masses of green and train ourselves to look at the plant.  There are few if any true worthless weeds in nature and likewise few, if any true worthless weeds on green roofs or across the Urban Core.

Each plant has its own beauty and purpose, even those obnoxious ones.

I've often quoted Lydia Cabrera in saying "there are more spirits in the plants/forests than in the sky'.

The vegetated roof in Sanford I toured this week was full and vibrant due to volunteer plants.

Really, there are no true worthless weeds.

I heard the weed thing again from my daughter, today. 

She showed me her photos of one of the most obnoxious plants in my book - Bidens alba (Hairy Beggar's-tick).  Just try walking through a mass of Bidens and wait till you come out the other end of the patch.... 

I love their masses of white flowers but distrust their desire to bestow me with masses of aggravating seeds.

I almost at this time of the year agreed with the self-centered technocrat who probably couldn't tell bamboo from horsetail or coral honeysuckle from trumpet vine.  I almost shouted WEEDS!

But Jincy showed me her pictures from today.  Ones she and Ruairi took out back.  The Bidens are growing on the roof too.

And Lydia Cabrera is right about more spirits in plants.  And I am right about 'there really are no weeds'....

No need to weed the Bidens from the back yard or the corner lot or the green roofs.  Just step back and admire the flowers and astonishing numbers of pollinators drawn to this plant.

Metallic Green Bee and Bidens alba

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Green Roofs and Biomimicry's Lessons

An understanding of proper plant use for Urban Greening projects, including green roofs and urban permaculture gardens can come from many sources including, research, books, libraries, on-line information sharing and hands-on experience.

Florida Green Roof Plants - Frog Fruit crows across harsh, hot coquina sea wall boulders

One of my favorite ways to learn about what species of plants to use and how to grow them across cityscapes is to study successful plant habit in harsh ecosystems.

Those plants growing well under the influence of extreme heat, high humidity, strong desiccating winds, intense light or shade levels and other environmental factors will  usually survive on a city roof, against a wall, on a patio or balcony and in a windowsill.

Too many times designers try and use those plants that need to be gently cared for in cityscapes.  Ultimately the plants die and the urban greening project is shelved for another with less perceived maintenance requirements.

Florida Green Roof Plants - Nature's Examples are the Best Way to Learn About Urban Greening

However, there are many places to find the results of nature's selections and choices.

The beach and her sand dunes; hot, dry roadsides; Urban rooftops; gutters on buildings, vacant lots are just a few of many mini-biomes presenting opportunities for learning about plant growth habits, root architecture, soil, water and nutrient requirements and more.

This week I was walking along a coquina rock seawall.  I cannot go far with my dissected aorta and many times, walking ten feet or so is enough to tire me to the point of sitting down to rest.  The slowness has advantages though and stopping more often allows for opportunities to examine small outcrops of plants in detail.

The coquina boulders in front me, though they were surrounded by salt water, buffeted with strong winds and unrelenting sunlight, supported an amazing array of lovely plants and wildflowers.

Those plants I saw on the boulders, the Frog Fruit, Hydrocotyle, native succulents, many of these we have successfully used across green roofs in North Florida.

Nature can teach us many things.  We just need to stop and look.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Green Roofs and Hurricanes, Design for Wind and Rain

Hurricane season is upon us.  Importantly, Florida Green Roofs should have adequate design consideration provided for keeping plants on the roof during storm events.

One of my favorite design tools is use of three dimensional geo synthetic fabrics to allow a plant's root architecture to form a strong bond between plant and roofing system.

The above video shows a green roof panel containing a three dimensional weave and soil media along with some organic compost.  The panel is being pressure washed to remove the soil media.

As the video shows, the green roof soil media is not easily removed.  Three dimensional weaving provides excellent wind and water resistance and can be very helpful for sloped green roof stabilization or any green roof subject to extreme weather conditions.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Worm Castings for a Florida Green Roof

Totally amazing, the work with students that Catherine Burkee is directing across the Breaking Ground Green Roof.

Take a look at the video where Catherine explains how worms make composted fertilizer and then the fertilizer is used across the green roof.  Be sure to visit the Breaking Ground Contracting Green Roof blog too.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Sloped Green Roofs & Hurricanes, Florida Urban Sustainability

Recently, one of the original field trial green roofs was temporarily removed to allow for installation of a solar hot water system piping.  The roof's slope was approximately 7/12 and originally the lightweight extensive mat system was installed over the existing asphalt shingles (with a root barrier/waterproofing liner).  The green roof system used a soil media comprised of primary organic mixtures, had a variety of sedum, succulents and native Allium species planted (A. canadense and others).
Florida Green Roof, MetroVerde Extensive Mat System

The sedum and original Aptenia struggled over time, eventually giving way to the A. canadense, primarily due to fungal attacks during the steamy hot, humid summer months (not necessarily rainy just high water vapor months).

Once removed the underlying roof appeared to look the same as the day the green roof was installed seven years ago, free of water damage and quite nicely preserved. 

The green roof system was a simple.ost-effective system defying all odds and wagging-tongues - (don't use high organic soil media, the roof is too sloped, can't put a green roof over asphalt shingles, a nature-irrigated green roof will not survive, etc...).   The system easily survived several tropical cyclones, one rainfall event where we had eighteen inches of water in over two days (Tropical Storm Fay), extended periods of brutal drought and more).  The roof never had additional soil or plants added to it.

 Once the solar piping was in place the intent was to  add a recycled section of old, heavy duty chain link fence to the wall under the roof and plant and grow luffa gourds in the gutter, allowing them to cascade down over the guter edge across the chain link living wall fencing. I can hear the wagging tongues now - growing plants in gutter!

Florida Green Roof, Luffa Gourds in Gutters

Importantly, over the years of watching the roof preform the plants adsorbed and drank most of the rainfall events - especially any rain less than one inch (most of our afternoon rainstorms here are les than one inch) rendering the gutter useless.  The gutter was useless in the eighteen inch plus rainfall event too.  Though I would not do this on a commercial application, we do push the limits at the nursery to see what systems can do.  I am confident the green roof system we've replaced on the roof will handle any and all precipitation events, even with the luffa planted in the gutter, and just as the organic matter did not clog and wash out or decompose as predicted or the roof wash off during tropical cyclones, the luffa planted gutter - filled with a fast draining soil media will pleasantly surprise us.

The luffa is deciduous and will allow winter sun to hit our masonry walls, adding heat in the cooler months yet shading out summer solar radiation.

So with skyrocketing food prices in the grocery markets, a food based schema was designed for plantings.  The original mat, removed during the solar renovation process was replaced, adhered using a low VOC roofing glue.

Florida Extensive Green MetroVerde Green Roof, Mat installed
Once the mat was in place and inspected the soil media was added.   This is the process where the greatest leap of faith occurs for me.
Florida MetroVerde Extensive Green Roof Soil Media
A leap of faith because placing soil on a quite steep roof surface seems to be a futile approach, one probably washing off during the first rain storm, covering outside walls with a muddy mess.  Of course we watch the weather predictions as would any roofer and don't start if rain is predicted for a couple days.

The soil media is a fine material, free of aggregate - important when designing in a cyclone prone area.  Our soil media specifications call for microscopic sharp, geometric edges capable of locking together and when roots are added to the blend a highly stable, well-drained monolithic system is created.  The trick lies in initially adding fast growing C3 plants to bind all together then incorporating a purposeful evolution to a blend of more C4 and CAM plants to allow for drought tolerance and wind resilience.

Florida Extensive Green Roof, Matt's Wild Cherry Tomatoes

Since I love Wild Cherry Tomatoes and cannot get enough of them I decided on Matt's Wild Cherry Tomatoes to accompany the luffa's.  This wild breed produces more delicious cherry tomatoes than any other variety I have seen.  I am expecting thousands and thousands of cherry tomatoes this year.

Florida Green Roof, Food Roof, Rooftop Permaculture by MetroVerde

Cherry tomatoes are ramblers and will cascade down alongside the luffas, down the living wall so I won't have to actually climb the roof to fetch the round red scrumptious fruits.

Florida Green Roof - Rooftop Permaculture
Expect update photos as the luffa's and tomatoes grow and fill in the living wall, cascading down from above, providing us and countless hungry insects, birds and other Urban Jax Core wildlife with fresh organic nectar, food and beauty.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Tropical Storms and Green Roofs, Short Video About Winds and Soil Media

Tropical Storm Isaac is headed to Florida according to forecasters.  Below is a video showing interactions between high winds, rains and a sloped green roof.