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How to Grow Your Own Food In An Urban Rooftop Garden

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Want to grow your own food in the city? Consider an urban rooftop garden. Here’s what you’ll need to get started…

For those who live in the city, finding enough space to grow some of your own food can sometimes be challenging. Urban farmers and homesteaders often have to resort to creative methods such as growing vertically, maximizing any available space by growing in containers, or even starting an urban rooftop garden.

If you have access to an unoccupied rooftop, this can be a great way to grow your own food in the city – and it also helps to improve air quality and reduce heat reflection – which are common problems in urban areas.

Rooftop gardening isn’t difficult, but there are a few things that you’ll need to get started. Of course, the first is an available rooftop. Make sure you have permission to use the space and be smart about it. Never place plants on a fire escape, and be sure to keep all pots away from edges; even heavy containers can be knocked off by strong winds or storms.

Once you have your space figured out, you’re ready to get started on your urban rooftop garden!

What you’ll need

To get you up and running, you’ll need a trowel, some sturdy waterproof gloves, and a hose, unless you’re ok with hauling gallon upon gallon of water by hand. If a hose simply isn’t an option, or if you’re planning on just a few pots, pick a large, plastic watering can with a spout that ends in a showering head. This will gently water your plants instead of glugging water onto them, which can displace soil.

Of course, you’ll need soil, somewhere to store extra soil (preferably in a waterproof container like a metal trash can), sturdy trellising, and pots. Choose pots large enough to allow your plants to flourish: Ten-gallon pots are a great size for tomatoes, while seven-to-five gallon ones are good for peppers. Smaller three-gallon pots are great for herbs. More space is better than less.

Rectangular window boxes are great for flowers but generally not a good fit for vegetables. Some exceptions are herbs, radishes, and compact Little Gem lettuces. When it comes to pot material, skip terracotta, ceramic, and wood: While terracotta and ceramic pots look great, changes in temperature, humidity, and outdoor storage during the winter almost guarantee you’ll only get a single season’s use out of them before they crack, flake, and shatter. The same goes for wood, which will likely warp and rot. Try to stick with vessels made of plastic or recycled materials.

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And of course, you’ll need seeds. Choose plants that are tolerant of full sun and will thrive in containers. Vining plants like squash and cucumbers will not do well on hot, exposed roofs, and setting up a large enough vertical trellis is quite difficult, as those systems are often designed to be staked in the ground.

Peppers are easy to grow and typically provide great yield, and tomatoes are a great choice for rooftop gardens. As mentioned earlier, radishes and Little Gem lettuces are great for rectangular planters. They grow rapidly and do well in small spaces, giving you a consistent return for little effort.

Position herbs alongside walls, which will cast shade during at least part of the day. Many herbs require at least some shade and some (like cilantro) are not heat tolerant, making them a bad fit for rooftops.

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…And, no matter what you decide to do, plant flowers. They’re easy to grow, beautiful, and provide a welcome habitat for pollinators.

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Watering

Regular watering is essential for rooftop gardens. Constant exposure to wind and sun will quickly dry out your rooftop pots. Expect to be watering on a daily basis for the duration of the summer and…between summer and fall. During times of extreme heat, you may need to water twice, once earlier in the day and again during the afternoon or early evening. If your schedule can’t accommodate that, just do your best, watering in the morning and thoroughly soaking them, to the point where water runs out the bottom of the pots. This will help them stand up to the summer heat.

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Storms

If you’re expecting a significant storm or high winds, move plants against the highest available wall, as this will help to prevent them from tipping over. Wrap them in Reemay if you have it, or surround them with whatever sturdy patio furniture you might have to help create a windbreak.

Read more about urban rooftop gardening at ModernFarmer.com

 

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