Monday, May 16, 2011

My Rooftop Vegetable Garden

One of the first posts I ever wrote for this blog was about my little rooftop veggie garden last year. Well it is that time of year again, and I was very excited to give my rooftop garden another go. I'm still limited by my location, but I am not feeling as clueless about planting vegetables and herbs as I was last year.
I love the excitement of starting out with a brand new garden and all of the hope that my little edibles will thrive and produce this summer.

Recap of last year...
My little container garden started out pretty strong the first month. Every time I went out on the roof I noticed something new had sprouted. Sometimes I only saw a new leaf or two but I knew I was generating growth, and that was an accomplishment. The jalapeno peppers and cherry tomatoes started out the strongest, followed by the cowhorn peppers and bell peppers. The herbs did well all season. Herbs are pretty easy as long as you harvest them regularly.

The downfall of my rooftop garden came after we were hit my a huge summer thunderstorm. One of those short, yet powerful storms that do a lot of damage in just a few minutes. Many homes were out of electricity for a few days. I was at work at the time of the storm, so when I came home I went straight out to the roof to assess the damage. Any plant that had any height to it was uprooted and saturated with water. I did the best I could to revive them, but I never saw another pepper or tomato the rest of the summer. The cherry tomatoes did come back for a short time, but shortly met their demise after some intense heat. I admittedly lost my enthusiasm after I lost the majority of my crops and didn't pay as much attention to the cherry tomatoes as I should have.

Second season brings a little more experience...
As with anything you do, there is always room for improvement the second time around. This year I made a few changes, corrected a few problems and added a few more crops.

Last year I made a couple of mistakes, and this year I made a few changes...
  • The main and most embarrassing mistake being the lack of drainage holes in my 2 large galvanized tubs. I have been planting flowers long enough to know that you need proper drainage so your roots don't drown. This is even more important when growing vegetables. DUH!! I don't know what I was thinking. I probably meant to and just dumped in the dirt out of eagerness and excitement, forgetting about the holes. I am admitting this obvious FAIL so anyone reading this remembers to be patient and double check your containers. I had to laugh once I realized what I had done. Also explains why my peppers never recovered after the storm!! Luckily the Boyfriend was around on gardening day to help me pound holes into the tubs this year.

  • A change I have made this year is to plant a bit more in each pot. I'm sure well experienced gardeners and rule followers would advise against this because of those little tags that come with each crop telling you to plant everything miles apart from one another. That's crap. I've been following those tags for years and all of my flower pots and baskets always turn out so sparse and lame. Plus, when you go to the garden centers or read the magazines you'll see way more in their containers than those little tags tell you you're permitted to plant. So screw it. I'm not saying I'm going to plant 10 seedlings per pot, but I am going to push the limit a bit more this year.
  • Much of my research last year told me that planting a vegetable container garden was limited to tomatoes, herbs and a few other vegetables. I don't like tomatoes very much, but I still planted 3 different types last year because I wanted to plant SOMETHING! After doing a lot more research and gaining a little bit of confidence from already having one season under my belt, I realized that I really can plant anything in a container, they are just going to be smaller and require a bit more patience and attention. So I added a few more things this year. There are so many more edible treats that I would like to try, but I had to stop somewhere. For now...I do have a big enough roof to keep expanding...
  • Planting on a slanted roof wasn't really a problem except for the rolling of fallen peppers and tomatoes, which did not please my landlord very much. This year I planted my tomatoes in the back followed by the other flight risks and the herbs went in the front because they will not leap out of their container. I had left over flowers after I finished stuffing my hanging baskets and porch pots so I planted them in 2 window boxes to act as an additional barrier. If anything falls, hopefully they will be blocked by the pots in front. If that is still not enough I am going to add chicken wire to the front pots.
  • Last year I layered the bottom of my pots with foam peanuts. They seemed to work fine until the end of the season when they rose to the top of my poorly draining pots and went flying. Again, not pleasing my landlord very much. Plus they were expensive! I needed another method for layering my pots this year. Pebbles and broken pots are often recommended, but I am fearful of overly heavy pots on the roof so I don't think they are a good idea. This year I read online about gardeners using crushed up water bottles. They seemed to be a perfectly inexpensive, weightless solution that I was happy to discover. We shall see how they work.

What did I plant this year?

  • I planted a lot more hot peppers this year - I love cooking with them, and I'd like to someday grow one hot enough to hear my Dad actually admit that a pepper is hot. 
The butterflies indicate the 2011 additions to my rooftop garden.

  • Crookneck Squash
  • Zucchini
  • Pickling Cucumbers - Hoping to make my own pickles using the dill seeds from my dill plant

  • I planted most of the same herbs as last year with the addition of Lemon Thyme. 
  • The Cilantro makes me a little nervous because it is such a pungent and plentiful herb. I am concerned that they are going to take over.
  • I omitted rosemary this year because I hate rosemary. I planted it last year for my roommate, but she didn't get much use out of it either.
I have a few simple goals this year...
  • Yield enough vegetables to make a meal primarily from my garden!
  • Make pickles!!
The point to my ramblings about my tiny little rooftop garden is to hopefully inspire more "urban gardeners". Just because you have a tiny outdoor space or think you have very little to no green thumb, you can still get out there and see what you can grow. Clearly I do not know very much about growing an edible container garden, but I am learning and that is part of the fun. I don't think I would be nearly as intrigued if I knew all of the secrets and was certain I would have a bountiful harvest. Right now just a tiny little jalapeno bud (spotted this morning) is something I can be proud of!