Everyone loves fresh veggies, but many people lack garden space, so they’re turning to rooftop gardening to grow their own food. Now with the season finally transitioning into spring, this is the perfect time to start planning your rooftop garden for the upcoming growing season.
1. Can your roof handle it?
As everyone is getting more creative and starting to vertically grow edibles, some roofs actually cannot bear the weight of a garden. Soil on a roof can be quite heavy and to prevent roofs from caving in, it’s best to talk to a structural engineer before you begin growing your veggies. Some people use buckets to grow in, while others use lightweight flat containers. Check with your local garden center and structural engineer to find the best option for your rooftop garden.
2. Safety first
Let’s not forget that rooftop gardens are on roofs! Yes, they are high up there, so it’s very, very important to put a fence around the roof and make sure it is a safe environment. Not only to prevent you from falling off the roof, but also to prevent tools, plants and soil from falling down. Putting up higher fences will also allow plants such as beans to grow up the fence, which looks beautiful and creates more space for those vertically growing plants.
When you grow your veggies on a rooftop they are hyper-exposed to all weather conditions, lije strong winds, intense sun and heavy rain. Soil tends to get very dry because there is little shade for rooftop gardens. Mulching the soil around the plants prevents weeds and keeps moisture within the soil; however, you need to choose a mulch that is lightweight. Veggies grown on roofs also require lots of water so think about where your water source is coming from. Do you need to run up jugs of water from the kitchen? Do you have a hose hooked up to your roof? Can you create a drip irrigation system for you garden?
You cannot use soil from your backyard to fill your rooftop containers up. Container gardening requires buying a soil mix found at garden centers, so simply ask your local garden center for the best mix they have for rooftop gardening. If the mix does not contain compost, it’s a good idea to add some in to make your soil mix rich and healthy.
5. What to plant
The best veggies to plant depend on the depth of your containers, as well as how much weight your roof can bear. Greens and lettuces are hardy, light and very easy to grow. They might get quite wilted with the intense sun so remember to water frequently and mulch well. Other great edibles to plant are herbs such as basil, parsley, cilantro, chives and mint (but be mindful that mint is an invasive herb that will take over your garden, so plant it in a separate container). Tomatoes, bush beans, edamame, bok choy, cucumbers, zucchinis and pole beans all work really well, too.
6. Next steps
Once you know a rooftop garden is possible for your roof, start creating a plan. Map out where you want your veggies to go. Pole beans and edamame are best by fences. Tomatoes are also great to put by the fence as they can be tied to the fence to prevent them from falling over. Look up a list of companion plants – these are the best plants to put next to each other to support each other’s growth. Determine if you want to start your plants from seed or if you would rather plant seedlings, which are basically baby versions of the plants you want to grow. Start your seeds indoors or to skip this step, simply plant seedlings once the first frost has passed. This is usually near the end of May, however, it might be a little later with the long cold spells we have been having.
Gardening is all about trial and error so remember to have fun in the process and to eat lots of delicious, freshly grown veg!
Tamara Green is co-founder of The Living Kitchen, and a Holistic Nutritionist and Natural Cook. She combines her knowledge of nutrition and passion for cooking good food to work with clients to create lasting changes in their lives.