What Can I Plant on a Roof Garden?

In a message dated 9/27/03 2:25:46 AM, Z writes:

What are a few things that you plant {on your roof garden} and in what? I would really like to try doing that next year.

Have you thought about coming to Chicago? I have some friends that have raw/living food potlucks every month and for the month of Oct. they are having Victoria Boutenko. I would love to hear you lecture on raw foods. Thank you for taking time and reading this and your book is a great book to have especially for people that are trying to learn to eat correctly….you have alot of good information.

Dear Z,

I used to plant vegetables on my roof garden but last year I was blessed with a 24-acre farm. Now I am busy making it fertile and in the Spring will be planting fruit and nut trees. Of course I have a vegetable garden too.

On my roof garden, I planted in large wooden half whiskey barrels. Most large plant stores sell them. I went to an organic farm that I know of to get my soil. At first the farmer gave me the soil, but when I kept coming back for more, he charged me a nominal amount. I cut three holes (about 1 inch diameter) in the bottom of each barrel and put some flat rocks over them to reduce soil loss, but still have good drainage. I cut two 2 by 4s to fit under each barrel so that the barrels would not be sitting directly on the roof. This helps with drainage and also to keep the roof from getting damaged.

I had 8 large plastic containers of compost going at all times. These are the containers that you buy to put garbage in. I drilled holes in the plastic containers on the bottom and all around so that there would be air circulation. Once or twice a year when some of the compost was done, I would put it into all my whiskey barrels. I also put in some rock dust. To make the compost, I put all my vegetables scraps, weeds, leaves, grass and the remains of all my plants after they dried up into the containers. I would fill the container up to the top. I didn't turn the compost like the books tell you to do, I just let it sit – this is called cold composting. In about a year or less the compost is done. It is a lot less work than trying to turn 8 containers of stuff. I would water it from time to time so it would not dry up. When the compost was ready, I would end up with 1/2 container of compost.

In my barrels I planted vegetables, like tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, bell peppers, hot peppers, okra, arrugula, mustard, collards, broccoli rabb, leaf lettuces and more. I had raspberries and some miniature fruit trees. I also cultivated some of the wild vegetables like purslane, lambs quarters and goutweed. These were my favorites. I used a hay mulch all around my plants to keep the weeds (that I didn't eat) down and to keep the soil from drying out. This cuts down on watering. In order to not have to stake the vegetables that grow on vines like cucumbers and tomatoes, I bought hay and then put the hay bales all around my barrels — that way the vines would drape over the hay bales and the fruit would stay clean and dry. After the season was over, I would compost the hay or save it for mulch the next year.

I planted some flowers too, to keep it colorful and it was a wonderful garden where many bees, birds, butterflies and other life would visit. It was an oasis in the city and I loved it.

Then one day four or five years ago, our city started spraying pesticides for the mosquitoes, supposedly to eradicate the West Nile Virus. After that when I went up to my garden, I saw that all the life that used to visit was gone, eradicated by the pesticides. That was very sad for me and I was without a garden for a couple of years.

One word of caution when planting a roof garden; be sure that the roof can sustain the weight of the soil. Soil can get very heavy. To have an extensive roof garden, we had to reinforce the roof beams with steel beams. It cost us $8,000. If I hadn't reinforced the roof beams, I was told that the strongest part of the roof to put the barrels would be one row all around the edge of the building, but not in the center.

I would love to come to Chicago sometime, but would have to cover the cost of the trip so would probably need 3 or 4 places to be able to speak and sell books, etc.

I am glad that my book was of benefit to you.

Happy gardening,

Rhio



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