Friday, June 12, 2009

5 Simple Ways to Live Greener - Eco-Landscaping ideas and tips!

5 Simple Ways to Make your Outdoor area Greener!

I was reading an article on Green Driveways/ Green Patios. There were a lot of suggestions and that led me to looking at more articles. More articles and more suggestions. I've put together some basic suggestions... simple, inexpensive and yet - greener! I figure most people are intimidated by the Big Projects. They would love a green roof but are worried about their existing structure. They don't want to rebuild a roof. Too much money! They probably have done some of the basics: They garden. They compost. They've planted a tree. All great things.

So what's the next step? One of the tough things to do is to come up with simple ways to make your outdoor space a greener place. So here's a few suggestions. I'm looking at simple, green solutions, that won't cost a regular homeowner to have budgetary fits.

Water is a valuable resource that can easily be overlooked by most of us. Turn on the tap and it flows out. But when you've got mud or erosion problems then you can look at water as your enemy. My top, easy water conservation tip? Use a Rain barrel. Prevent stormwater runoff from your property - catch the rain from your roof and use it when you need it. There are mosquito-proofed rain barrels available. Check out River Sides for some fantastic suggestions! A 1-inch level of rainfall on 1,000 square feet of roof with eaves and a downspout produces 600 gallons of water. You can also choose to filter that water that falls on your driveway and all the little non-permeable surfaces. Which of leads to tip #2...


Get rid of the cement! Cement and asphalt are non-permeable surfaces. When it rains the water runs off to the sides or down straight into the drains. All the pollutants from your car don't get a chance to be filtered naturally by the soil. Typical pollutants from cars are things like: motor oil, copper, and zinc. (study by Univ. of Washington, Center for Water and Watershed Studies Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering on permeable surfaces).

By installing a permeable system like ecogrid you can quickly and easily fix up a parking area that has been a mess. You can then decide to use grass or gravel. Gravel (which won't compact because of the grid) is a great enviromental choice. Ecogris is also perfect to stablize your lawn, allow you to park your car - or have an extra space for guests to park. Now, instead of looking at an ugly slab of concrete you can replace it with a low maintence grass. It is like a regular lawn - so you quickly have some great options. Its a great way to green up the area, provide overflow parking and give you the chance to make a huge difference in a quick and easy fashion.

A "living driveway" is a beautiful thing.


Check out your local Craigslist and search for "gravel" or "soil" - there are always listings in the summer and spring for people who are getting rid of smaller quantities of materials. You can get river rocks, gravel and topsoil at a fraction of the cost. Sometimes its leftover from a project or someone else's reno's. Check out your local FREECYCLE too.

If you are using a "new" material - find out what is the recycled content. Is there an option you can use? Can whatever materials then be recycled?

Here's a shocker...


Patios in general are a lot less maintence and often a lot less cost - then a deck. Decks - which are often wood - take a lot of upkeep. The wood is often pressure treated, and chemically treated to resist bugs. You can spend the money you would have spent on a deck project with landscaping. You can put down a green patio! Use something lightweight and lower costs for your patio like the el30 EcoGrid - which is perfect for landscaping but will not hold water like a slab of concrete would. You can get creative with the ecogrid design - planting mosses, seedums and grass as well as mixing it with gravel too. The area doesn't restrict you to using just grass. I've seen some lovely work done with river stones as well. If you are going to build a deck do think about using eco-friendly sealants.


There are lots of winged friends around - birds, bats and bees - that are all part of our eco-system, and all are suffering to a degree whenever we take away part of their homes. If you plant a Living Driveway - you are already helping out.

But there's a few simple things:

- A winter bird bath! Birds are often desperate in the winter for water. For about $40 you can get specially designed heaters to keep the water from freezing. Its amazing to see how many birds will come to drink and bathe in the "dead" of winter.

- A Bat House - a great simple way to control insects! Forget the zapping noise. Let these shy little creatures find a space to thrive. Bats consume huge quantities of night-flying insects (like mosquitoes). Male bats love smaller bat houses, so you don't have to invest in a huge Bat House. A nice selection is here.

- Befriend a Bee - Build a Bee Home - I got a bit startled a few years ago when I'd first planted my deck garden. It was spring and there were large, mostly-black, agressive bees around! I thought at first of ridding myself of them - RAaaaaaaaaaaid! But decided to find out what kind of bees they were. Turns out these were carpenter bees - which are all buzz and little-to-no bite. Most of the agressive ones are males - who actually don't have stingers.

Why not think about creating a home for carpenter bees. They love wood (which is often the #1 reason they get killed off) - but dislike painted wood. So paint up the wood you want to protect and then in nice shady spots - give them a home. Everyone knows that Honeybees are worth protecting - but so are carpenter bees. Simply paint/protect the areas where you might have problems with Carpenter bees, and in that shady spot - nail up a piece of untreated wood.

Another type of bee - the Solitary Bee - can also use a home. Find out more about them here, and consider your winged friends.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Permeable Paving Solutions - exploring the options

As far as I'm concerned there are really 4 options for paving "green". Some, in my mind, are a lot less green than others. Only one looks really green. The others look more traditional. It would be - in my mind - a great thing to mix some of the options if we can't seem to rethink paving everything over entirely.

1. Grid - like EcoGrid or other grid systems - that has large spaces which allow the "green" to grow through. They are easy to lay down - at least EcoGrid is - and don't need special knowledge to install it. You can seed the grids with grass or use them with gravel. They are often made with recycled materials - in this case 100% recycled - but you have to check the specs. These grids act like a support structure for vehicles - distributing the weight. After a rains, the grids allow water to gradually absorb into the soil below.. watering the grass. Out of all the systems it seems the greenest... looks greenest. Can be installed by anyone who has master the fine art of putting together Lego.

2. Permeable Pavers = blocks of stone or brick - that can be laid out in a pretty pattern. They look solid but the water actually should flow between the blocks. Of course they don't look green, but they are what many people think of when they think of a permeable driveway. They can crack and shift a bit, and are more costly to install. I personally wouldn't install them myself.

3. Permeable Concrete. Well its a step up from regular old concrete! Again, it won't look as green as green can be. I've never actually seen it in use. Since the composition of permeable concrete is different it does require special installation. There is a great article here on pervious/porous concrete installation. There needs to be a lot of care with the ground prep and to quote the article on it "Because pervious concrete has a low water content, special attention is required during transportation and placement."

4. Permeable Asphalt - which for me falls to the bottom of the barrel of green choices. (sorry - that's a pun there since asphalt is scraped from the bottom of the barrels after all other petroleum-based products have been refined.) Despite the fact that its a better mix of materials its still ASPHALT. I am glad that it gets reused and all - but its still a step up from an impermeable surface. It looks more traditional - familiar - but asphalt is still ashpalt. Here's some great info on asphalt - what's that stuff . Not very nice. Not very green.


So lets talk about what you'd need to look at if you are doing a green or gravel driveway with option #1 - choosing the Grid to create a "greener" driveway.

Now I'm going to talk about what I know. About 7 or 8 years ago when I heard about grid use for parking lots it just seemed like an idea that wouldn't stand up. Plastic? Grid? What was wrong with a nice neat, black driveway like Dad had? It also seemed too radical. I envisioned something like plastic snow fencing, that could be rolled out, but that isn't what it really is like. (Well, there are some roll products which have their uses but if its for a parking application or walkway, or even a parking lot you'll need strength es).

Most grids come in sheets - large squares that allow you to lay them ontop of a gravel or soil/sand mix depending on what you plan to use them for. Most grass will need a few inches beneath a grid in order to grow. Some grass has deep roots - and the grass needs to grow through the grid and down into the soil to get established. The grid will protect the root base and act as a filter for rainwater. It doesn't matter if you place down grass or gravel - that layer acts the same way. Water seeps through into the base and then continues on its journey back into the ecosystem.

A few Important things to check for when you are looking at redoing your driveway and looking for grid:

#1. What kind of edge thickness does it have? If you plan on parking on it this will be an important factor. Ideally, if you have an edge, it needs to be reinforced - a bit of extra thickness that will make sure it doesn't slid/slip around. If you can pick up a sheet of a grid product and bend it - then think of what will happen when your car drives over it. So you need something with a bit of flex - BUT you also need to make sure it the grid won't splinter or crack when the cars turn or back up on it. Look for a grid with a good solid edge and you'll save yourself having to replace it.

2. Ease of Install:

Can you do it yourself or will you need to hire someone? This is the number one reason I think that EcoGrids are better than cement pavers. It costs a lot less ... and it won't cost a forturne to get installed. Personally, I would suggest a combination of both unless you like to shove dirt and gravel. A contractor can come in and regrade your surface, or simply excavate down a few inches. Another person will come in and dump the gravel. This part is suprisingly cheap. A small driveway can be excavated in a matter of hours. Someone who can run a bobcat will show up and be done quickly. Once the base layer is installed, (flatten it out too!) the grid goes down.

The diagram here is actually for horses = so the footing diagram shows a deeper layer. If you were putting down grass then you don't need such a high topping.

3. How Green is it? Is it recycleable? How much is made of recycled plastic? Personally, if I'm thinking green - I want to make sure it can be recycled - and has as high a content of recycled plastics as possible. Otherwise you're adding new plastic in. Rather defeats the purpose.

4. Does it crack or splinter? Can it be maintained like a regular gravel driveway

5. What temperature range is it designed for? If you live in the south or the north there's a huge difference. Is it environmentally neutral?

6. Is it available in different weights? Is there heavy duty stuff for trucks? Is there a light weight product? Is there a difference in how it gets used - is one for landscaping and one for driveways or is it all the same? What is the best weight for your application? For EcoGrid there are the technical specs available here.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Mud Control for Horses - oh those muddy paddocks!


Behold - the MUDDY Horse Gate

You know what's rather funny? I'm so allergic to horses I can't get within about 10 feet of them... but then I'm not the horse expert. I leave that to the pro - JX.

JX's the horse guy... and if you think of the word, "cowboy", and imagine someone from those old Marlboro Ads (sans the cig) - then you're probably thinking of JX. Just tuck a blackberry in his pocket and give him a couple of Catahoula Leopard Hound mutts... and there he is. When he's not cowboying he's probably working with grid.

And this guy knows more about horses and mud control then probably anyone in North America. When we get a call about someone with muddy paddocks, someone looking to fix up their farm or ranch, someone who wants to talk to a horse expert - they'll get probably end up talking to JX. Last week it was a fella designing a show ring and a woman who was building stalls.

There was also a guy who wanted to put down grid around the barn and still be able to drive a tractor through the area. He was in North Carolina - and had a few horses, a bunch of dogs and a small "farm". I'm not sure what he was farming but we spent a while talking about the mud issues. Even small tractors can compact an area around a barn pretty well, and the pathways sounded like a disaster.

The problem with compaction is pretty simple. The soil gets harder and more compacted as we walk, drive, trample on it. A lot of people throw down gravel which works fine for a while.... but then that gets compacted. So they put down more gravel. And so on and so on...

That's what makes the permeable paving so brilliant... and so simple. Put down gravel. Put down some grid. Put down more gravel. Drive over it, walk on it, ride your horses over it... and stop worrying about it. For the guy I spoke he's getting the heaviest product - because he needs to back up the tractor - so he's going with the e50. He said he's going to put in some gravel in one area and put down a sand soil mix in the rest. Maybe plant some grass along the edges.. sounds like it will be clean and stable - and get rid of the mud problems too.

The grid product basically stops your walkway from becoming one muddy, mucky mess.

Anyway, it looks like the equestrian side of the grid business is really starting to catch on. Its great that people are looking for long-term enviromental paving solutions.

I guess I can show up a BEFORE and AFTER photo of one of the projects that JX did, because it really doesn't look like much - lol. It looks actually kind of boring - until you realize what it looked like before. And then you think about what it looks like years later - and then its more obvious. :D

The rather Boring but much cleaner, unmuddied horse gate.
I think there might be some more photos and stuff over on the Equestrian Web site - Equestrian Solutions
Since i'm no horse expert - I'll leave that to the professionals.