Green Roofs: The Urban Gardens Of The Future

Urban areas are known for being food deserts – and just as well known for their inhabitants suffering health problems associated with lack of good nutrition. Space is at a high premium in urban areas, making any sort of agricultural practice a genuine challenge.

And yet in recent years, a brilliant answer has emerged: rooftop gardens. Through creative terracing and usage of space, more and more buildings are turning their rooftops into oases of thriving vegetation, whether as community gardens for the whole building to work in and utilize, or as de facto farmer’s markets. Rooftop and wall gardens help to address lack of substantial and nutritious foodstuffs in urban areas, and additionally drive community development and integration.

Prepare Your Roof – and Check the Legalese

To start with, you’ll want to make sure that it’s within your rights to establish a rooftop garden wherever you’re living. You will also want to see if there are any prohibitions for specific crops being grown within your township, city, or county limits – for example, some townships prohibit corn being grown outside of farms.

You’ll want to check how much weight your roof can support, and make sure there’s no compromising of its structural integrity before you begin. If there is any damage to the roof whatsoever, ensure it’s repaired before beginning your rooftop garden. Think lightweight containers, lighter plant mediums and soils, and figure in poundage for what your garden is likely to produce. Invest in windbreaks such as trellises, as rooftops are typically windy places, and invest also in some sort of fencing to prevent falling hazards.

Design Your Layout and Watering System

Start by choosing what you’ll floor the roof with – wood, terracotta, paving stone, and so forth. Design a layout that helps to evenly distribute weight across the roof. Your layout can also include furniture, such as arbour benches or tables for those who may want to utilize the garden as an easily accessible green space for leisure or meditation. Decide if you’ll use pallets or decking for terracing, and which parts of the roof are suitable for what you want to grow. If there’s overhang, such as tree branches, determine which parts of your roof get the most and the least sunlight, and plan your crops accordingly.

Watering your rooftop garden can be a little bit trickier. The most straightforward way is to haul water daily to the roof or keep a rain barrel or two on the roof to collect and distribute water among your plants, but you can also rig a timed system using a hose and drip lines if you’re the only one taking care of the garden, or you and your neighbours are too busy to make daily trips up to water. Remember not to overwater – wet soil weighs a lot more than dry.

Choose Your Plants

Almost anything can be planted on a rooftop terrace short of trees that achieve great weight and height. Choose a mix of flowers, vegetables, fruits, beans, and other edible crops like corn. You might also want to plant an herb garden with flavourful herbs and spices for cooking, and you can plant herbs around your terrace that will also help keep bugs away, reducing the need for pesticides and bug killing agents.

Do research on the nutritional needs of different plants, and use them to complement each other; for example, plant crops that need lots of nitrogen alongside plants that help replenish nitrogen in the soil. Avoid sowing plants that are likely to create significant weight burdens on the roof while still planting crops that are nutrient dense and will help keep your building – and neighbourhood – fed and healthy.

A good many steps go into creating a rooftop garden, but more and more city dwellers are collaborating on creating and maintaining them, some even choosing to sell produce at steeply discounted rates to their neighbours. A rooftop garden can be a rewarding endeavour – for you, and for your community.

Image credit: Creative Commons

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