July 31, 2012

Innovative eco-solutions


I’m forever amazed at the creativity of the human race. From machines that blow air into the soil to fracture it to reduce compaction around tree roots, to Myke which is packaged spores of mycorrhizal fungi, we’re always discovering new ideas that we can develop.

At our yard, we have no access to power, and water is difficult to get. Our solution? We set up two 275-gallon plastic, portable cisterns on raised platforms. We harvest rainwater from the barn roof to fill these (although I admit that in the heat of summer we do have to fill them from the well). We built two large flood trays lined with pond liner, each with a sump pit towards which the trays slope gradually. We found low voltage pumps, like those that would be used for a bilge pump on a yacht. We set up a small solar panel and use it to charge two marine batteries that are stored inside the barn. We simply open the cistern and fill the trays and let the water sit for an hour or two. Then we attach the leads from the pump to the battery. The pumps move the water back into the cisterns so it’s a very time- and water- efficient process. In the fall, when it’s dark in the barn, we use the batteries to run a low-voltage lighting system. Many bangs for the buck! Low cost. Easy to set up. It was a team effort and blending of brains that make me proud of my staff.

Another fascinating idea that’s gaining traction is the Envirolok Vegetated Soil Bag system. The gist of it is that you fill bags made of heavy duty landscape fabric with soil or soil mixed with biochar. (We just used the sandy loam that was on site.) The bags are attached together with a spike/disk arrangement. Once the wall is built, it can be vegetated by hydroseeding or planting plugs in small holes cut into the bag. Any type of plant can be used, although deep rooted natives or drought tolerant perennials and trailing shrubs are best, in my opinion. Once the wall is vegetated, it’s rated for 120 years. It can be used to create incredibly intricate curving walls of amazing heights and complexities. It can also be used to stabilize stream banks and even line creeks to deal with erosion issues.

This system seems amazing, but since many things in life don’t perform as well as they are advertised, it was with some trepidation that I used it in a design. I planted it in a rock wall with a mix of perennials and shrubs: creeping phlox, blue rug juniper, edging candytuft, hens and chicks, rockcress, stonecrops and more.

This spring I kept meaning to stop by to check it out. I think I put it off because I was afraid it might not have worked. I finally went to check on in and, when walked around the corner to see it, I scared my crew-member. I whooped! I have almost never been that happy! ‘Ecstatic’ might be a better word. Only installed a year ago, in June 2011, it was already mostly filled in. I’m going back to plug a few holes that are my fault. I didn’t take into account the rate at which some plants would spread.

Even beyond the ease of installation and the fact that you can use soil from on-site, in a kind of cut and fill method, consider that to build the wall no stone was blasted out of a quarry and no diesel was used hauling heavy things around the countryside. This product has so many levels of ‘green’! There isn’t even any heat-island-effect cast from it, since it’s vegetated! How cool is that?!

It just goes to prove that when we put our minds to something we can solve many of the world’s problems, especially if we work together.
Sean James is owner of an Ontario-based, environmentally-conscious, landscape design/build/maintenance company. In addition, he is an eco-consultant and a popular speaker.