Blog Archives

Growing Freedom and Blooming in a Hundred Dimensions: A Harvest in the Hanging Garden

Greetings again, beautiful world! I have a confession to make, but no worries, it turns out better than I imagined in the end. For all this talk about permaculture, I must confess I’ve felt more comfortable until now with the “Design :: Build” part of the Vertecology equation. The “Permaculture” part of course is all about a design science that applies just as well outside the context of gardening as within it and I have certainly been putting that to work.

But at the end of the day I wondered how much of a permaculturist I could be if I (supposedly) had a brown thumb. As if there was a body of proprietary knowledge needed for planting and growing stuff. As if human beings didn’t have generations and in fact thousands, if not a couple of million years working closely with the natural world; as if the beings of other species… that is plants, animals, fungi, don’t want to grow just like we do, and don’t do so to the best of their abilities on their own using the resources available to them.

Echinacea has taken root, planted from seed in the Vertecology Hanging Garden

So much for the myth of the brown thumb. The truth is that until I got that permaculture was pretty much the answer to our global yearning for a culture of abundance and a future worth fighting for, I didn’t see much reason to try to grow anything.

Now with the onset of Spring, many of the little Echinacea Purpea and a few of the Yarrow seeds I popped into the Hanging Garden at the Sugar Shack have grown into robust little plants on all five levels, and some of the little guys are even flowering. That with only sporadic watering of these drought-tolerant species and a soil mixture taken on faith from my friend and partner in permaculture crime, Norma Bonilla.

While I’ve been posting about the Hanging Garden for a while now, I couldn’t really say the  “1.0” version was complete until seeds had successfully taken root. After all, as a work of art, my vision of it was never just the hanging boxes themselves. That was just the foundation. Even though I will soon be manufacturing the structure, each installation will be unique based on what comes to inhabit it.

So now with this success, it’s on to fine tuning. Here are my thoughts on an even better soil mix considering aeration and improved drainage within the planter-box; as you can see from the diagram below, I’m thinking now of a gravel layer with a breathable sheet of fabric for future installations. Of course this will vary also with the sorts of plantings you want to do and I welcome suggestions. I’m also thinking a larger version of the Hanging Garden in the months to come for larger plantings.

 

Optimal soil mix in the Vertecology Hanging Garden for drought-tolerant plants

And thus humbly begins a new leg of the adventure. Growing a garden is an act of patience, and as I’m learning in my endless unfolding, so is growing a business, or anything of value. You can’t plant the seeds and then cut the first shoot and expect a grand forest to envelop your digs. Perhaps that is even a great lesson for our entire quarterly earnings and test-scores culture, and one that when we have learned, we will begin to see our world self-heal largely with little more than a bit of multi-dimensional thinking, guiding and letting ourselves be guided. Just sayin,’ but that’s a rant for another day.

Fibonacci Trees

Now it’s only great to see nature at work, and to know that this experiment is blossoming and promising fertile weeks, months and years to come. Thanks for tuning in!

Hanging Gardens Coming Up Green All Over

Here are some new photos from the Hanging Garden at Philip Horvath’s – now fully stocked with a veritable encyclopedia of baby herbs and veggies (click on the links to learn more about the plants and their benefits on Wikipedia).

The Vertecology Hanging Garden planted with herbs and vegetables

At the very least the Brewery’s first vertical garden is going to make for an oxygen-blasting, aromatic, culinary and visual symphony with medicinal benefits, and I can’t wait until the dinner parties where all these delights get served up with delicious dishes! Even if a few of the plants get crowded out, it will provide a learning experience to all of us who are paying attention.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Meanwhile we’ve got some baby greens popping up from seed in the Sugar Shack’s outdoor Hanging Garden – a few tiny leaves sprouting up, too tiny to get with the camera just yet.

And on a business note I’m setting up some basic online infrastructure for taking orders. The email address mark@vertecology.com and the Paypal business account able to accept credit cards should be coming online within the next few hours. The whole venture of course continues to be a lesson in patience; I like the oddly perfect analogy of a growing plant – you can’t rush it, and when you care for it, trust the process, and allow it to unfold at its proper pace, the rewards for everyone are rich indeed.

Five New Square Feet of Urban Economic Liberation: Planting the Hanging Garden

I’m pleased to announce that the next phase of Hanging Garden R&D is underway. Starting with a 1-1-1 mix of sand, homemade compost and potting soil, I’ve seeded all five levels of a Hanging Garden now swinging from the rafters at the Sugar Shack with small herbs that will help prepare its soil for later planting, attract birds and beneficial, predatory insects like ladybugs, long-term test the Hanging Garden’s performance in outdoor conditions and offer the intentional community here another baby step toward urban economic liberation.

Part of the fun is getting to experiment with five separate “test tubes” if you will. The bottom three levels got dusted with seeds of the yarrow plant, which according to legend was carried into battle by Achilles because of its effectiveness in treating battle wounds, and whose tendency to accumulate minerals means rich soil will be left in its wake. The fourth level up is planted with both yarrow and echinacea purpea seeds to get an idea of how the two behave together. The top level is seeded with echinacea alone, and echinacea is the go-to plant for easing a cold out of your body (something the house could use right about now).

For both herbs the winning planting formula appears to include spreading the seeds no more than ¼ inch deep. The yarrow seeds are little bigger than fine grains of sand and get spread liberally. The larger echinacea seeds get dropped individually about 2 inches apart. Then on all levels, I overlaid some exhausted coffee grinds from the house coffee maker.

The setup will get lots of sun on the rooftop, just like these plants love. It is winter here of course, but it is Southern California and these plants which would get planted later in the spring further north can take the couple of frosts we might get this season. If all goes well, we should start to see little green leaves popping up in about a week or so.

And this is a great opportunity to explore what the Hanging Garden can do best. For while we grow these herbs here, as other installs go up, Hanging Garden clients can begin to share notes – I hope to have a forum for this on Vertecology as  more installs go up and things come together.

And finally, a bit of cross pollination – it’s great to be watering the Hanging Garden with water from the rain harvesting system in the downstairs garden. Already watering the Hanging Garden on the rooftop, I’ve taken on watering the whole roof garden; prior to building the water harvesting system, I knew simply that our rooftop garden needed water. The water messily came out of a hose when I turned on the spigot, and that’s about all I knew.

The Sugar Roof Garden takes about 4 gallons of water per day in winter.

I always felt a pinge of guilt in watering the American Way, having no idea of how much water I was actually using, and only knowing that the water was coming from places like Mono Lake and the Sacramento Delta. By watering with buckets from the harvesting system, I’ve learned that the rooftop garden requires about four gallons per day in the winter time. Sure the watering is a bit more laborious but the information gained while exercising – climbing stairs with bucket in hand, has named the unnamed and means that I can now realistically design for how much water a design-build-permaculture install will actually need and yield.

Thank you Norma Bonilla for the soil mix formula and Baza Novic for the seeds and planting direction. I’ll keep y’all posted, and of course I welcome feedback. Thanks!

Vertical Ecology: The Hanging Garden Goes up at the Famous Brewery

Well a picture is worth a thousand words, and a video is worth a lot more than that. So this time around I won’t say much and let the pictures speak for themselves.

This five-level Hanging Garden, built from reclaimed plywood from the Reuse People was installed Tuesday afternoon at Philip Horvath’s loft in the Brewery. The hardest part was getting the ceiling – concrete, but above 3-1/2 inches of pure, white, crumble as you drill into it and of course, eco-friendly styrofoam – to take something from the hardware store strong enough, and long enough, to do the hanging part.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Getting the piece up in about 3 hours, was a real triumph and proves the concept at a whole new level, not to mention the fact that I’ve upgraded the craftsmanship considerably and used a coat of Peonfin oil for a long-term waterproof, beautiful and eco-friendly finish. Now it’s just a matter of further refining the product, testing some new materials and manufacturing approaches and staying in connection with Philip and Barry to see the piece get planted and move through a hopefully very long life cycle. I’ll be sure to update here as the plot thickens.

The video and still footage captured, some of which is shown here is also going to be quite a resource when the Kickstarter is launched for the Venice Community Garden build. Thanks for looking & if you’re interested in a Hanging Garden: markscottlavin-at-gmail-dot-com / 818.538.6586. Thanks!

Free Energy Can Be So Black and White


Ever the iconoclast, or at least ever the wannabe, I spent a good number of my teen years insisting on an all-black wardrobe, and to this day I still have my happy black days. Leaving for school in September, Mom would always ask “Aren’t you hot?”

“Nah…” (yes, but it was about looking good. Sweat, what sweat?)

So everyone knows a black outfit on a hot day is very different than a white one, even when they’re otherwise identical. Black absorbs heat and white reflects it.

But just how useful might this principle prove in ecological design? What opportunities does it provide? Could we generate flow in still ponds with patterns of black and white stone? Create temperate and tropical microclimates right next to each other? How about artificial winds where the air gets purified as it flows? Could we reduce the need for powered heating and cooling with color? If so, painting the house isn’t just about pretty; it’s functional… and more profoundly beautiful.

So to grow as a designer and see what’s possible, I pulled together an experiment. It isn’t rocket science, and I know I’m not the first to do it, but it was great to engage.

With one of my wooden octahedron prototypes, about 3 feet to a side already painted black for the LooptWorks show, I painted the other one white. On each I put a triangular “table top” made of half-inch ply, one painted black, the other white. Then I lined them up about two feet apart along the sun-arc so that both got full sun all day and so that neither sat on a hotter or colder spot than the other.

The two octahedrons, one white, one black, side by side in the roof garden

With a laser temperature gun, I took the temperature at the center and corner of each table top, and for comparison, took the temperature of the tar-panel rooftop itself. I should also mention that I did this experiment on a hot LA August day, with not a cloud in the sky after the initial coastal burnoff by probably 10 am.

I found several relationships. When the sun is directly overhead, there was as much as 65 degrees F difference between the tabletops. The black might close in on 150 degrees F while the white hovered around 80 or 90. The difference fell quickly once the sun dropped to the horizon, and disappeared entirely once it was gone, so with sunlight out of the equation, factors other than color determine temperature.

Results from the temperature experiment, showing big differences between the black and white octahedrons

The temperature of the black octahedron swung wildly in daylight with even a slight breeze, more in the corner than the center. While I scanned with the temp gun for 20 seconds, the temperature at the corner might vary 10 degrees with a breeze. The thin plywood, with little thermal mass, would dissipate and regain its heat quickly. The white also fluctuated but not nearly so wildly. And the white sometimes even hung out in the 60 degree range while the hot sun roiled above, setting the roof ablaze to the tune of 120-140 degrees F. The temperature difference between the black center and black corner also varied as much as 20 degrees F while the sun was high up, showing again how the slight thermal mass and poor heat retention of the plywood gives it up to the air quickly.

So can we we generate flow in still ponds with patterns of black and white stone? Create temperate and tropical microclimates right next to each other? Artificial winds where the air gets purified as it flows? Reduce the need for powered heating and cooling with color? Yes, but exactly how and how much is a matter of more experimentation, as well as learning from people who have done these sorts of things, in some cases thousands of years ago, and in some cases learning from the most recent science available. A half-cup innovation plus a half-cup of remembering.

Thinking about the 2012 festival circuit, experimental structures in the “developing world” and some planned DIY offerings, this new awareness is definitely clarifying and helping to define some Vertecology build proposals already in the works.

Some design opportunities now apparent: Using a material other than wood will effect the temperature differences. Using steel or some kinds stone of could produce differences in the hundreds of degrees, maybe enough to turn electrical turbines or “magically” pull water out of “thin air,” though steel heat would probably dissipate a lot faster than stone heat.

Greater thermal mass would also take much longer to heat but also to cool, making it possible to radiate warmth well into the night and keep a house cool well into the day. And materials can be played against one another – low retention, low conductivity wood painted white, vs high retention and moderately conductive stone, vs highly conductive and low retention steel, to create truly designer passive solar effects.

Taking this into consideration, here’s one application of passive solar in a “permaculture structure” with multiple functions in the diagram below. This is based on solar updraft tower technology, and this specific set of diagrams takes the fuel-free energy-generation Botswana Solar Updraft test facility, which ran in 2007, as the starting point. (Their experiment documentation here).

Solar Updraft tower diagram, inspired by the Botswana Solar Updraft Test Facility, a fuel-less passive energy genesis system with more potential ecological benefits

While their small test tower would probably not generate much power, with the right combination and density of materials, its performance might improve dramatically without an increase in size. This at the very least would make a great project for the 2012 festival circuit, and it could become a model for community-scale free energy generation, desert-greening and even seed spreading and vertical habitat building… all at once. (I actually have less interest in really huge industrial versions of this structure 800 meters tall, which require industrial-scale funding, a corporate building approach, and which could have adverse effects on the earth’s atmosphere – think jets of our precious air superheated and streaming into space)

On a more immediate note I also now know why the Sugar Shack roof garden is frying, and we can do something about it. The first of the new tire planters has already been painted white, as of about 4 pm today.