University of Vermont

Greening of Aiken Update: Landscaping and Lady Beetles

Senior Eric Pugliese working in the Aiken Eco-Machine.
Senior Eric Pugliese working in the Aiken Eco-Machine.

The Rubenstein School community eagerly awaits announcement from the Green Building Certification Institute of the Aiken Center’s LEED certification level with the goal still set at LEED Platinum, the highest status attainable.  The announcement should be made by early July according to UVM Green Building Coordinator Michelle Smith (ENVS ’02).

A renewed Greening of Aiken group, calling themselves GoRSENR (Greening of RSENR) and led by Research Associate Gary Hawley (FOR ’78, MS-FOR ’82), is working to re-energize greening projects in Aiken such as educational features, art, and landscaping; push for installing 30 more solar panels at the Forest Service property on Spear Street to attain Net-Zero energy for Aiken; and promote energy efficiency renovations in other buildings affiliated with the Rubenstein School. Contact Gary if you would like to join in the efforts.

Participating in the UVM Office of Sustainability’s 5% Challenge, Interim Dean Jon Erickson is challenging the RSENR community to reduce energy use by 5% in all Rubenstein School buildings.  Facilities include Aiken, Bittersweet, Johnson House, the Rubenstein Lab and Forest Service Lab, and eventually the Jericho Research Forest.  Gary and the energy usage student intern team have participated in discussions with Burlington Electric Department and UVM about building changes to help in energy efficiency.

Students in Associate Professor Deane Wang’s service learning class, Ecology for Sustainability, in conjunction with the UVM Honors College, built a prototype green wall now displayed in the Aiken solarium.  They have proposed installing a full-scale green wall in Aiken to enhance aesthetics and improve air quality and acoustics.

On May 1st, Greening of Aiken class interns presented posters, YouTube videos, and slide presentations to the School community describing the outcomes of their semester-long greening projects.  Projects involved work with School mentors on the green roof, the Eco-Machine, Aiken energy usage, and much more.  Project reports were included in the March 2013 RSENR Enewsletter.  Read more about the class on their Greening of Aiken Wiki.

Gary reports that the Aiken green roof is fully functional. He and Greening of Aiken student interns are measuring roof run-off water volume and analyzing run-off water quality and chemistry from each of the eight watersheds on the roof.  This summer they will start to identify watershed treatment differences in water volume and quality to determine what is happening to unwanted atmospheric, rain, and snowmelt nutrients that normally flow to Lake Champlain. RSENR Honors College student Liz Bennett (ENSC ‘14) is conducting her Honors College thesis work on the green roof this summer and fall.

As part of the Greening of Aiken Interns class, part-time Lecturer David Raphael and his student intern group have had their landscaping plan approved by UVM.  A portion of the plantings were installed prior to UVM Commencement and further plantings are planned for the fall.

The Eco-Machine group, led by Research Assistant Professor Anthony McInnis (PhD-NR ’11) and Research Technician Matt Beam (NR ’06, MS-FOR ’10), has been hard at work this semester and has seen some well-deserved progress. They designed and oversaw installation of an entire lab to service the eco-machine and green roof needs.

During this period, Matt supervised over 11 student interns performing water quality testing to ensure the eco-machine and lab meet permitting requirements. They were a great group that got to experience first-hand the troubleshooting that goes along with ramping up a wastewater treatment system and starting a new laboratory. They experienced more in-depth learning about lab and wastewater protocols than if the lab and eco-machine had been fully established; they got to see mistakes first-hand and the iterative process by which protocols are established.

Matt and the interns discovered that reactive phosphorus levels were sky-high in the eco-machine. They put on their Sherlock Holmes hats and traced the source to an eco-friendly floor cleaning product. This product replaced harmful floor chemicals with a phosphoric-acid based detergent, which UVM custodial services immediately pulled from general use.

The team has also seen a few events where the eco-machine has been temporarily “poisoned” and final water quality is affected. They haven't traced the source of the toxicity but have a “suspect” and remain vigilant. Luckily, the eco-machines are inherently resilient in face of toxic events and have bounced back each time. In fact, pulsed disturbances and infrequent toxicity events can help to build more diverse and resilient communities in the system long-term.

Experimenting with integrated pest management (IPM) in the eco-machine greenhouse, the team released lady beetles, lace-wings, predatory wasps, and mites to combat plant infestations of aphids and spider mites. They have had great success in that the lady beetles are actually reproducing, and their offspring have been emerging over the past two weeks! This is highly unusual, as lady beetles rarely lay eggs in a greenhouse environment.

It seems the ecosystem has provided a comfortable habitat with the correct niches for these allies of ours to flourish. This provides another piece of anecdotal evidence that the whole-systems approach to seeding eco-machines with all kingdoms of life and from various ecosystem types ensures there is enough genetic information present for a complete set of relationships to emerge.

Matt and Anthony plan on setting up formal internships/work-study positions for the fall and hope to get the first student research projects rolling!