UQAM, the University of Quebec at Montreal (Université du Québec à Montréal) has a beautiful edible rooftop garden. It was created in conjunction with The Rooftop Garden Project.
This slideshow demonstrates what a community garden looks like when it's no longer anchored in the dirt. The slideshow is far more eloquent in support of rooftop box gardening than any of my words.
Community gardens like this could be on rooftops all over New York City and in cities all across America. All it will take is a more informed public and the political will.
It's time for urbanites outside the dirt gardening community to speak up and be heard.
Before anyone gets defensive that I’m against dirt gardens, I’m not. I’m simply in favor of sub-irrigated box and bucket gardens that extend the benefits of urban food production to all residents rather than a limited few.
This is a building demolition site in downtown Vancouver. Rather than a temporary parking lot, the enlightened developer created this well designed temporary garden space for city residents.
Couple this idea with the sub-irrigated box garden at Brick City in downtown Newark. It raises legitimate questions about so-called community gardens that aren't universally available to all citizens.
Why define community garden only as land with access to turned earth? Why does it have to be limited to the plot of land defined as the community garden? In my opinion the definition of a community garden is long outdated and we should rethink its meaning.
Grow boxes can be distributed to everyone in the community. Rather than a garden limited to a privileged few, benefits of the garden should be available to everyone with no waiting list.
These are sub-irrigated grower boxes from the Rooftop Garden Project in Montreal. Given that they will produce healthier plants using less water, it's curious that the Food Up Front project in London didn't do the same. Incidentally, that's a rainwater collection tank in the corner by the railing.
My site survey here in Brooklyn also demonstrates that the public knows very little about the benefits of sub-irrigated (self-watering) planters for both decorative and edible plants.
There are many desiccated, weak plants on every block that would have a much better chance of survival in good health were they growing in sub-irrigated planters. The fact that many of the planters are undersized increases the chance that the plants will dry out, wilt or die.
Following are the directions from the Rooftop Garden Project for making a spiral staircase garden. It took some digging on their website to find this because half the page is in English and half in French. Remember that Montreal (after Paris) is the second largest French speaking city in the world.
It's as I thought from looking at the photo. Water simply flows by gravity from a supply tank (with a valve) through the tube planter into a collection tank. I assume they recycle the collected nutrient solution.
Once again, I tip my hat to their creativity and resourcefulness in experimenting with various ways to water plants other than a drain hole pot with saucer.
Also note their growing media recipe of equal parts of coco fiber (coir), potting mix and compost. I have been using coir and potting mix and need to find a compost source. Perhaps I'll buy a kitchen composter. Living in an apartment, I have no yard.
Captions on the diagram - reservoir with valve, guard rail, plants, flexible pipe (tubing) filled with substrate (media), 4" holes (for plants)
It was good to see the Rooftop Garden Project get some coverage on Apartment Therapy. I view AT as the premier web publication about urban living. Their content is outstanding. If you haven't visited, I would encourage you to do so. I click through their RSS feeds on a daily basis.
I hope there are more posts like this one in the future. In the past their urban greenscaping has been heavily focused on cut flowers which I don't view as a particularly "green" and sustainable design amenity.
A group of five McGill (University) Environment students are currently conducting a research project on rooftop gardening in the Montreal community.
Through participatory discussionsessions with members of various community organizations throughout the city, this research is attempting to learn more about what people perceive to be the benefits, barriers and needed tools for rooftop gardening.
The outcomes of this research will hopefully providethe Rooftop Garden Project with new ideas on how to further promote rooftop gardeningthroughout Montreal.
I know of no place in New York City where one could find a class or meeting like this about rooftop urban agriculture using sub-irrigated (self-watering) grow boxes. What about your city?
If you can't find a class, teach yourself how capillary sub-irrigation works by repurposing (recycling) some pop/soda bottles. I don't know of a better way to learn the science of plants and the all important light/water relationship.
Why is it that we have nothing like this in all of the United States?
From the jury comments:
Amongst the interesting “fragments” submitted from across the country, the jury appreciated the social foundations and community/volunteer involvement as well as the sustainable urban objectives of this scheme. With simple, direct layouts it aims to employ underused corners and spaces within the public realm to grow produce linked to a food collection and meal delivery system, creating a sustainable prototype that could potentially be expanded to other university campuses and across the city.
Click on the first photo and it will take you to more photos showing the beauty, practicality and community involvement associated with this outstanding project.
In my opinion, there's no organization more deserving of an award like this. The Rooftop Garden Project is in a class by itself. Congratulations!
A Phenix for Alternatives!
Tuesday 3 June 2008
Alternatives won a Phenix environment award for its Rooftop Garden Project, in the Sustainable Development category.
The honour was bestowed by an independent jury for our
outstanding role in promoting rooftop gardening in Montreal and
internationally. Our semi-hydroponic gardens empower urban residents to
produce their own food, green their neighbourhoods and build healthy
Not only does the project give the opportunity for
citizens to garden at home, it is also responsible for the creation of
about 20 mid- to large-scale gardens in Montreal.
The project’s coordinator, Ismaël Hautecoeur accepted
the award from Quebec’s Minister of Sustainable Development, Line
Beauchamp at the National Assembly in Quebec City (see photo).
The Phenix awards are the highest environmental
distinctions given in Quebec. This prize highlights best practices in
environmental preservation and sustainable activities to maintain a
high quality of living.
UpdateMarch 23, 2010: The top photos construction will work, but this more recent version would be even more simple to make. It will work in any watertight container. Check out this post: The laptop of fresh food.
The do-it-yourself sub-irrigated planter (SIP) (erroneously called "self-watering" in the retail market) is a configuration (top photos) from the Rooftop Gardens Project in Montreal. I made it using only a box cutter except for using a drill motor to drill a drain hole in the side. You could easily make the hole with a hot poker if you don’t have a drill.
The material is expanded polystyrene panel foam insulation (often erroneously called Styrofoam) just like the tomato plant cell pack on the right. The panel foam came in a package of six (6) 3/4"x13 5/8"x48" "boards". That's enough to make six or more grow boxes of this size.
Note that I since realized that the Rooftop Gardens Project SIP grid is made from recycled plastic signs (ex. political campaign or real estate signs).
The support grid forms 9 spaces. You can see that the 4 in the corners are left open. These are filled with tamped down potting mix and create 4 "soil wicks". The other 5 spaces under the support platform form the water reservoir. You simply add water through the fill tube until a small amount flows from the overflow drain hole and then you know the reservoir is full.
Rooftop Garden Project - Old design - New design
The box is a 14 gallon, (23.9x15.9x12.2 in.) bronze Rubbermaid Roughneck tote box. The next time I would use the same type box only in the 18-gallon size (23.9x15.9x16 in). This would increase the water reservoir capacity. Keep in mind that this will also increase the overall weight when full.