Rumble Pie | Deep Ecology Blog

Rumble Pie #19
Real Green Houses

IT'S BEEN SIX WEEKS since we brought up the topic of green walls. Back in July, we introduced you to Patrick Blanc's marvelous vertical gardens. Contrary to what one might expect, his three-dimensional vegetal sculptures bloom beautifully, indoors as well as out. In Beautiful Blanc Walls, we saw a hotel and a shopping mall in Thailand, and an opera house in Taiwan with gorgeous greenery crawling up vertical surfaces. So it begs the question: would it work in a residential setting in Toronto? Could Green Apple build green walls in your home?

THE TECHNOLOGY IS ACTUALLY not that complex, the systems aren't overly intricate, surprisingly. We have the know-how, and we have the desire. One of the reasons that Green Apple is excited to offer this new service is because out here in Eastern Canada, we can only work as landscapers for eight months a year, at most. Some of us don't mind hibernating for the winter, but others of us would prefer to have income all year round to support our growing families. And installing indoor green walls is something that we can definitely do in even the coldest of winters.

BUT THE MAIN REASON that we're so gung-ho for green walls is that it's an ecological leap towards truly green architecture. There's no reason why some of the plants that you grow indoors can't be edible or medicinal; lettuce, beets, radishes and carrots have already been successfully grown on indoor green walls in the Greater Toronto Area. So in addition to creating a pleasant indoor environment for you and your family, what we want to do even more is construct a wall system that sustains you with fresh vegetables all winter long.

DOES THIS SOUND A LITTLE NUTTY? Farms are for growing food, er, right? Well, the cost of food is rising all the time, and as oil and other fossil fuels pass their peak, it's only going to get more expensive, especially for organic. And there's something very special about growing close to home, knowing exactly where your calories are coming from, watching those little tomatoes grow. Impress your friends with herbs that they can pick themselves instead of store-bought, pre-packaged with way too much plastic, shipped from some other part of the planet. But the best reason of all is that local just tastes better!

OKAY, SO GROW CLOSE to home. Build a greenhouse beside the house, get a cold-frame going. But inside the actual house? Yes! We didn't come up with this idea, it's the brainchild of brilliant eco-architect Michael Reynolds. For almost forty years, he has been designing and building radically sustainable homes in the southwestern United States and around the world. The recent documentary Garbage Warrior documents his stories and struggles to spread the gospel of the Earthship, his ultra-ecological benchmark for healthy shelter.

THE CONCEPT IS PRETTY BASIC: ensure that the house is aligned east-to-west, oriented towards the southern sun with lots of windows. Make the walls incredibly thick, and build them out of massive materials, like stone and earth-bricks. Use materials that ordinarily end up in landfills and scrap heaps, embed them into the walls of the structure. In the winter, the sun is low on the horizon, so light and heat pass through the south-facing glass and the energy is absorbed by the heavy earthen walls, heating the home for free. In the summer, the sun is high on the horizon, so it doesn't shine inside the house, and the thick walls keep it cool.

AS YOU CAN SEE FROM these photographs downloaded from the website, the indoor plants find this arrangement more than satisfactory. Even tropical plants thrive in these warm indoor conditions. True, in a classic earthship, the runoff grey water from the kitchen sink, which is full of nutritious organic material, is filtered and then fed into the beds, and that also accounts for some of their tremendous growth. Without a water recycling system, the plants would need mineral supplements. And that's what Patrick Blanc does, he drip-feeds his vertical creations mineral-rich H2O.

WOULD YOU LOOK AT these pictures! It's absolutely amazing to think that bananas can grow this far north. And while most of these earthships are constructed south of the border, a fair number of them have been built in northern climates such as ours. Note the snow-covered earthship below. Back in 2003, I visited an earthship a couple of hours north of Toronto, in late fall. And I can personally vouch for the fact that the technology works north of the forty-ninth parallel. I took the bottom-left-hand photo in an earthship in Bancroft, Ontario -- that's me in the middle on the bottom-right-hand photo.

GREEN APPLE IS COMMITTED to introducing new green technologies and creating new green business opportunities. We hope that these beautiful photographs of indoor arboretums help convince you to consider building a green wall in your own home, here in the 4-1-6. If earthships sound sort of interesting, and you would like to learn more, check out an architectural study of earthships that I co-authored in 2003. And if you'd like to see more photos of the Earthship communities in Taos, New Mexico, check out a photo essay of earthships that I produced in the spring of 2006.