Showing posts with label Green Roof. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Green Roof. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Planter Project - Part 1

I decided to make some planters that go along the parapet walls of our green roof, so we have more growing space.

Keiter and I rented a zipcar SUV and went out and bought 125 6-foot Forestry Stewardship Council Certified redwood fence pickets.  We had a little adventure getting them, because the only way they would all fit in the car was if we put the passenger seat all the way forward, the driver's seat as far forward as we could, and if Cindy (who is considerably shorter than I) drove home.  I had to ride home laying on the stacks of lumber in the back.  It's a good thing they were pretty wet.  Had they been dry, my entire front side would have been full of redwood splinters!

Anyway, we survived, got things stacked in the basement, and had the zipcar returned on time.  Here's a shot of the stack after I'd built one or two planters... Yup, I own a perfectly serviceable mitre saw, but I'm using a hand saw.  It's good exercise and practice.

The following Sunday, the experiment began!  My plan was to make planters that were three boards tall, sleeved over the capstones, and functioned as self-irrigating or wicking planters.  I wanted to get one long side and one short end out of each fence picket (using 6 fence pickets per planter).  I started  by working on finding the right dimensions for the planter.  I made a rectangle the same width as the capstones, carried it up to the roof, and took a look.

I like the look of it, but I wanted it to sleeve down father over the capstones.  I'm planning to use a pond liner for the bottoms of these (to make them lighter, and to save wood), and I wanted the bottom edges of the sides of the planter to sit relatively close to the capstones, so the pond liner didn't pooch out the sides once the water got in there.

 I ended up making the planter wide enough to sit on the outsides of the flanges.  I cut the contour of the capstones into the end boards to make the planter sit low enough.  Before pulling them up to the roof, I staple the pond liner to the sides.

Then I fit these corner pieces in - they hang down below the edges of the capstones, and I'll be able to attach brackets to the bottoms of the corner posts that wrap around the underside of the capstones if the planters aren't stable enough on their own.

Here's one after the pond liner is installed and trimmed, and I'm starting to stretch the filter fabric.

This is what it looks like after the filter fabric is stretched, stapled, and cut around the corner pieces.  I've created a water reservoir in the bottom section of the planter.  The dirt will sit on top of the fabric.  How will the water get up into the dirt?  You'll see in a minute.

In the basement, I pre-assemble the wooden rectangles of the planter (you can see the 2nd and 3rd courses in the background in the photo above).  So, once the fabric has been trimmed, I sleeve the wooden rectangles over the corner posts and screw the whole thing together, like so: 

This is how the water is going to get up into the soil:  I set three little net cups in position on the fabric in the bottom of the planter.  The soil is going to wick water from the lower trough up into the upper chamber through those net cups.  You can learn more about this style of planter by doing an internet search for "Self Irrigating Planter" or "Wicking Garden."  

I install the net cups in the fabric by cutting a little "X" through the fabric and pressing the cup in.

Finished.  Don't ask me how I'm going to get water into the bottom reservoirs; I haven't finished deciding about that yet.

By the way, it sure is easy to tell which side of this picture is our roof and which is our neighbor's!  I can tell you from personal experience, black roofs (or is it "rooves"?) are HOT - and not in a good way!

I set the first planter on the wall between my house and my neighbor to the East to see what it looked like.  On this side, I plan to install trellises on the backs of the planters to act as a bit of living screen.  I already like how much of my neighbor's unfinished roof is obscured by the body of the planter box.

A wider perspective:

The next day, I made 3 more.

And then I made 4 more.  I spent both of my days off this week making planters.  4 planters/day is the speed at which my process has settled.

In case it wasn't clear earlier, I make the bottom rectangle (with semi-attached pond liner) and the 2nd and 3rd rectangles in the basement.  Then I hoist them up to the roof on ropes.  Ignore the messy back yard.

So, after another weekend spent making planters (today and yesterday), I've got a grand total of 12.  I really hope they work.

I had originally planned to have the planters in groups, with some empty space in between.  But now that we have so many of them up there, we have really started to like the way they define the space and give us a bit more privacy.  We have decided to make enough planters to fill both walls on both sides.  I've already ordered more pond liner.  I guess I know what I'm doing next weekend too!

So, I have to make more planters, figure out whether I need to level the planters to make the water in the reservoirs submerge all 3 net cups equally (since they follow the slope of the roof), decide whether I want to buy and install float valves in each planter (which is probably going to be too expensive, since I can't go with valves that can be fouled by roots growing into them), or if I just want to plumb tubing into the planters from the drip irrigation system and fill them according to a timer rather than their water levels.

And I've got to buy a ton of potting soil and carry it all up to the roof.

Nevermind thinking about that, though!  Here's Keiter - showing off her chicken wings!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Where Have YOU Been?

It has been a while since Cindy and I went out to Carmel Valley to work on the Arnold Cabin.  I gave you a peek at the emotional perspective in my previous post on the subject, The Arnold Cabin Project Part 3: The Real Story, but there's always more to say, isn't there?  For the more nuts-and-bolts perspective, I will kick off a little series of "how did" posts (as opposed to "how to").  And, as luck would have it, I've been invited to attend a family function out at Hastings this weekend.  I'll use the occasion to take some update photos of how things look after the Winter.

But first, a word on where I've been: We got back from the cabin project in August of last year.  I've written before about my neuropathy (numbness and nerve pain in my arms and hands), and through the paleo/primal diet and some great work by our chiropractor/functional medicine guy, Dr. Mango, I thought I had put that stuff behind me.  Unfortunately, I was wrong.  By the end of our week working on the cabin, the numbness and pain in my right arm and hand were back.  Working on my computer made the aching worse, and since I have to do so much computer work for my job, I kept it to a minimum at home.  That helped.

Then, in October of last year, I was raking through the drainage rocks on the green roof to wash the silt out of them (so we can collect the rain water from the roof without having to worry so much about filtration).  I was using a little hand fork to move the rocks around... for days.  You know how you can get absorbed in work and not notice what's happening to your body?  Well, I screwed up my elbow and became unable to use my right arm for any real work for months.  I switched to using my left hand to work the mouse on my computer at home and work, which helped a little.  But through January, I still couldn't grasp with my right hand without a sharp pain in my elbow.  Honestly, it was depressing.

Again, Dr. Mango came to the rescue with some intense muscle work.  I've also been working daily to improve my posture (with stretches and mindfulness), keep my inflammation down (by eating primal/paleo and avoiding sugar - within reason), and strengthen my back (with exercises and converting to a standing desk at home).  In March, my elbow finally started to improve.  It's not fully healed yet - I can tell the difference when I work the track pad on my laptop with my right hand for a few hours vs. my left.  But, I'm learning how to keep my shoulders and arms healthy and can add some more typing and computer time back into my life - just in time for Spring green roof updates!

Speaking of the green roof, here's Cindy mixing and adding some store-bought cow poo to our potting soil on the roof last weekend.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Roof Railing Update - July 2014

This summer, I've been working on installing the wooden handrail along the tops of the steel railings I made for the green roof.  It's been semi-slow going, though, because my attention has been pretty divided between getting soil and fabric pots set up with vegetables for the growing season, installing drip irrigation for all the container plants, dealing with the plumbing and washing machine issues we've had (more plumbing is in my future for this weekend, in fact - there's a water hammer and a shower faucet leak to solve), and babysitting our godson, Axel.

Oh, and I had a good meeting with a roofing guy about the parapet wall and roof hatch leak problems.  He happens to be a Certified Green Roof Professional in addition to being an experienced roofer, and I had a great time chatting with him.  Here's hoping all of that works out.  I'll give you his name if it does.

But back to the railing project!  As I wrote on the PHL page describing how I made the roof railings (found here or on the left hand side of the PHL web site), I bought a bunch of lumber reclaimed from the rubble of the Rockaway Beach Boardwalk after Super Storm Sandy by Sawkill Lumber.  It's a mix of tropical hardwood species that do very well outdoors in the elements, so I won't have to worry about replacing it any time soon.

I started in April.  The first step was to pull all of the old boardwalk nails out of the lumber.  Alan from Sawkill told me that the "P" stamped on the heads of each nail stands for the NYC Parks Department.

Then, I had to work out the angle of the miters for the ends of the boards.  I laid pieces out on the railing tops and marked the intersections where the boards meet to find the angles. 

For cutting the miters, I could choose between two evils: climbing up and down the ladder and stairs between the basement and roof as I refined the fit of each piece, or I could use a hand saw.  I chose the hand saw for most pieces and went downstairs to my electric compound miter saw for the cuts that needed to be done at precise-yet-unknown compound angles.  That reminds me, I need to learn how to sharpen my handsaws.

And here are the first two pieces laid out.

As I worked my way along the railing, I discovered one spot in particular where one of the boards is sloping into the corner, and one is more or less level.  That's a problem I'll have to figure out how to solve later.  

And here's one of the uprights with the short boards roughed in. 

Now I'm starting to see how the finished railing is going to look.

 And a couple of wide shots of the whole back railing.  FYI - I still haven't started on the front.

By the way, I attached the wood with self-tapping screws from the hardware store.  I drilled holes through the steel slightly wider than the screws, and I ended up needing to drill pilot holes up through the railing lumber, because the self-tapping screws couldn't handle the hardwood.  The whole thing was rather finicky and took longer than I had hoped.  But it's nice to see the complete form of the steel and wood railing together for the first time.

I bought an Arbortech Turboplane for my grinder to do the shaping.  I had been concerned it would dull quickly with this tropical hardwood, but I wrote to the manufacturer and they pointed me to a youtube video of a guy grinding epoxy off a concrete floor without the blade getting dull, so I gave the Turboplane a try.  It worked very well.  I discovered the undersides of the boards and the corners were particularly difficult to shape without getting a lot of chipping and tear-out, so I'm doing a certain amount of shaping with a rasp by hand.  Here are some shots of what I did initially:

I was feeling pretty good about how things were going until I went up to the roof in May and discovered that the screws had snapped on some of the smaller pieces.  We had had some rain, so the best I can figure is that the wood expanded and sheered off the screws.  BUMMER!

I mail-ordered some stainless steel lag screws and spent a couple of days in June taking everything apart and replacing all the initial screws with the lag screws.  All of the broken ones had to be extracted from the wood.  I tried drilling them out, but it didn't work (the screws were too hard to be drilled through), so I stumbled upon this method.  First, chip out some wood around the screw.

Then, grab the end with vice grips and back it out of the hole.

After doing that for all the broken screws, and re-drilling all the holes in the steel and the pilot holes in the wood, I realized I should take the opportunity to do the initial power-shaping on all the pieces before I screwed them back down (to prevent the tear-out on the corners I had experienced back in April).  So, I held the pieces to the top of the railing with clamps and shaped the edges before lag screwing them onto the railing.  Here's the finished product.

After seeing this picture, I decided that's the best place I've found for the home-made digital antenna, so I've since gone up and secured it in place and run the coaxial cable in such a way that it is hardly visible.  After this one dies of rust, I think I'll make one that looks more integral to the fence - like a bug, but hopefully not in a cheezy way.

I've still got the hand-shaping and sanding to do on this railing, and of course, I still have to do the whole front railing, but I'm pretty pleased with how it's turning out so far.  What do you think?

P.S. Happy Birthday to Axel, who turned 1 year old last Sunday.  Cindy and I went to his party to celebrate.  Here he is with his mom and a fiendish face full of ice cream cake and zeppole (or "fried dough" for you non-Italians):

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Wine Bottle Planters, Compost Tea, and a Garden Update - June 2014

I've been working on a post about the Lanikai Stage project, and I've got that ready to roll just as soon as one last video comes in from Hawaii.  In the meanwhile, I've been doing some puttering around the house (as usual).  Here's an update on the gardening stuff.

First, I have been doing some seed starting experiments with my wine bottle planters.  Over the past couple of years since I started making them, I experimented with using a variety of "soil."  I tried potting soil, but that stayed far too wet.  So I tried a mixture of green roof "soil" and smashed-up terra-cotta pots for drainage, but they were still retaining too much moisture in the top for most plants that I tried.  I remembered seeing some Grow Bottles at The Green Depot (one of my favorite stores) and reading on the package that they used expanded clay pebbles as the growing medium.  I've kept that in the back of my mind as I was doing these experiments, and since none of them was particularly successful, I finally bought some expanded clay pebbles (they're mainly used in hydroponics; I bought Hydroton, but if I ever need more, I'll be getting Growstones).

I sewed a bunch of seeds in my wine bottle planters and put them in the window - forgetting the basic rules about seed starting (keeping them in a dimly lit place being the main one).  After two weeks, only my friend Rosie's dill seeds had sprouted.  I moved those out onto the window ledge where they could get more sun, and a warm day dried them up and killed them.  Clearly, I now had a problem of not enough moisture!

So, I took a peek at the instructions online for Grow Bottles, and discovered they mix vermiculite in with the clay pebbles for moisture retention!  Well, I don't have any vermiculite on hand, but I do have some left over peat moss from when I made the hypertufa planters for the roof (click the link and scroll down to see pictures and read about the process), so I sprinkled that among the pebbles, sewed some more seeds, and have been spritzing them with a water bottle every morning and evening.  And I'm having some success!  So far, the eggplant, cucumbers, tomatoes, and (once again) Rosie's dill have sprouted and are looking strong.  Now I just need to give them some fertilizer.

Speaking of fertilizer, I'm making my first batch of "compost tea" as I type this.  Soil health is foundational to plant health, and plant health is related to Cindy's and my health.

Let me explain: healthy soil is not unlike our own bodies.  The human body is comprised of more bacterial cells than actual human cells (skeptical?  read this article from Scientific American).  Healthy soil is, we are learning, is also comprised largely of bacterial cells.  These tiny bacteria break down the minerals and nutrients in the soil so that they can be absorbed by plants' roots.  The bacteria create sort of a transitionary zone around plants' roots that is not exactly plant and not exactly non-plant (such a Buddhist concept!).  When we kill off the bacteria in and around our bodies, or we kill off the bacteria in and around our plants, we are interrupting ecosystems on the micro scale.  These ecosystems, actually known as "micro-biomes" are responsible for all sorts of mechanisms related to processing food (or sunlight and fertilizer, if you're a plant) as well as protecting us from disease (and pests, also in the case of plants).  This is a pretty great article to read if you want to know more.

Cindy and I compost our kitchen scraps, but our compost operation isn't big enough to make enough compost to create healthy micro-biomes in all the new potting soil and potted plants that went up on the green roof this year.  And the wine bottle planters don't have any nutrients in them yet either.  So, I'm making my own liquid fertilizer that is rich with aerobic bacteria by putting a net bag of compost (actually, I believe we originally received this bag as a wrapper for a bottle of champagne we were given), a couple of tablespoons of unsulphered molasses, and some water in a bucket.  I'm then forcing air through the water with some aquarium air stones and a used aquarium pump.  The molasses is a bit of extra food for the bacteria (like flower and sugar are for yeast when making bread), and the bubbles going through the water allow for the mixture to support aerobic bacteria (which are highly beneficial to plants) as opposed to anaerobic bacteria (which could be trouble).  A small amount of compost itself acts as the starter (think sourdough bread starter) - introducing the good bacteria to the water, which then multiply with the abundant food (molasses) and air.  Tomorrow, I'll put the compost tea in our new sprayer and spray it on all our plants and surrounding soil.

Here's the "brewing" operation with the net bag hanging off the handle and two air lines running into the bucket with the air stones bubbling away:

I learned about this stuff by doing youtube searches for "compost tea."  Although he doesn't tell you what type of yeast he's putting in his compost tea in addition to compost, this Alaskan guy is sort of an adorable coot, and I like his video: Compost Tea for BIG Vegetables.

In other Project Happy Life gardening news, I'm trying a new technique with the chicken wire squirrel protection up on the roof.  I started putting chicken wire directly over the soil around plants rather than upside down baskets over the plants, because now a lot of the plants are getting too big for the baskets.  It seems to be working, but there's more to do.  Here are some pictures from this morning's trip up to the roof to get my bucket.

The squashes are getting huge.  The watermelon on the left is lagging behind.

 The lavender is blooming!

 The row of seedlings on the West side are getting taller, and I have to sort out the chicken wire/squirrel problem this weekend.

 The artichoke is getting bigger.

 And the blue potatoes are off and running - again, another chicken wire problem to solve this weekend.  There's a zinnia on the right.  I kept it in the kitchen window for too long, and it got leggy.  Then I transplanted it to the roof and it didn't get enough water... inadvertent zinnia torture.

The hairy hens and chicks are getting VERY prolific.

The red sunflower is also getting ready to outgrow its chicken wire.

Tomato seedlings doing well.

Rosemary, fairy squash, and two eggplant seedlings. 

 And the green roof sedum are getting ready for their second round of flowers.

And on the left, you can see the beginnings of a chicken wire cage I'm making to protect the strawberries from the g. d. squirrels.

Anyway, hang on, all you plants!  Compost tea is a-comin'!!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Green Roof Two Step

Hello, pals!  Here's a mid-May update on the green roof.

The last couple of weeks have been what I like to call, a "green roof two-step."  In other words, we've been going two steps forward, one step back.  Is there such a thing as a project without successes and disappointments?  I doubt it.

The first and most stress-inducing problem is that the roof hatch is letting in a slow leak when we have hard rain.  I'm pretty sure it doesn't have anything to do with the green roof system and is more related to the way the hatch was built and installed.  But I'm trying to get a hold of the contractor we used to re-roof the house so he can come and take care of it.  We're within the 10-year warrantee on the work.  I left him a phone message a couple of days ago (without answer), and I sent him an email last night after going up and taping some plastic around the outside of the hatch to see if I can prevent the leak in today's rain storm.  We'll see.  Here's a picture of that bummer from the last rain storm:

There are two other leaking issues that need to be addressed.  One has to do with moisture somehow coming in between our side wall and our neighbor's side wall (our two houses abut each other - I'll take a picture of that some other time).  The third issue has to do with water finding its way into the upstairs apartment's kitchen ceiling through a vent pipe boot when the silt from the drainage rock on the green roof gets washed down to the roof drain and slows the flow of the water off the roof.  For more depression, here's a picture of what that kitchen ceiling looked like in the last storm as well:

Luckily, I can prevent this leak by keeping the drainage rock cleared from the roof drain.  If you ignore the loops of cable (which is for our home-made digital TV antenna), that's the vent pipe on the left, and the water flows down to the roof drain on the right hand side of this photo.  I want to have the contractor look at this issue, because we need a more permanent fix than this.

Come to think of it. I'd say those roof leaks are more than one step back.  Let's say that's two steps back.

But, a few days later, we got some un-related good news!

News 12 Brooklyn sent a reporter, Kena Vernon, out to do a little story on the green roof!  They found us through this blog, which was really pretty neat.  If you'd like to see the story Kena did, you should be able to watch it by following this link to the News 12 Brooklyn site.  Or, here's a copy of the video right here:

Let's hear it for Cindy Keiter wearing her pink pants, ladies and gentlemen!  Also, in case you're wondering what's up with my shirt, I was wearing my roof garden shirt.  See?  There are vegetables flying off the rooftops...

But before we get too happy, and since this is a good news/bad news post, we've got more to talk about.

Now, I've been working on the wooden hand rail that goes along the top of the metal railing on the roof, and after some amount of visiting hardware stores in the area (does no one carry anything better than drywall screws these days?!), I found some self-tapping screws that I decided to use to screw the wood to the steel railing.  After a certain amount of trial and error, I finally got a little system working, and I managed to get all the pieces cut and installed for the back railing.  I'll do a full blog post about the hand rail install process later, but here's the bummer:

Went I went  up to the roof to check it out before the reporter came, I found a piece of the railing section laying on the roof - totally broken off from where I had attached it!  

Well!  At first, I thought, "Who came up here and broke this off?  Were there vandals on the roof?  Did a neighbor come up and stand on this section to look at the chimney?  What the hell happened?!"

But then I noticed that another smaller piece of wood which had been firmly screwed down was completely un-attached, but it was still resting in place.  Did someone break that too and put it back?  I ran around the roof, checking all the pots, looking in my tool bin to see if anything was stolen.  Everything was just as I had left it.  No vandals.

So I went back and looked at all the sections of wood.  A couple of the other small pieces had one of their two screws broken off - all of them broken off right at the top of the steel where the screws enter the wood.  The only answer is wood movement caused by the rain had sheared the screws off.  

I realized all the broken screw ends would have to be drilled out, and I'd have to replace the screws with something stronger, and drill wider holes in the steel to allow for more wood movement.  I calmed down, but was a little wary the whole time that the reporter was going to go to the back of the roof and see my mistake.  While I'm happy to share it with you, I was too embarrassed to have it broadcast on TV.

Luckily, she never wanted to see the back of the roof - probably because the poor dear had to lug her own camera around (I brought it up and down the ladder for her), and she didn't want to navigate the stepping stone path with it.

Then there was another Unfortunate Situation on the roof.  

A couple of days after the news story, while chatting on the phone with my mom (hi, Mom!), I was putting in some drip irrigation fittings to keep these big pots watered.  The main drip line runs behind the pots, and I was trying to keep the little individual lines to the pots semi-concealed, so it was tight quarters.

I was squatting down to do the work, and I was right in front of the first of the four pots - the one on the right.  See that?  The one right next to the skylight...?

Yup.  I cracked a pane of glass in the skylight with my butt!  Such a bummer.  I made a crack - a butt crack - in the skylight.  I put some duct-tape on my butt crack to keep it from leaking...  There's a new glass shop in the neighborhood, and they made us a replacement piece, but it took them a week.  It was a real pane!

A few days after that incident, I came up on the roof to check how the potted plants were doing.  I had moved last year's sage and lavender to two of the fabric pots, and I sewed seeds in the self-irrigating planters and the rest of the fabric pots.  I had gotten drip irrigation fittings installed on all the pots near the sitting area, and I was eager to see if any seedlings were sprouting.

The sage was busy making blossoms (wonderful news!), but the squirrels had dug holes in the soil of all the pots (boo!).  I filled all the depressing squirrel holes (squirrel depression?) before I took a picture, but at least here are the nice sage blossoms.

Ignoring the squirrels for a moment, there were a couple of other nice things.  These hairy hens-and-chicks in the back are making little satellite babies.

And here's Cindy, hand-modeling a little green strawberry:

But, the ding-dang squirrels are a problem.  So I made some chicken-wire basket things to go over the tops of the pots.  I also got some organically raised seedlings from the excellent Silver Heights Farm Nursery at the farmer's market in Union Square last weekend, and our friend Robin (hi, Robin!) came over to help me do some gardening.  I don't have enough dirt to fill all my pots yet, so we stuck some of the seedlings in with seeds I had sewed previously - I wasn't sure if the squirrels had eaten all the squash seeds I planted anyway...

As I said, I was up on the roof last night putting some plastic around the roof hatch to see if that prevents leaking when it rains today, and I took the opportunity to check all the plants with my little flashlight.  The watermelon and squash seeds I thought the squirrels had gotten are now starting to sprout.  They weren't eaten after all!  And the rest of the plants look great.  In fact, the green roof sedum are starting to bloom, and for me, that makes all our little set-backs completely wash away.

Well, not completely, but you know what I mean.

P.S. Special thanks to my dear friend Dave for the pane of glass pun.  The butt crack was entirely my own.