Brutalism and Green Walls

Brutalism and Biomimicry

Brutalism and Biomimicry

Brutalism is an architectural style using a lot of concrete to make buildings that appear, well, brutal. I find them depressingly beautiful. They also sometimes replicate natural shapes, like crystals or a bunch of square stones piled on each other or whatever that shape is in the photo above. That biomimicry is beautiful.

But that’s not my point. Many people hate brutalism. It can look very Soviet Block. All that gray concrete gets dirty and the whole thing is depressing.

BUT…as a green wall installer it occurred to me that those large waterproof concrete walls are perfect for living walls!

Keep the shapes but make the material beautiful. Green walls and brutalism.

living wall brutalism

Imagine how beautiful a living wall would look on all those surfaces.

 

Eco Wedding Living Walls

Not all living wall installers focus on the same thing. One of our main focuses is wedding living walls. There is nothing more beautiful than a wedding ceremony with a living wall backdrop. We are an ecological company and one of our pet peeves is when clients ask us to build a living wall for a short event, like a wedding, after which they throw the wall away.

Weddings are by far one of the most wasteful ceremonies we have. So much money goes into that one day, only to throw away so much the day after. And the same goes for wedding living walls. They use it as a beautiful backdrop for the ceremony, take photos and then throw it away.

But we realized we could turn this problem into something incredibly meaningful for the bride and groom and something way more ecological:

We build the wall for the wedding and after we take the wall and install it somewhere else. That could be at the newlyweds’ home, so they can always be reminded of that special day. It could be given to a friend or it could be donated. Schools are our favorite. And you get a tax writeoff!

We call it the Eco Wedding Living Wall. Its a great way to extend the love in an environmentally friendly way.

Eco Wedding Living Walls

Eco Wedding Living Walls

                 Here are some very pretty wedding living walls we love.

Living Wall in Yoga Studio

Eco Brooklyn recently took on a new project for Area Yoga. This is Area Yoga’s second location which is right in the heart of Brooklyn Heights. The space consists of a large studio, two massage rooms, and a reception area.

When designing the yoga studio, there were two ledges that would only collect dust if we didn’t find a purpose for them. We chose to create living walls. The space is on a diagonal so we couldn’t approach it as a complete vertical garden but neither was it a flat green roof. As a living wall and green roof installer this was a new challenge for us. We are combining techniques we use from experience and creating a new process for an interior living wall.

The living wall shown above is 33’ x 5’ so making a space to contain the plants would be costly due to the structural needs. We chose to approach it as if it were a green roof. The existing structural support has a moisture retention mat, drainage barrier, and a filter fleece. These three items are extremely important because they prevent any potential water damage as well as allow drainage.

The growing medium for the plants is placed on top of this but since the space is sloped we needed a way to retain the soil. None of the available market solutions were a good fit so we decided to build our own soil retention solution. It is stainless steel tension wires traveling horizontally every 3″ with mosquito netting intertwined to create personal pockets for each plant.

Approaching the living wall this way has the best of both horizontal and vertical living wall installations. It is easy to fix common problems like clogged drains or leaks. There is more space for soil which improves plant growth and health.

We also installed fluorescent lights that provide some light to the plants. This is by no means a growing light, but it will help the growth of low light plants while creating a display for the customer. The challenge here was to install the lights without deterring from the intricate old molding. We didn’t want modern and traditional to clash. We addressed this challenge by boxing the lights so they blend into the ceiling.


The spaces which contain the living wall instantly bring the room to life. The traditional molding and plants create a relaxed but high end ambiance that fits in perfectly in Brooklyn Heights. Since it is a yoga studio, we wanted to find a peaceful, minimalist approach while still highlighting the a beautiful historic space. The living wall does just that.

Stay tuned for more posts once the plants arrive!

Using Plants to clean household air

One of the largest issues in a house is indoor air quality. Up until recently most people usually don’t pay any attention to it and subsequently the amount of headaches, foggy headedness, breathing problems and body aches are much higher than need be.

Not coincidentally the above body symptoms are also what happens to you when you are exposed to too much Carbon Dioxide. Basically your typical house has too much carbon dioxide, which is what humans exhale. Along with many other semi toxic gases and vapors.

With a badly built house this issue of indoor air polution is not crucial because the house has leaks that allow it to breathe. But now with high efficiency houses it becomes imperative that indoor air quality be addressed.

When we do a green renovation of a Brooklyn brownstone we seal up every single crack in the building envelope. We caulk, insulate, vapor wrap and tape the entire envelope so that not one iota of air can get in or out. That is great for energy efficiency.

Yet it can be deadly for indoor air quality because now the Brownstone does not breathe like it used to. Because we use natural materials there is no concern of toxins building up in the house from things like paints or wood, but normal living creates more than enough toxins – cooking, breathing, sweating, showering – all these things are a problem if not vented and replaced with healthy air.

So as green contractors specializing in energy efficient Brooklyn brownstones we need to pay extra attention to helping the building breathe. We usually do this with mechanical systems like an Energy Recovery Ventilator. We also design for good cross ventilation, a good stack effect, and for intelligent placement of rooms so they ventilate well.

But we need to remember that removing toxins is a job that has been, since the beginning of the planet, the job of green plants and the earth they root in! As we exhale CO2, the plants are concurrently breathing those gases in and exhaling the essential, pure oxygen that we need.

Therefore, it makes perfect sense to have plants in the house to help filter the air for us. The key is to not let humidity from the plants cause problems. The best options are actually the plants that are traditional in the home: English ivy, rhododendron. and spider plants. These plants seem to be especially effective at filtering out the bad air, and bring pure “green” air into our buildings.

I did some digging on the subject to find out how effective plants are at filtering household air. Its still actually being debated how many plants per person are needed, but I’m told about 40 spider plants could balance out a small studio apartment with one person….that is a lot of plants!

Bill Wolverton did one of the original studies and concluded 100 spider plants would filter a 1200 sq. ft. house. There is a formula per cm2 of leaf area.  Obviously at that level humidity would be an issue amoung other things.

Some interesting work was done with living walls (hydroponic growing walls). One was in a commercial office in Toronto. The studies indicated that even tuolene was removed from the air.

Living Walls allow air to pass through a wall on which there is moving water and various flora and fauna to clean and condition ventilation air. Do a Google and you should find built examples. (Canada Life Building in Toronto is one, designed by a “Wolf Amelung” , it was probably 15 years or more ago) St. Mary’s Univ in Halifax is the site of another).

There was a school of thought in the previous millennium that one could utilize a plant-filled attached sunspace to function as the “lungs” for a house to provide fresh ventilation air to the house without having to utilize mechanical equipment.

It was a nice idea but unfortunately more mythical than factual according to a study that CMHC did back then. According to them plants do *help* to clean air but it’s actually the soil that’s doing the “purifying”. I would guess the roots of the plants also play a large role in air filtration.

NASA did a study of this recently (presumably for space stations) analyzing the best plants for filtering and Oxygen conversion. According to the Wikipedia description,  the recommendation of NASA is to use 16 good-sized houseplants in 7-inch diameter containers for a 1,800-square-foot house.

For a Brooklyn brownstone that typically means about six good sized plants per floor.

The bottom line: plants do filter air effectively. The above recommendations are probably more plants than most people want to live with but it is a good idea to have plants in healthy soil around the house. They are measurably beneficial to our health.

Living Walls FAQ

Lately, the idea of green walls has become very fashionable. Either part of a building or free standing, this sustainable innovation is healthy and great to look at. Also known as living walls, these vertical gardens are packed with flora that benefits everything from our lungs to our ears!

Let’s have a detailed look into the benefits of green walls and then find out how to install your very own green wall at home…

Lately, the idea of green walls has become very fashionable. Either part of a building or free standing, this sustainable innovation is healthy and great to look at. Also known as living walls, these vertical gardens are packed with flora that benefits everything from our lungs to our ears. Let’s have a detailed look into the benefits of green walls and then find out how to install your very own green wall at home…

Improved Air Quality

It has been scientifically proven that foliage can improve air quality. Indeed, the Amazon rainforest is often referred to as ‘the lungs of the world’.

A green wall will help to vastly improve the quality of air in any environment. It acts as a natural air filter, purifying the polluted air whilst releasing clean oxygen. If installed in an office environment, the presence of green walls can lead to greater employee productivity and overall health, since cleaner air leads to better concentration, healthier employees and fewer sick days.

Excellent Aesthetics

No one who has seen a green wall close up can say that they’re not impressive, especially the larger-scale ones such as Patrick Blanc’s Parisian creations. We’re simply not used to seeing gardens grow upwards, so it catches our eye!

Excellent for the home or the office, a green wall can turn any dull and dreary room into an inviting and alluring environment. This can be great for creating a good first impression on your clients when they visit your business. Or, if you want to give your home a nice colourful touch, it will add some green to your own four walls and be a great talking point when you have guests over.

Reduced Energy Costs

In the Western world, and America in particular, we love air conditioning. However, the costs can be astronomical. Did you know however than installing a green wall acts as a natural air conditioner, balancing humidity levels in the process to keep us comfortable.

Through a process known as evapotranspiration, the air surrounding the green wall is naturally cooled. In winter, a green wall on the outside of a building acts as insulation, reducing the need for costly heating too.

Reduced Noise Levels

You might be wondering how can a bunch of plants help to reduce noise levels! It is one of the lesser-known benefits of a green wall, reducing background noise in loud, communal dining areas, or reducing noise pollution from traffic on busy main roads.

The foliage absorbs and reflects the noise that comes its way, so if there’s a room in your home you want to make as peaceful and relaxing as possible, a living green wall can help – and that’s not to mention the general sense of calm and well-being that comes from being around greenery!

Wall Planters and Wall Plants

As a green wall installer I’m always reading up on the latest developments in living wall technologies. I recently read a book called Wall Planters and Wall Plants, Practical guide to vertical gardening, by Nicholas Jenkins. The tag line is Wall planters indoor and outdoor, vertical planting systems, DIY, planting, pots and plants, decor and ideas, all included.

If the title and tag line seem a little all over the place, then they are a good indication of the book itself. It attempts to give beginner advice on installing green walls. But it is disorganized and unclear.

living walls
A good try at explaining living walls that falls short
My main criticism is that it gives many variations on building living wall installations – pots, soil, artificial growing medium, air plants, yet nowhere is there a diagram. I’m a professional green wall installer and I had a hard time following his instructions on how to build a green wall.

Installing a living wall is not rocket science but you need the visual. You can’t simply write a description of how to build the green wall. You need diagrams of how the watering is hooked up, how the growing media is applied etc.

Even what he does write is not always easy to understand. Take this comment:

Make sure that the components of the system are of the right size; otherwise, when there is a rapid change in the pressure and velocity of the fluid (water), the dissolved air can precipitate and cause damages similar to those caused by cavitations.

What?? Say again?? I don’t know about you but I hate cavitations. They hurt like hell.

On the other hand the book has over simplistic instructions. There is a section called, “Be vigilant around electricity,” and another titled, “Always Handle Toxic Chemicals with Care.” Really? I never knew!

Anyone who knows what caviations means probably knows how to be safe around electricity. Bottom line, your average DIY person is going to be confused on one hand and bored on the other by this book.

As a living wall installer I managed to get some use out of the book. He has some good suggestions for recirculating pumps. I just skimmed over the rest. Overall though, I can’t say I would recommend this book to anyone, laymen or professionals alike.

Green Walls Purify Air

comprehensive report on outdoor air quality globally has just been published by the World Health Organisation. The report claims there are 3 million deaths a year to air pollution.

This isn’t just indoors. We no longer build with natural materials and the added chemicals have lent to declining indoor air quality, too, especially from concentrations of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). This group of chemicals includes formaldehyde and toluene, two chemicals that greatly contribute to “sick building syndrome”.

If you wanted to get a good whiff of VOC’s, go visit a nail salon. The smell hits you like a wall. Dizziness, asthma, allergies, depression and “fuzzy brain” are all symptoms of “sick building sybdrome” and can be completely debilitating.

living wall instal

Living walls are especially useful in high VOC areas like nail salons, where a good air cleaner is needed.

Many people who study this field, including Dr Vadoud Niri, a US chemist and long time promoter for eliminating VOCs, feel one solution is indoor plants. His research found your normal house plant to be very effective at eliminating VOCs from air.

An interesting note, it turns out the 1970s macramé basket stalwart, the spider plant, to be especially effective at removing VOC’s from rooms.

In the 1980s, as  James Wong wrote, Nasa looked at 19 plants and found that a variety of plants work best because each species removes different pollutants – Costa Farms’ guide, o2foryou.org, has a detailed list of these plants and most of them are plants we regularly use in our green wall installations.

There are some things plants can’t remove, like tobacco smoke, and they won’t completely freshen your house. But a nice living wall will definitely help big time.

And the good thing is that as a living wall ages, it’s root and soil bacteria grows, and with that grows the wall’s ability to purify air.

As NY living wall installers we notice the difference in a room after installing a green wall. The air is definitely fresher. Our professional experience backs up what science has found.

So next time you visit your favorite nail salon tell them about us and how our green wall installation can help them and their clients create a healthier environment. They may give you a free mani for the tip.

Green Walls Increase Awe

There is something awe inspiring about staring up at a majestic green wall. The size and beauty of a living wall reminds us of our immortality and brings us back to what is important in life.

It turns out the benefits of awe inspiring nature is scientifically proven. Researchers at the University of California at Irvine had one group of people stare up at trees for sixty seconds. Another group stared at a building for the same time.

Guess who felt awe. The tree viewers of course. But what is really cool is that the people in the study group looking at trees were more likely to help a stranger than the group looking at a building. Nature made them more compassionate, cooperative and charitable

The researcher of the study, Paul Piff, had this to say:

Experiences of awe attune people to things larger than themselves. They cause individuals to feel less entitled, less selfish, and to behave in more generous and helping ways.

living wall

A living wall doesn’t have to be huge to inspire awe at it’s beauty.

2013-08-26-murvegetal

The researchers also found that regularly experiencing moments of awe lowers levels of inflammatory compounds in the body. The reasoning that nature chills us out and brings us back to a more centered, relaxed state.

It’s not often people experience awe in their very own work space, but a large living wall can do that. People rarely tire of a living wall. It is always growing, changing and being humbling in its beauty.

That feeling of awe and inspiration it turns out is good for our values, keeping us more grounded and with a more healthy perspective on life. Pretty cool. Who knew a living wall can make people better team players.

As a NY green wall installer I knew this intuitively based on my experience and client feedback. There’s a real sense of wonder at these plants that magically climb the wall. It’s just cool to have it scientifically verified.

Green Walls Lower Blood Pressure

New York green wall installers are working in the most developed place on the planet, the birthplace of the term “concrete jungle”. That’s why a NY living wall installer can make such a difference. There is so much wall to cover in the big apple.

green wall

The soft color variations in this green wall are soothing to the eye.

This is important work given the health benefits of greenery and the stress of living in a big city. NY green wall installers are literally contributing to stress reduction with each living wall they build.

This claim is not baseless. Studies have shown that exposure to plants helps reduce high blood pressure, a large cause of stress related sicknesses. According to the results of one study in Australia where they exposed people to nature and measured their blood pressure, the author of the study says,

If everyone were to make time for nature, the savings on health care costs could be incredible.

She goes on to say,

It requires effortless attention to look at the leaves of a tree, unlike the constant emails at work or the chores at home.

The main conclusion of the study is that surrounding yourself with some nature reduces stress due to it’s relaxing effect.

New Yorker’s barely have time to sleep, let along take time off to seek out nature. It is a shame. But one thing that helps is to bring nature to New Yorkers in the form of living walls.

Living walls allow busy New Yorkers to look up from their desk and stare upon a wall of lush greenery. Or at home one might gaze upon a living wall in the bathroom as you take a bath and unwind. Wherever the living wall is in the building it allows people to stop for a second and ponder the shapes and the textures of the plants.

This effortless appreciation of living walls is soothing and relaxing to the eye. It is a momentary respite in the bustle of the city.

Green Walls Reduce Stress

In my research on Living Wall installations I came across a little article about Japan and trees. In the 1980’s the Forest Agency of Japan started recommending people spend more time in forests because it increases good health. Fair enough, makes sense, but where’s the science behind their claim. It turns out there is some.

Research coming out of the Chiba University of Japan found that people who spent 40 minutes in a forest showed lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which effects blood pressure and immune system, compared to when the same people spent 40 minutes in the lab.

Living walls may not be able to have redwoods, but it definitely can have small bushes.

Living walls may not be able to have redwoods, but it definitely can have small bushes.

Another researcher at Nippon Medical School in Tokyo, found that plants emit aromatic compounds called phytoncides, which when inhaled can spur healthy biological changes in the body.

Furthermore they found that people who spend time in nature show changes in their blood chemistry  that are associated with better protection against cancer, better immunity and lower blood pressure.

Recent studies have also linked humans’ interaction with plants to increased relief from health issues like heart disease, depression, anxiety and attention disorders.

So there you have it. Green walls are good for your health. Installing a green wall in your office isn’t like walking through a redwood forest, but try doing office work in the redwoods. It sucks. Pine needles everywhere.

A living wall installation on the other hand fits perfectly into your office or home and offers documented health and emotional benefits. So what are you waiting for? Hire us to install a living wall for you. Your health and stress levels will be grateful.

Living Wall vs. Green Wall

We install Living Walls. But the lay person might call them green walls. That’s fine. Most people don’t sweat the difference and use the two interchangeably. Technically a living wall and green wall are different though. A living wall has the plants rooted on the wall whereas a green wall also can have the plants rooted on the ground and growing up the wall.

green wall

A green wall can be as simple as a vine climbing up the wall.

In terms of how the wall is build, the difference is huge. It takes a lot of technical know-how to build a living wall but not so much for a green wall that grows from the ground. For a living wall you have to know how to attach the plants to the wall and once they are up you have to know how to keep them alive. As many a failed living wall has shown, this is no easy feat.

A green wall on the other hand is much easier. Anyone who has put a vine in a pot and let it grow up the wall has created a green wall. Over time the vine will cover the wall and create a wall of greenery. As long as you water the roots. Green walls are much hardier for many reasons.

The main reason is that the roots can sit in your traditional soil. And watering it is easy. When it gets cold the soil helps insulate the roots from cold damage. When it gets hot the soil retains water so the roots don’t dry out. Every good gardener knows that the secret to healthy plants starts with healthy roots.

livingwall2

A living wall, because the plants are on the wall, provides many more opportunities for designs.

Living walls offer one big challenge: lack of soil depth, if there is soil at all, which there usually isn’t. The trick on a living wall is to create a vertical environment that may not be soil but the plants like it nonetheless. The variations on this are many. Some companies use little pockets where you plug the plant into. These pockets could be molded plastic, felt, stainless steel, even terra cotta. Other companies use trays where you pre-install the plants.

Although a green wall is great, we only install living walls for the most part. The opportunities for creative designs are far greater. You can use plants that don’t climb. You can have hanging plants as well. You can control the textures and colors much more. With a green wall you are limited to vines and you can’t really control how they grow.

But like I said, most people don’t sweat the difference between a green wall and a living wall. If you asked us to install a green wall we would gladly do it, but just remember we would really be installing a living wall :). And now you know the difference.

Eco Brooklyn has Changed Again! We are Living Wall Installers!

Eco Brooklyn is now a Living Wall installer! We have had eight glorious years of being an all round Green Builder. We have build Passive House buildings, Earthships, a Container House, countless green roofs, salvaged floors, Natural Swimming pools,  salvaged glass decks, and a thousand other cool green building jobs. And yes, even living walls. If it involved green building then we’ve done it. It has been an amazing learning experience. A day didn’t go by when we didn’t feel like we were doing good for the environment and the world.

green wall

A living wall with a focus on ferns.

But now it is time for a change. WE will still do all that stuff but we are ramping up our Living Wall efforts. Living Walls. They are beautiful, healthy, and ALIVE. They are as much a joy to build as they are to view. We made this change because after many years of being a generalist we want to try out being a specialist. We want to go deep into one thing.

Many living wall installers also do green roofs. There are definitely crossovers. In both cases you are installing plants in a hostile environment with very little root depth. And to be honest if somebody asked us to install a green roof we wouldn’t turn it down. But we are putting ourselves out there as purely green wall installers. We want to be THE living wall company in NY. With service and quality beyond compare. It is easier to keep quality high when specializing because you need less experts on the team. Through repetition we will perfect the living wall to an art form.

We hope you consider installing a living wall in your home or work space. It is a magical experience to have a green wall in your space. If you want to see what one looks like, give us a call. We’d be happy to show you some of the ones we have done.

Living Walls, Green Roofs, and the Heat Island Effect

Installing Living Walls and Green Roofs not only provide a refreshing natural aesthetic in a concrete jungle, they also reduce electrical costs and help combat the heat island effect. The heat island effect is an urban phenomenon in which a bubble of heat surrounds a city.

The bubble is caused by the development of urban populations (generally 1 million +) and the expansion and conversion of natural, moist land into skyscrapers and other dry masses. This conversion drastically increases the temperature of urban environments because there is less land absorbing heat, and an increasing amount of urban structures (skyscrapers, shopping centers etc…) amplifying it.

As Green Builders at EcoBrooklyn, we strive to reduce the heat island effect by creating Living Walls, Green Roofs, and gardens that absorb heat and give back clean air into the environment. While Green Roofs are costly to install, research shows that they are more durable than standard roofing, and depending on the size, can drastically reduce the temperature around a home, which in turn lowers the amount of electricity needed for cooling throughout the hot summer.

Green Roof technology is equally as useful in the wintertime as the insulation it provides effectively seals the house off from bitter cold temperatures- reducing the amount of electricity, or gas needed to heat the house. Aside from temperature stability, Green Roofs reduce the chance of urban flooding by retaining excess rainwater and slowly releasing it over time, preventing the sewer system from overflowing.

Green Roof1

Show House Green Roof

Living Walls function similarly to Green Roofs in terms of temperature stability and energy reduction, but they do not have the same benefits of water retention for urban flooding. Living Walls are a great way to infuse nature to the interior or exterior of a home and they are relatively easy to install.

photo

Living Wall Prototype

 

Living Walls can be as simple or complex as the individual wants. EcoBrooklyn intern, Adam Horowitz, recently revamped a previous Living Wall prototype made from a fan cover and other salvaged materials. The barred fan cover provides an ideal growing space for most plants as it has deep and rounded area for soil to be packed in and filled with roots. Living Walls are extremely convenient for apartments or homes with limited soil space. Vertical planting is a great way to take advantage of unused space while cleaning and cooling the air around your home.

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Living Wall Prototype

Vertical Gardens – Living Walls

As a NY living wall installer I just devoured Garden Up, Smart Vertical Gardening for Small and Large Spaces by Susan Morrison and Rebecca Sweet.

Humans have become very good at building up with cement and metal. We cover large parts of the planet with buildings of all sizes. We all see the value of building upwards in this way and we rejoice with each building built.

Humans are also very good at planting in the flat ground. We can make beautiful gardens and abundant farms. And of course we all see the value in that too.

But for some reason this obsession with building up has yet to apply to gardens. It is just not done. It is not part of our global culture. Most people would feel an empty back yard is a waste and that it should be planted. But nobody walks by a building and says, “Look at that wall, how come they haven’t planted it yet?”

ugly wall in need of a living wall installer

This cultural view point is global and a reflection of our inability to see nature as our partner. We think it is perfectly fine to build massive cities devoid of nature, as if humans and nature can be separated without deadly consequences.

As we evolve we need to bring nature with us. We can’t leave nature behind. People leave their home town and go to the city. Over time they may see their childhood friends back in the little town as less sophisticated than city dwellers.

In our arrogance we view nature the same way. In our arrogance we think we can live without nature. But increasingly as our planet becomes hostile to our destructive habits nature is telling us otherwise.

One of the solutions to reintegrating humans and nature is growing up, double pun intended. Better said I mean planting up. A human made wall should be seen as a dead space in need of plants.

Living walls should become as necessary as insulation and windows on a building. We can’t afford to waste such valuable real estate. Our survival depends on increasing our exposure to nature and walls are the key.

Garden-design-with-vertical-wall

Eco Brooklyn has invested a lot of time researching the best vertical wall and living wall installations for the New York environment. We have become active living wall installers for the NY area. New York of all cities, currently devoid of living walls and yet famous for building up with concrete, needs good living wall installers.

The Garden Up book is a step in the right direction. A handbook for DYI homeowners, the book discusses the many styles and techniques of turning your garden vertical. It may simply be a narrow part of the garden where the only space is upwards.

They suggest design styles for layering plants so that you can maximize your ground space. They list good plants and trees that are tall and slender.

They also cover the different kinds of living walls – non-soil systems, soil systems, pocketed structures, modular planting, irrigated, non-irrigated etc.

Don’t expect an in depth explanation of how to install large living walls. The book is more an idea book and an intro to what exists as options. It is full of wonderful pictures and easy small DIY projects. And don’t expect a list of native plants. They list lots of plants and it is up to you to make sure which plants are native to your area.

It isn’t a farm gardening book either. It touches on edible gardens but the techniques outlined in the book won’t solve world hunger.

The main benefit of the book is that is proposes the idea that gardening upwards is a viable and beautiful thing. The book adds to the discussion and cultural viewpoint that growing up is as normal as growing flat.

In todays society where building upwards is commonplace we need to catch up and grow upwards as well. Our balance with nature and the planet depends on it.

vertical garden installation

plants-on-wall

Eco Brooklyn is a NY living wall installer. We install sedum walls, grass walls and mixed plant walls. Vertical gardens and living walls is an increasing part of our business as we expand into ecological gardening, green roofs and living walls. We focus on low maintenance soil living walls that consume little potable water or gray water and harvested rain water.

We combine the living wall with other parts of the house so that the household gray water is reused to feed the wall. We set up rain water collection systems to route the water into the wall instead of into the sewer. The idea is to create beauty out of waste and ugliness. We take a barren wall, combine it with waste water that normally floods our sewers and rivers and turn the ingredients into a vibrant beautiful space.

The synergies are many – we divert water from sewers, increase the insulation value of the wall, increase the beauty, increase the flora and fauna of the neighborhood and ultimately help re-balance the human/nature relationship.

We do this with all out New York green contractor work but being a living wall installer is especially poignant since the addition of life is so startling in contrast to the barren wall we cover. Simply put, we love it!

Steep Green Roofs and Living Walls

In my ongoing obsession with putting earth and plants on city walls I have found some more resources. My ongoing research is for several jobs Eco Brooklyn has in the works to put living walls on Brownstone exterior walls. There are many ways to do this and I have not decided which to go with yet.

My main consideration is maintenance, durability and embodied energy.

The wall must require zero or low maintenance. This means the plants need to take care of themselves year after year. The main consideration is water, which would be provided by the gray water produced by the brownstone. Otherwise the large amount of water a living wall requires would render it unsustainable if it used potable water.

In terms of durability the Brooklyn living wall needs to have plants that don’t die. Obvious enough but easier said than done. They need to be native plants that like hanging on cliffs. There also needs to be a mix of evergreen and perennials. The evergreens would keep the wall from looking bleak in the winter and the evergreens would keep the wall vibrant.

More importantly the structure needs to be durable. Earth and wood are key ingredient for termites so unfortunately we can’t use the abundance of salvaged wood for the frame that holds up the living wall. I don’t want to use the existing brick wall of the brownstone to support the living wall since I don’t trust that it won’t bow out over time. I have seen too many walls do this without thousands of pounds pulling on it.

The obvious choice is a metal framework.

But that needs to be balanced out by embodied energy. A living wall with a metal framework would mean a lot of embodied energy even if the metal was made from recycled content. It takes a lot of heat to melt down metal. Finding salvaged metal is still a challenge for Eco Brooklyn, both in electrical and plumbing material, since scrap collectors get it before we do. We are working on building stronger ties with scrap collectors but so far our salvaged metal sources are scarce.

Anyway, here are some items that are helpful in my growing knowledge of the perfect Brownstone living wall.

UrbanHaBitats.org offers some good articles on urban living walls. They list all their sources for further digging.

This woven plastic may be an important element in a living wall. The material would allow the plant roots to weave into it and help create the support structure. Otherwise the plants and earth will sag with gravity.

Zinco offers holding cells for sloped green roofs that could be incorporated behind a mesh in a living wall. They also have a good moisture retention mat.

The Living Wall at Area Yoga

The word yoga means union. When one practices and studies yoga, they are trying to bring themselves into harmony with the universe.

A daunting task, no?

Well, Eco Brooklyn has helped Area Yoga get one step closer to unifying with the universe through our construction of two living walls in their Brooklyn Heights studio.

Green Wall Installation

Many yogis have said that Nature is Yoga and Yoga is Nature. That is because everything in nature is perfectly connected and balanced; everything is in union. We designed Area Yoga’s living walls to mimic this unity as best as possible:

We purposefully selected plants that require low levels of light so that no extra energy needs to be wasted on them. We set up a watering system that takes grey water from the studio’s sinks and toilet, filters it, and then runs it through the planters. This way, Area Yoga can keep their water consumption at a responsible level while also reducing their impacts on NYC’s overloaded sewer system (read more here). The plants act as natural air filters, creating a healthier workout environment for Area Yoga’s clients. What’s more, the studio was sustainably designed thanks to Eco Brooklyn’s green renovation services, which includes salvaged wood flooring, an effort that saves trees and reduces stress on landfills.

So everything comes full circle as it does in nature. Unity!

Finally our green wall accomplishes one other intangible thing. The presence of greenery can help ease a troubled mind, allowing for a deeper meditative experience, and reminds one of the harmony of nature. So we have essentially given Area Yoga a tool for finding enlightenment!

Below are pictures from the final steps of the wall’s creation. The planters and irrigation system had already been designed (read more here); it was time to add the plants.

New York City Green Wall Installation

We unloaded over 250 plants!

Interior landscape design

Before placing them in their new home, we laid out our intended design on the floor. After several revisions and replacements we finally settled on a perfect arrangement.

Brooklyn green wall installer

The plants were then placed one by one into the living wall. We covered them with soil and, after many hours of hard work, we completed our green wall!

Wall garden

NY green building

Green interior design

interior gardening

NY green contractors

Brooklyn design-build

 

By Malone Matson

DIY Vertical Gardens

Vertical gardens or living walls are a beautiful and efficient way to maximize green space within an urban context. Aesthetically, vertical gardens can be used to improve the façade of buildings while providing other ecosystem services such as enhanced air quality.

Perhaps first employed by the Mesopotamians to create the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the principles of design have expanded past cascading plants to include plants rooted at different heights of a wall. Living walls vary in size, design, and complexity.

Two of the best-known living walls are on the Marché des Halles in Avignon and the Museé du Quai Branly, both designed by Patrick Blanc. However, man-made living walls are not constrained to grand public buildings.

Marche des Halles en Avignon, designed by Patrick Blanc

It is very feasible to create you own, and in fact personal vertical gardens beautifully complement the exterior of Brooklyn brownstones, although it is recommended a professional be consulted for walls higher than 7 feet.

The character of your vertical garden is determined by the framing material and plant selection. While plant selection may vary by individual taste, native species are generally hardier and better suited to the local climate and pest and disease conditions.

Green landscaping with native species is also a proactive way to support the area’s native ecosystems. You may decide to choose a theme to guide your plant selections, such as a foliage wall, mosquito-repellant wall, epicurean wall (pick your salad ingredients!), aromatic herb wall, or a perfumed wall.

Succulents are easy plants for beginners since they do not need substantial irrigation. For vertical gardens created sans soil, epiphytes and lithophytes are necessary plant selections. Epiphytes attach to other objects solely for physical support and are not parasitic. They obtain nutrients from rain, air, and debris. Common epiphytes in temperate zones such as New York are lichens and mosses.

We will list and describe framing methods with increasing complexity.

The Woolly Packet Garden Company offers a series of “woolly packets”, pouches made from recycled water bottles with an impermeable moisture barrier and felt to wick the water. These packets are easy to install and arrange as you please. Although the design is not constrained to vertical garden use, the pouches lend themselves well to such installations. Watch this video for further description:

Flora Grubb Gardens is featuring an example vertical garden installation in their store.

Wooly Pocket installation

For a more complex system, pre-made frames are available for sale from several manufacturers. Gro-Wall offers easy to stack frames.

VGM also offer green wall modules. Drip irrigation coupled with the effects of gravity water the plants in both systems, although this can also be adapted.

Our favorite option at Eco Brooklyn for small walls is using salvaged pallets as a frame for a living wall. We are currently creating a wooden pallet living wall installation in the Green Showroom. Simple and effective, this method limits the amount of new material needed for the project and decreases life cycle emissions and cost.

Pallet living wall

 

Pallets can often be found for free at local gardening stores. Pallets without significant back support may need to be augmented with scrap wood on the back. You can then staple landscaping paper to the back, bottom, and sides to create a secure void for the soil. Soil is poured through the slats and the selected plants are then planted in place and watered. Once planted, the pallet needs to remain horizontal for one to two weeks until the roots can take and stabilize the soil.

There are two easy ways to create your own frame.

The second method does not require the additions of any soil!

Succulent frames

Method 1: Cut 4 pieces of lumber to the desired length and nail them together at the corners to create a box frame. Staple or nail wire mash to the front face of the frame and a piece of plywood to the back face. Fill the void with soil and then poke the stems from plant cuttings through the mesh. Allow the installation to remain horizontal until the plants are securely rooted. Water lightly or use a drip irrigation system. For smaller frames, it may be easiest to lay it flat when watering and allow the soil to drain before hanging it back up.

Note that the above method works best for small frames, as it does not require a complex irrigation or fertilizer system.

 

Method 2: This last method is the most involved in terms of infrastructure but very rewarding. It isn’t that green either since it requires a pump. It is however the most popular system and many massive walls have been created this way.

Noémie Vialard’s book Gardening Vertically offers a more in-depth description of the process, which was initially developed by Patrick Blanc. While it is possible to make a portable system, it is most effective as a permanent display.

Wooden battens are first fixed to the selected wall space, and then a PVC panel and two layers of irrigation matting are added over the battens. The irrigation system consists of a perforated pipe connected to a pump, which activates a couple times a day for a few minutes.

Nutrients can be diluted into the water tank to fertilize the ecosystem. The plant roots are inserted through holes in the second layer of felt (such that the plant is secured between layers of irrigation matting).

Because the system has no soil substrate, there is no water retention. To mitigate the high water usage, you may want to plant perennials at the foot of the wall to consume surplus water or create a fish pond at the base. Use gray water to irrigate if possible.

Apart from the electric load, this system is not sustainable in another way: if you stop the pump the plants die quickly since there is no humid soil to keep them. In that sense it is a very artificial environment. The closest natural habitat is a rock wall in a tropical jungle.

For this reason we prefer the soil based living walls. We build our own structure instead of buying pre-made products because it allows us to save costs and customize to the space.

A vertical garden installation can beautifully augment the aesthetic value of your home. Living walls do not need to be grandiose or complex and the concept can easily be adapted to personal usage. Outdoor walls are easier because you don’t have to worry about flooring issues in the house. But indoor walls, provided they get sunlight, don’t get blasted by weather extremes. Indoor walls need special attention to avoid mold issues, but if that is under control they add a freshness to the air that is wonderful.

Eco Brooklyn is a living wall installer because we really love what a living wall does to a space. It fits perfectly with our mission to turn NY green!

Green Source Magazine Products

Reading through the March-April 2012 issue of Green Source Magazine I came across their products section, which featured some very interesting new green roof and living wall items and exciting companies.

By now most people are aware of and understand the benefits of living/ green walls and roofs;

-Health and wellness

-Urban wildlife

-Aesthetics

-Building protection

-Energy savings

-Acoustic dampening

-Property value

-Sustainability

-Improved air quality

-LEED credits

The first product listed designed by Green Over Grey was an improvement on the typical modular living wall system.  Their living walls use a soilless grow medium in a stainless steel frame which allows for a greater range of plants grown per module including anything from ground cover to small trees.

The company was commissioned recently to design/ build the largest green wall in North America in the Edmonton international airport using this system.  While the design is nice and the system is effective it is still run on a hydroponic irrigation system that requires a pump running 24hours to the keep the plants watered, which in our opinion makes for a very nice wall but isn’t ecological.

We don’t use this system for that reason.

edmonton international airport green wall

edmonton international airport green wall

The next company is Colbond Inc. they are global manufacturer of high-performance construction products and textiles.  On their website is a section geared specifically to green roofs and roof gardens.  Their products are a small range of drainage/ water retaining mats and liners for various roof gardening applications.

Their featured item is the “Enkamat” which anchors roots, drains water and grips growing medium, making it useful in sloped roof or high –wind conditions.  Their “Enkadrain” is a water proofing membrane made from 40% pre-consumer recycled polypropylene.  The company itself is not quite a “green company” having a very limited selection of green products compared to the rest of their catalogue.

We have used the Enkamat is our New York green roof installations with good results. Because it offers drainage and water retention in one it makes for an easier installation.

enkamat
enka drain green roof system

enka drain green roof system enkamat

Tournesol Siteworks is another company specializing in module green wall systems; this one like the Green Over Grey system is capable of supporting a variety of plants making it an improvement on typical systems.  This VertiGreen trellis and Tournesol VGM exterior green walls use soil, between 4 and 8 inches and are designed for easy maintenance with modules that can be independently replaced/ removed. The framework for the wall garden is comprised of recycled polypropylene boxes and stainless steel mounting brackets.

A couple drawbacks are; this system does not come with a built in irrigation system, they recommend a water saving drip system but you are left to figure that out with your green contractor/ builder. This is an important part that could make or break its success. Also the system comes disassembled, your green builder has to assemble the pieces, do the planting and wait 1-3 months before they are ready to hang.

At first you may think this is not the most efficient system or company model.  But it increases work for local labor, decreases shipping load, and moves you away from the “instant product” that people have become obsessed with at great cost to the environment.

Letting the plants grow in place has many benefits. You haven’t invested a lot of money in plants if they don’t survive, the plants that are happy will grow, you get to see them go from zero to full, and the cost is lower since you aren’t paying somebody else to grow your plants.

We like this product because it uses soil and not hydroponics. We also like the fact that it does not cater to people who are willing to spend lots of money for the instant fix. Assembly and growing in place is much more ecological.

The main issue I have with this system is that the square boxes are very visible even when the wall is fully grown. There is no way you can make the wall appear natural. If you highlight the squares like some installers have done then it looks great.

But Eco Brooklyn is more of a naturalist green wall installer in that we like it to look like it just grew there. For that reason we haven’t used this system despite all the great things we like about it.

tournesol greenwall
tournesol module

tournesol module

The GAF materials corp is one of the largest roofing manufacturers in North America and have made an exciting and sincere commitment to sustainability within their company.  Their greenroofing product listed is a way to simplify the installation and implementation of roof gardens by modulation.

Their Product DuraGrow does the work of four separate items by retaining the plants water, provides adequate drainage, protects its membrane and prevents clogging.  The company also provides extensive warranties on all their products.  The website www.gaf.com also has a section for green builders to put together a type of “scorecard” for each of their products to gain a better idea of their level of sustainability.

GAFs commitment to sustainability is exemplified by two of their manufacturing plants that have reached a level of zero waste to landfill, this means virtually nothing from the facility enters directly to the waste stream.

Gsky based in Vancouver, BC, Canada is probably leader in green wall panel systems with so many patents on their products and flexibility in the design.  The panels are independent and customizable, they use nonsoil structural growth medium, and they pre-grow the plants into the panels before shipping, the irrigation is a very sophisticated automatic drip system that monitors the moisture levels throughout the day and the system itself is mountable to virtually any surface.

westelm L.A. greenwall

westelm L.A. greenwall

Carlisle-SynTec, Inc is a company focused on modular green roof systems but with the ability to work with intensive or extensive systems and produce region specific sedum tiles for the extra conscious green builder.  Their Hydropak is a module system built with 100% recycled HDPE trays pre-grown plants in a varied growing medium.

carlisle-syntec brochure

carlisle-syntec brochure

There is the “greenscreen” system by Greenscreen in Los Angeles, CA.  This is the least exciting item of the bunch in my opinion.  The greenscreen is essentially a glorified trellis in that it is only a simple welded wire mesh grid in 3D.

The system only provides a climbing/ hanging support for plants, though can be mounted to an exterior wall or left free standing it is a not a product an east coast or NY green contractor would want to invest in as the shipping cost economically and ecologically would greatly outweigh the limited benefits provided.  Not a bad product and relatively inexpensive compared to more integrated systems, just not quite worth shipping out of state.

 

Dallas international center Greenscreen trellis
greenscreen in Pheonix, AZ

greenscreen in Pheonix, AZ

Overall we at EcoBrooklyn avoid greenwall systems that require a 24hr hydroponic irrigation system – those pumps are very energy intensive and not green. The Tournesol system is a bit more desirable due to its use of soil as a grow medium, this allows you to stay away from high energy irrigation systems that are constantly run, however to support the added loads of the soil, the fully grown plants, and the water weight you need additional support mechanisms which means more material, an added resource we feel is better than the energy wasted in hydroponic systems.

The soil based systems also have much better tolerance to extremes in weather since the soil acts as a humidity and temperature buffer. As a New York living wall and green roof installer you have to pay special attention to those extremes since a New York winter can be freezing while the summer can be blistering.

10th Annual Cities Alive Green Roof and Wall Conference

This October, hundreds of builders, innovators, and entrepreneurs will descend on Chicago for the 10th Annual Cities Alive Green Roof and Wall Conference. The conference will be a showcase for leaders in the green roof and wall industry to display their leading-edge design, policy, and research. It will be an opportunity for individuals to come together and celebrate the strides that the green roof and wall industry has made in the past decade. In addition, the conference will be a breeding ground for thoughts and ideas about the future of green roofs and walls.

As a New York green roof installer we love events like this. It gives people in a niche industry to come together and share their ideas, which allows for future collaborative efforts to occur. Chicago is the most obvious place to have this conference because it leads the United States in square footage green roof installation, totaling over 535,000 square feet. New York City comes in a close second at a total installed 500,000 feet.

Green roofs serve as a method to alleviate the heat island effect, clean our air, lessen the amount of storm water run-off, and create diverse ecosystems. In addition, they are a healthy reminder of nature amid the city buildings.

Green roofs are not just for commercial buildings. Installation is becoming extremely popular on schools and residential buildings. One of Eco-Brooklyn’s specializations is in brownstone residential green roofs. We believe that the benefits that green roofs offer far outweigh the costs. In coming years, we would like to see one of our dreams come to fruition: all of the roofs in New York City teeming with greenery.

More information about the event can be found here.

The Chicago City Hall has an amazing green roof.

A green roof in midtown Manhattan.

The green roof on the back of our Green Show House.

Another view of our robust green roof on the top of the Green Show House.

A Green Wall in Brooklyn

This weekend we get a special treat: we’ll be taking delivery of over 250 tropical plants and installing two indoor living walls. It’s the culminating step in a complete renovation of Area Yoga Studio in Downtown Brooklyn and promises to transform the character of the space.

 

Arranging and installing the plants presents lots of artistic and technical challenges, but a lot of the success of the green wall has taken place quietly over the last few months, in the careful process of plant selection.

We enjoy pushing the envelope of green contracting in New York City, and we like to think outside the box in our species choices too:  the challenge is to avoid the tired old themes of corporate and institutional plantscaping without compromising ease of maintenance and good growth.

We start with a process of elimination based on temperature range, the space available, the access to sunlight and the budget.

Then we look at the things we can control, like light and water, and base our plant selection on what we can provide in a sustainable way. In this case we’re using T5 fluorescent lights, which have a great balance of energy efficiency, affordability and strong, broad-spectrum light for plant growth.  Water for the green wall is recycled from the sink of a nearby bathroom, reducing the building’s water use as well as the outflow to our overburdened sewer system.

Next we list what functions we want the plants in our living wall to perform. Where an outdoor green wall installation would consider the effect on insulation and shading, in this case we were looking mainly for air purification, and managed to include plants that reduce levels of formaldehyde, benzene, ammonia and others.

This brings us to the most gratifying step in species selection: aesthetics. A complex palette of leaves and flowers that will add a sense of depth to the space has to be balanced with need for a meditative atmosphere of concentration. It is a yoga studio after all. At the same time the plants and their built context have to be matched: a challenge in New York when most of the viable indoor plants are native to the faraway tropics.

And finally we have to source our plants. We try to get everything as locally as possible, but there’s only one place in nature where conditions match the low light and moderate temperatures found in a New York City building: the understory of a tropical forest. That’s where almost all houseplants come from, and it means that our closest source is Florida.

Transporting plants over those distances is decadent in energy terms, but it does give us an opportunity to advance state of the art green design. We may have brought the plants a long way, but we’re using them to experiment with indoor living systems for grey water purification, and creating a magical space for Brooklyn yoga students to rest their eyes in shades of green while they practice.  We think that’s work that needs to be explored, if anything to ultimately decide the process is not ecological enough.

So that’s how we arrived at the following list. They’re a beautiful bunch of plants and we can’t wait to get their hands on them.

Anthurium,  assorted colors

Bromeliad Guzmaniam, assorted colors

Gold Dust Croton

ZZ

Dracaena Dragon Series,  assorted varieties

Aspidistra

Spath

Aglaonema, assorted varietes

Spider Plant

Dens Orchid

Bird’s Nest Fern, Japanese and Kangaroo varieties

Nephthytis Allusions, assorted colors

Philodendron

Hoya

Pothos

So come take a class at Area Yoga on Montague street in Brooklyn and check out the new indoor living wall installation. It promises to be magical!

Bus Roots on Bus Routes

Interactive designer Marco Castro has recently developed an innovative idea about how to efficiently increase green space in overcrowded urban settings through an interesting new reinterpretation of the term “green vehicle”.  The “Bus Roots” project is working to establish rooftop gardens atop buses in New York City and around the country so as to counteract the negative impacts of an environment warmed by cities lined entirely with asphalt, concrete and steel.

Castro has developed his first Bus Roots prototype with a garden topped bus known as the Bio Bus displaying a 15 ft2 green roof weighing a total of 225lbs (the estimated weight of one NYC public transit passenger).  With 4,500 buses in New York City’s Metropolitan Transport Authority (MTA) Fleet, Castro estimates a potential 35 acres of garden space lies atop New York City buses alone.

Bus Roots aims not only to beautify the city but to concurrently utilize green roof buses to reduce rising temperatures and increase CO2 and storm water capture. With this project Bus Roots aims to stimulate the conversation on urban planting, nomadic agriculture and environmental remediation that is imperative to the future of urban planning.   Since Ecobrooklyn is a New York green roof installer we appreciate and support this concept.

Digital mockup of a bus-top garden (Image: Marco Castro Cosio)

More information about Bus Roots is available at their website.

 

Gardening, Done Vertically

The folks from GardenUp just stopped by the EcoBrooklyn Green Show House to tell us more about their great new products for gardening.  They’ve created a simple vertical system based on hydroponic technology that is great for small spaces, easy-to-use and highly efficient – perfect for city living.


An example of one of GardenUp’s towers in Philadelphia

Basically, the vertical garden towers GardenUp has created can grow herbs, vegetables, flowers, whatever you like, in a small self-contained space.  The towers can be used indoors or out and could be a wonderful addition to a green roof or backyard.  They even have different sizes for home or commercial use.  We think it’s a great step forward in the realm of sustainable, locally grown food!

Check them out here

Gennaro Brooks-Church, founder of EcoBrooklyn meeting with Scott Seger, CEO and Boris Alergant, VP of Strategic Business Development and Planning for GardenUp

As a New York green contractor they contacted us to see if we could incorporate their product into the eco gardens we build and design. The GardenUp planter could be a great addition to any edible garden design.

Natural Fungus Gnat treatments

As a green builder, EcoBrooklyn is a green wall installer. Recently we designed and installed two green walls in the Area Yoga studio on Montague St. in Brooklyn, one in the entry office and one in the studio itself. The luscious plants beautifully enhance the serene and calming vibe of the space and allow for an escape from the stressors of urban life. The cascading vines and tropical hues transform the studio into a peaceful haven.

Intern Malone Matson tending to the yoga studio's living wall

The system we created uses soil with high organic matter content to nourish the plants. Many of them are of tropical origin and therefore have high nutritional needs. In addition, the studio is hot and humid, a requirement for both the plants and the activity type it was designed for. Our building philosophy embraces low-impact building, and as such we do not use pesticides to keep the plants flourishing. Additionally we allow organic matter to compost on site. The wall is irrigated by a gray water system that keeps the soil generally moist.

While the conditions in the studio are ideal for both the yoga participants and the plants on the green wall, they also provide a welcoming environment for fungus gnats. The gnats feed on organic debris, fungi, algae, and nibble on the small roots of plants.

We have developed a multi-layered plan to keep the gnat population at bay. Much like our plant-based mosquito repellent service, we rely on natural sources of gnat control to diminish the population.

Like our mosquito treatments, we attack all stages of the gnat’s life cycle. Fungus gnats have larval, pupae, and adult stages.

Anti-larval treatments

1) The primary treatment involves the use of cinnamon. We are using a cinnamon spray (cinnamon bark, cinnamon oil, water, and baby shampoo to reduce surface tension) applied twice a day to deter the gnats and create an uninviting environment for them. Cinnamon is a fungicide, reducing the larvae’s food supply.

There are two types of cinnamon: ceylon (cinnamomum verum), and cassia (cinnamomum burmannii). Most cinnamon found in conventional North American stores is cassia, but this form is not a fungicide.

cinnamomum verum on the left and cinnamomum burmannii on the right

2) We are also using Summit mosquito/gnat bits, with the active ingredient bacillus thuringiensis subspecies israelensis. These bacteria are a biological control for larval Dipterans such as mosquitoes and fungus gnats due to the presence of cry toxins. When fungus gnat larvae eat bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) crystals, the cry toxins bind to receptors in the gut and the larvae cease to eat. The gut wall breaks down and the toxin spores and other gut bacteria enter the larvae’s body, which results in death.

The bits are scattered throughout the soil and replenished every two weeks.

Bt does not affect beneficial insects or plants and is a naturally occurring soil bacterium.

According to the EPA, thirty years of widespread Bt use has produced no confirmed reports of immediate or delayed allergic reactions despite significant oral, dermal, and inhalation exposure to the product. Bt has not been found to affect the endocrine or immune systems. Although it does not proliferate in aquatic habitats, it should not be applied to drinking water.

Studies have shown no toxicity or pathogenicity to birds, non-target insects, honeybees, freshwater fish, and estuarine and marine mammals. However, it has been found to be moderately toxic to Daphnia freshwater invertebrates and is under further study. Since our affected site is an indoor planting site, in this particular case we are not concerned about the affect on Daphnia species.

Anti-adult treatments

1) We have applied yellow sticky pads on wire stems hidden within the foliage. The gnats are attracted to the color. We change these out when the surface area of the pad is covered.

2) We have filled jars with apple cider vinegar with a couple drops of baby shampoo or dish soap to break the surface tension. We poke a couple holes in the lids to allow the fungus gnats in but not out. The jars are better for office spaces and bathrooms, and seem to be quite effective.

Additional treatments:

1) ‘Damping off’ is a condition cause by fungi such as Phtophtora and Pythium. The gnats help the fungi proliferate. The fungi infect seedlings and result in a constricted stem and eventual death. The condition can be prevented by the application of chamomile tea. Although this does not attack the gnats themselves, it treats a related condition.

A plant that has experienced 'damping off'

2) Adult fungus gnats like to lay eggs in moist soil. We recommend applying a sand topsoil, which drains quickly and thus prevents the laying of eggs.

3) Sliced raw potatoes placed throughout the affected area attract larva. These can be deposed of and replaced as often as is deemed necessary (they can get pretty infested).

 

We have been treating the green walls for about two weeks now, and have noticed a huge decrease in the fungus gnat population. The workers and customers at the studio have also had positive reports. Not only is the cinnamon spray affective, the aroma of cinnamon pervades the space and complements the character of the studio. EcoBrooklyn will continue to test natural methods of insect control at its job sites.

 

 

Harmful effects of EMF

On my quest to find information on the effects (negative, positive or neutral) Electromagnetic Fields (EMF) I have uncovered the following negative info. In fact some if it is the strongest proof yet that EMF is harmful to us, or at the very least causes our bodies stress.

The reason this is of interest to a Brooklyn green contractor like myself is that it influences how we wire a brownstone. It also influences what machines we put into the brownstone. If our aim is to create the most natural and stress free home then we need to think very carefully how we control the EMF in the building.

The first thing is an article called New research: Electropollution can cause diabetes (type-3) and is copied below:

Most people are familiar with type-1 diabetes and type-2 diabetes, but did you know researchers have discovered a third type of diabetes? Type-3 diabetes, as they are calling it, affects people who are extra sensitive to electrical devices that emit “dirty” electricity.

Type-3 diabetics actually experience spikes in blood sugar and an increased heart rate when exposed to electrical pollution (“electropollution”) from things like computers, televisions, cordless and mobile phones, and even compact fluorescent light bulbs.

Dr. Magda Havas, a PhD from Trent University in Canada, recently published the results of a study she conducted on the relationship between electromagnetic fields and diabetes in Electromagnetic Biology and Medicine. In it, she explains how she and her team came to discover this about why electropollution is so dangerous for many people.
Blood sugar goes haywire

One of the most interesting finding in her study was that electro-sensitive people whose blood sugar decreases when they go for a walk outdoors actually experience an increase in blood sugar when walking on a treadmill.

Treadmills, you see, are electrical devices that emit electrical pollution. But interestingly, even the physical exertion of walking on the treadmill did not make up for the blood sugar spiking effect of the EMFs emitted by the treadmills. Despite the exercise, in other words, type-3 diabetics experienced significant spikes in blood sugar when walking on the treadmill.

Dirty electricity is bad for everyone, but it is especially bad for people who are type-3 diabetics. And Dr. Havas explains in her study that even having an electrical device plugged into the wall near someone who is type-3 diabetic can cause them problems.
We have to rethink environmental influences of modern living

I find this research fascinating, not only because it proves that electromagnetic waves impact blood sugar and heart rate, but because there could be thousands, if not millions, of diabetics who may be suffering from a diabetes misdiagnosis right now.

The reason I’m bringing this up is because a 54 year-old pre-diabetic man who participated in the study was found to experience serious blood sugar spikes only when he was working in an urban environment around power lines or on his computer. When he was out camping away from the city, his blood sugar was just fine.

The man tested his blood sugar every morning in different situations and his levels were always higher when electrical fields were nearby. On one of the mornings, he forgot to test himself prior to beginning work on the computer. His blood sugar levels were higher than normal, registering around 205 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). But after stepping away from the computer for only ten minutes, his levels dropped nearly 20 mg/dL.

The degree to which electromagnetic pollution affects the body is clearly quite astonishing, and this study illustrates that. But it makes you wonder how many people have diabetes simplybecause of EMF pollution (and not solely due to their diet or lack of exercise, as we have been taught).
High EMFs gave this woman diabetes

Take the case of the 80 year-old woman whose house tested high for EMF pollution. Prior to installing a system of filters around her house designed to reduce “electro-smog” levels, her blood sugar was high and she was using insulin each day in order to balance her blood sugar levels. After installing the filters (which reduced EMF pollution by roughly 98 percent), the woman’s blood sugar levels dropped by 33 percent and her insulin requirements plunged a whopping 75 percent!

This idea that reducing the electropollution of your house could drastically reduce a patient’s need for insulin has never even registered in conventional (mainstream) medicine. Yet it could be a crucial understanding for tens of millions of diabetics around the world.

The study mentioned here classifies the type of diabetes caused by electromagnetic pollution as type-3 diabetes. While those with type-1 or type-2 diabetes can also have type-3, the data seems to indicate that a person can also exclusively have type-3 without any overlay of the other two types. In other words, their diabetes may be solely due to electromagnetic pollution.

And since pre-diabetics can be pushed over the edge by EMF pollution, there is no telling how many people actually have type-3 rather than type-2 diabetes.

If you ask most mainstream medical “professionals”, they will deny that type-3 diabetes even exists. According to most of them, the idea that electromagnetic pollution contributes to disease is some sort of whacked out conspiracy theory. But there’s more to the study that you need to know…
Wireless signals interfere with the heart

For one portion of the study, Dr. Havas had patients lie down on a bed with a cordless phone placed two feet away from their heads. The phone was plugged into the wall, but for each testing session, the electricity was either on or off.

Neither the patient nor the doctor administering the test was aware of whether or not the phone was live or dead during each session. (This is what is known as a double-blind study, the type most respected in clinical trials).

At the completion of that part of the study, researchers observed that EMF-sensitive patients experienced significant increases in their heart rates during the sessions when the phone was being powered and emitting radio signals. When it was turned off, these same patients returned back to their normal heart rates almost instantaneously.

Why is this important? First of all, a double-blind study is the litmus test used in the medical profession to verify that a study is legitimate. Since nobody involved knew when the power was on or off, the results are completely unbiased and hold a lot more sway than if it had been conducted a different way.

Secondly, it illustrates that EMF pollution really does speed up the heart rates of certain people. And since a rapid pulse is one of the many symptoms of diabetes, it seems reasonable to suspect that EMF pollution could be a fundamental cause of diabetic symptoms for a significant portion of the diabetic population.

This makes you wonder about the harm caused by mammograms, CT scans and other medical scanning technologies that blast the body with electromagnetic radiation, doesn’t it?
Electromagnetic radiation leads to many diseases, including cancer

Our bodies are constantly barraged by electromagnetic radiation from numerous electronic sources, and most people don’t think twice about this high level of exposure (probably because many don’t even realize it’s there), but the truth is that all this EMF pollution is leading to widespread illness.

Most of the recent research on EMF pollution has focused on cell phones, which makes sense because people take their cell phones with them everywhere they go and when they use them, they often hold them right next to their skulls. Cell phone radiation is probably one of the most dangerous EMF polluters because the devices remain in very close contact with the body for long periods of time.

2008 study published in New Scientist revealed that cell phone radiation causes human cell proteins to improperly express themselves. Similar studies also found that the radiationdamages living DNAcreates leakages in the blood-brain barrier, and increases estrogen and adrenaline levels, disrupting hormone balance.

According to one statistic from a 2008 study, adults who use a cell phone over the course of a decade increase their chances of developing brain cancer by 40 percent. Even worse, a Swedish study found that people who start using a cell phone before the age of 20 increase their risk of developing a brain tumor by 500 percent!
Mainstream science holds conflicting views (as usual)

Of course, many in the medical establishment simply deny that electro-smog has anything to do with health or disease. And it doesn’t matter how many studies are conducted on the matter; many continue to insist that there is not enough evidence that EMFs cause any harm.

Not everyone feels this way, of course, but sadly most of today’s experts seem unable (or unwilling) to put two and two together and make the connection between electromagnetic pollution and disease.

There are many contributors to disease in our environment. EMFs represent just one. But to deny that electromagnetic pollution is harmful is quite narrow minded. Dr. Havas’ study provides more than enough evidence that at least some people are suffering because of the electrical devices that surround them.

Our world, of course, is full of electromagnetic devices — and some of them may surprise you. A typical hair dryer, for example, emits an explosion of electromagnetic radiation that’s usually aimed right at the skull. Typical office environments shower employees with electropollution from fluorescent lighting, and even exercise gyms can subject visitors to a dense field of electromagnetic pollution (from all the electronic exercise machines).

It all gives credence to the idea of getting into nature more often, doesn’t it? If you’re sensitive to electropollution, the farther away you get from the city, the better you’ll feel. No wonder most people innately gravitate to such natural environments like forests, lakes and ocean beaches.

So, does all this research mean we should all get rid of our phones and computers and return to the pre-information age? You could always join an Amish community. They’re remarkably healthy, and part of that may be due to their lack of electropollution.

But for mainstream people, a more practical solution is to install some EMF filters around your home.
Some solutions for electromagnetic pollution

As mentioned in the study, home EMF filters are one of the best ways to reduce or eliminate the stray electrical signals that plague your house. These filters will capture electrical “noise” from things like televisions, computers and phones, and return it back into the line or into the ground. These can be connected to the outlets where these devices are plugged in.

Keeping Wi-Fi devices like cell phones and wireless routers away from your body as much as possible is another good idea. If you have a wireless router at home, place it away from areas where people sleep or spend a lot of time. Even having it just a few feet farther away can make a big difference in a reduction of the electropollution exposure from it.

When charging your cell phone, plug it in across the room from you. Especially at night when you are sleeping, it is best to turn off as many electrical devices as possible and to keep them away from your bed when sleeping. And beware of electric blankets: They produce a very strong electromagnetic field.

Try to use the speakerphone as much as possible when talking on the phone, or use an “air-tube” device that stops the signal short before it reaches your head. Never walk around with an idle bluetooth attached to your head, because these devices deliver a steady stream of EMF radiation directly into your head. I would recommend not using one at all, but if you do use one, take it off when not in use.

It’s also a good idea to keep your phone in your pocket or purse only when necessary, and to keep it away from your body at all other times. Cell phones are intermittently communicating with network towers, so the closer they are to our bodies, the more radiation we are exposed to. So if you’re not going to be using it for a while, just turn it off.

Finally, it is crucial to maintain a healthy diet and get plenty of outdoor exercise. Eating lots of nutrient-rich foods, drinking plenty of clean water, and minimizing intake of toxic preservatives, food additives, and refined sugars will do wonders to build a strong and vibrant neurological system that will resist some of the impact of electromagnetic pollution.

The reason I mention outdoor exercise is because, just like in the study, certain indoor exercise equipment like treadmills can actually cause more harm than good (for certain people). So go outside and take a walk or a jog. The sunshine will boost your vitamin D levels and the fresh air will help rejuvenate your system. (Just be sure to stay away from the power lines.)

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The second thing is a little more subtle but certainly of concern if you are a house sparrow. The article is called A Possible Effect of Electromagnetic Radiation from Mobile Phone Base Stations on the Number of Breeding House Sparrows.

Abstract:

A possible effect of long-term exposure to low-intensity electromagnetic radiation from mobile phone (GSM) base stations on the number of House Sparrows during the breeding season was studied in six residential districts in Belgium. We sampled 150 point locations within the 6 areas to examine small-scale geographic variation in the number of House Sparrow males and the strength of electromagnetic radiation from base stations. Spatial variation in the number of House Sparrow males was negatively and highly significantly related to the strength of electric fields from both the 900 and 1800 MHz downlink frequency bands and from the sum of these bands (Chi2-tests and AIC-criteria, P < 0.001). This negative relationship was highly similar within each of the six study areas, despite differences among areas in both the number of birds and radiation levels. Thus, our data show that fewer House Sparrow males were seen at locations with relatively high electric field strength values of GSM base stations and therefore support the notion that long-term exposure to higher levels of radiation negatively affects the abundance or behavior of House Sparrows in the wild.

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Patrick Blanc – Living Wall Pioneer

Patrick Blank is the rock star of living walls. He started it way back in the 70’s and has since then become super successful at it all over the world. He does corporate offices, high rise buildings, public spaces, jet setting around the world building beautiful works of art in the form of plants growing vertically.

I admire his work, although he seems a little high on the ego trip for me, but he is more entrepreneurial artiste than ecological activist so it is to be expected.

Hi work has some sustainable issues that need to be resolved, namely the walls require a lot of water and monitoring in the form of pumps and plant food. Remove the water, pumps and plant food and his walls die. Here in Brooklyn we are working to solve that issue by passing gravity fed gray water down the wall instead – no pump, only waste water that is full of plant food nutrients anyway.

We are going to see a lot of Brownstone living walls popping up around Brooklyn. It is easy to accomplish technologically, has achieved financial sense and the social mood is right for it.

Here are some vids of Patrick and his amazing work.

Brooklyn Brownstone Living Wall

In our pursuit to turn Brooklyn green we are very excited about growing living walls on the facades of brownstones. A living wall differs from a climbing/hanging wall. The first has the plants ON the wall. The wall becomes the medium from which they grow. A climbing or hanging wall simply has plants that climb up the wall from the ground below.

Living walls are exciting because they increase the land that has plants growing from it. If your front yard is 20’x10′ you all of a sudden have another 20’x30′ on the wall to plant on. Amazing stuff.

Of course the challenge is to create the growing medium on the wall. How we do this is still an evolving art. Of course you can buy planters from existing companies but they are expensive boutique green building and don’t do much for the common folk who need affordable practical solutions, which is where we will really have an impact on greening the world anyway.

We have our Brooklyn Green Show House as our experiment.

Soon enough we will apply green walls directly to the bricks. How we do that is still undecided. One idea is to use salvaged plastic crates. We would fill them with earth and apply them to the wall. Then we would break holes into the back of the crates to put the plants into.

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But until we find the best way we are planting the easy things in the already built planter and ledges on the building. Here you can see us building the planter. The ledge the ladder is standing on and the top ledge is also a planter area.

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VERTICAL GARDENS Show….We’re still underground

I went to the VERTICAL GARDENS show at a gallery called Exit Art. It is there until May 23, 2009. The show is actually under the main exhibit area.

The FEATURED art was on the main level. You had the video of a guy having a plastic ear surgically inserted into his arm – Mr mutant ear arm. For real. The whole hospital operation and all was on show.

Then you had the S&M video installation showing dominatrix women treating men as farm animals in a… farm. Guys crawling around as cows, pigs etc. Lots of animal sounds, dirty naked bodies and screaming women with guns.

Of course there was the obligatory abstract wall projection of shapes and disconnected sounds with accompanying deconstructionist philosophical text and artist bio. Wow, exhibits in Koln.

THAT was the featured art. On the floor below that, in a narrow hallway that leads to a janitor’s closet and emergency exit was the show of vertical gardens.

And if you’re thinking I see that as symbolic, you are right. The message is that despite the intense and small world of green roofs and living walls, it still remains an underground movement for the rest of society. Body mutilations and Sado Masochism gets more attention than plants growing on walls….

The vertical garden show was interesting. Some nice Utopian drawings of garden high rises. There was a cool installation of a real living wall where the plants grew out of cloth that had nutrient water flowing slowly down it.

Overall s lot of the displays felt like student senior thesis’ for architecture school before they went on to get a real job.

And there were the occasional Christo like installations from around the world by artists who got their name in the 1970’s and who have since carved out a niche amongst rich patrons, museums and Japanese corporations.

The crowd was mostly cool gallery goers who were stopping by on their way to some other cool event involving more body mutilations and fancy canapes. They appreciated the edgy industrial space and felt very cool to be part of it.

But these were not brownstone owners considering a green roof. There were no co-op owners debating the cost of a green wall in their garden. These were hipsters who rent in Williamsburg. They probably don’t even own a fern.

But I think they appreciated the show as art. They stared at a lovely building with a lush garden on its roof that had big letters beside it on the wall saying, “PROPOSED IDEA FOR GREEN ROOF” and they wondered among themselves if the garden was real or not….

Anyway, the whole thing was so off-off-off Broadway as to be a little pathetic for me.