After reading our posts about green walls, we hope you have a good grasp of the general topic.
Today we have the opportunity to talk with Dr. Nate Storey and move beyond generalizations into the specifics of how to design and build a green wall using ZipGrow towers.
Editor's note: Since this post was published in August 2013, ZipGrow green walls have come a long way and are now being offered as a product on our store.
Planning A Green Wall
Is there a recipe for success with green walls? What attitude or approach is best?
I think the big thing to remember is that it’s a garden and gardening requires some amount of work, regardless of what kind of garden it is.
It is important to remember that there is still going to be some maintenance. We’re finding that the maintenance is pretty low. There is not a lot that has to be done, but it require you to check it every day or two to make sure your water is running and make sure everything is doing what it’s supposed to be doing.
You can build in fail-safes and reduce the frequency of your checks, but there is no substitute for attention.
How much time does a green wall require?
The greatest investment of time and labor is in the building phase. It is essentially getting the green wall built and put up. After that the checks usually only take a few minutes.
What is maintenance like? How much supervision is required?
Check the wall every day or every other day. If you have the wall set up with a float valve or something that automatically refills your sump, you could probably check it every two weeks if you wanted.
I tend to be really conservative about checks; if for some reason there is a big problem you want to catch it right away.
How do you troubleshoot a green wall?
The biggest issue is going to be drying. If there is a clogged line or a problem with the irrigation, you’ll see plants start to wilt.
Plants do a great job of telling you what they need.
How do you figure out what capacity of pump you need and how often to run the system?
We will put out a set of instructions to help folks figure out the size of pump needed to meet the demands of their wall.
Are there any special considerations for location, beyond traditional choices for plants (shade/sun etc.)?
Green walls are a radical form of gardening and they can be a really beautiful form of gardening, but people have to think about it a little differently. They have to think more carefully about wind and light. If you’re growing on east, west or north-facing walls, you have to consider the best crops for low light conditions.
Common sense goes a long way toward selecting plants and taking wind load and light into consideration.
Would your advice differ for planning based on a specific purpose? (Food production, privacy, beautification, etc.)
The process of preparation is pretty much the same for any purpose. For any green wall, really take the time to consider the application and how it will be used and how people will interact with it.
Everyone will have a different vision or idea for using green walls to suit a specific situation. It always comes back to the plant materials that are chosen. To pick the most appropriate plant for the application you have to think about colors, fragrance, density (of foliage) and yield and that is true of any project.
When you finished building your green wall, was there anything you wished you would have done differently?
The one thing that I might go back and change at some point is giving the towers a little bit more incline. Right now the towers are straight up and down, which is fine, but as far as growing solid, mature plants once root mass starts to build up I’ll want them at more of an incline.
How complicated are hydroponic green walls? Is the maintenance something a beginner could manage?
Hydroponic walls can be a lot easier in some ways because you’re putting in a certain amount of fertilizer or nutrient solution per gallon in your sump tank; it’s very simple mixing.
Traditionally hydroponics has been very intensive, you have to check EC (electrical conductivity), pH, water temperature and keep a close eye on all of your variables, but with the solution we are using, we take a much more general approach.
Instead of trying for optimum conditions and overcomplicating the process, we look for good conditions where most things grow really well.
Do you have any other recommendations for planning a green wall?
Location, Location, Location. Vertical growing space is the most undervalued real estate in the world.
No one is buying and trading in the sides of buildings. Even in the most populated cities where people are paying thousands and thousands of dollars per square foot for an apartment. You look at the sides of these huge buildings and no one is looking to rent or lease them for anything besides maybe some bad advertisements.
It’s about seeing an opportunity to improve something ugly and picking the right spot for what you want to do.
Take time to choose the most appropriate location for the application.
Building Green Walls
Roughly how long does the building process take from start to finish?
It’s a weekend project. I put ours together over the course of four or five hours.
The ZipGrow green wall product can be built in about an hour.
How many people are needed?
It’s helpful if you are building a larger wall to have an extra pair of hands for putting up the header and footer. Everything else can be done by one person.
About Bright Agrotech’s Green Wall
What was the best part of building your green wall?
Plugging it in and seeing everything start running. Once the towers are up on the wall and you see the potential and imagine what it will look like when it is fully grown in. It’s an exciting prospect.
What was the most challenging aspect of the project?
Finding the time! Besides that it wasn’t too challenging. Finding some of the parts that I needed took a little while, but now that I’ve found them, we will offer them to folks so they don’t have to waste time searching for parts and fittings. It just simplifies the build to have easy access to the parts you need.
What do you think of green walls and the future urban farming?
For young folks getting into urban farming, growing on the side of a building is probably the greatest single opportunity they have because it’s overlooked and there is so much potential for using those spaces.
You probably can’t afford to rent a vacant lot, but growing hydroponically on the sides of buildings is really an accessible option.
For anyone who thinks they don’t have room to garden, it isn’t true. You just have to look for the right kind of space.
Moving forward I hope more people start growing vertically and seeing the vertical spaces unique to cities, not as ugly gray concrete, but as the place for beautiful, productive gardens.