Over the last 20 years Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs have exploded in popularity across the country. With large groups of urban dwellers banding together with local farmers to share both the risks and rewards of growing fresh produce and flowers.
As the locavore and the sustainability movement has increased in popularity, many city dwellers have moved even closer to home by supporting rooftop farms and local green roof projects in their community. The latest trend in green living and healthy living is the ‘Do It Yourself’ rooftop garden.
Rooftop gardens are a great way to supplement the produce received from a CSA program. You know the plants are grown in a healthy manner, because you can eliminate the use of harmful fertilizers and pesticides. Rooftop gardens help take CO2 out of the polluted city air. Organic table scraps can be composted for fertilizer instead of going into the landfill. And rooftop gardens are a great way to help kids learn healthy eating and healthy living practices.
New York Sun Works in New York City believes that rooftop gardens and rooftop farms will be the agricultural revolution of the 21st century. They claim the 14,000 acres of unshaded rooftops in NYC could grow enough food to feed the city every year.
Rooftop Garden Ideas: Herbs
In most cities, herbs are exorbitantly expensive. This is because they dry out, wither, or mold quickly after being harvested. Growing herbs yourself is incredibly easy, and makes your food taste significantly better for little to no cost.
Most herbs germinate in seven to ten days, with thyme and sage generally taking an additional two weeks. If you space the plants at least twelve inches apart, you will have plants up to two feet high by fall. Easy herbs to grow throughout most of the United States are: dill, basil, chives, marjoram, thyme, mint, lavender, rosemary, and sage.
Rooftop Garden Ideas: Vegetables
When choosing which vegetables to grow in a rooftop garden, the sky is the limit. You should choose vegetable varieties that you enjoy. If you are using large grow boxes, the depth of the soil will have a determining factor on which vegetables you should choose. There are varieties of root vegetables that can grow in only 6″ of soil. However, having a 12″ of soil will make growing beets, carrots, radishes, and other root vegetables easier.
Some of the easiest vegetables to grow are lettuce, cabbage and greens. Mixing spinach or lettuce seeds in with your root vegetable seeds helps both plants to grow when planting in close quarters. The lettuce and spinach grow quickly, open up the soil, and are ready to harvest well before the root vegetables. Vegetables to consider for your rooftop garden are: carrots, radishes, onions, lettuce, red beets, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, Swiss chard, and mustard and collard greens.
Rooftop Garden Ideas: Strawberries
Strawberries are perfect for a rooftop garden. To grow strawberries simply hoe two perpendicular trenches about 4″ apart. Make each trench about 6″ deep. Then cover the soil in black plastic, tucking it into the trenches. The plastic helps keep away weeds and helps heat the soil to encourage fruit production. Fill the trenches back in until the plastic is tight across the top of the soil. Then cut small openings in the plastic about 18″ from each other and plant the strawberry plants. When watering, make sure the water gets through the opening and into the soil.
Rooftop Garden Ideas: Tomatoes and Peppers
Both tomatoes and peppers can attract a variety of pests, mold, and disease. Many tomatoes and peppers purchased in a store have been treated unnecessarily with harmful pesticides. However, they are easy to grow in a rooftop garden. Both tomatoes and peppers like nutrient-rich soil with plenty of organic material. They also both like warm soil. Tomatoes can be started earlier in the season, but it is best to wait with peppers until you are positive temperatures won’t dip below 60 degrees. Space plants about two feet apart, and add organic material to the soil during the grow season.
To keep away pests and disease, be sure to use a good mulch or compost, keep the garden well weeded and the soil active. This should keep your pests to a minimum and help your plants develop a natural immunity to disease. However if you do have a problem, making organic pesticide is easy. Simply soak garlic, peppermint, horseradish, or cayenne pepper in water overnight and spray over the plants. Different combinations can help for different problems.
Rooftop Garden Ideas: Melons
Melons are another fruit option for a rooftop garden that is not terribly difficult to grow in a variety of U.S. climates. Just be sure to plant them a good three weeks after the last frost. Most varieties prefer a sandy loamy soil that is high in pockets of organic material, but maintains good drainage. Like many fruits, they do not perform well when their feet, or roots, are standing in water. They like to actively seek it out. They also like to compete for resources, so give them company. Naturally some planting will not make it due to competition for resources. Keep in mind that they do need to grow, so make sure they don’t all die of thirst.
After the melon has matured and is about half the normal size, it is a good idea to place the fruit on a board. This will help prevent it from rotting in the exposed soil. Wait until they have fully ripened before harvesting as they will not continue to ripen much after harvest.
1. City Farmer: Canada’s Office of Urban Agriculture
2. Local Harvest.org, Community Supported Agriculture
3. Team Planet Green, Rooftop Farm Produces 30 Different Vegetables, Takes Urban Agriculture to New Heights, Planet Green
4. Eagle Street Rooftop Farm
5. Lloyd Alter, Green Roofs Are So Last Year; Rooftop Farms Are The Growing Thing, Treehugger.com
6. Backyard Gardener.com
7. NY Sun Works