Thursday, May 29, 2008

Rooftop Gardening

Go read's recent tour of Rocket Restaurant's rooftop garden.

Cool, cool stuff. I would feel nervous about the weight, although he talks about using light, fluffy soil. I just have visions of buckling and crashing through the roof. I don't like heights, and I don't want any extra stressors while I've up there, like wondering whether the landlord is going to discover the roof beginning to cave in. However, I think this would be a really interesting opportunity, especially if you have a water spigot up there. (Hauling water is bad enough with a wheelbarrow and/or bucket, and yes, I've done both; up flights of stairs would be unbearable, especially during Pdx's dry summers when pretty much all water would need to come from the gardener.) I wonder how much more it would cost to build buildings with stronger roofs with spigots?

What I love most is that this is a business. I bet it is cheaper (or a close call) to grow salad greens yourself if you're a restaurant, given the steep cost of greens and assuming that they're sourcing local and organic/eco-friendly. (We can get a bag of spinach for $2-3 here in season, but Portland's market is usually more expensive. And how many bags would a restaurant go through? Even with a discount, I bet it's a pretty high amount.) It's nice when restaurants have a garden attached, but it says something really great about Rocket that they're willing to go an extra step when the space isn't easily available. I envy their year-round climate, though - even mache would be better than nothing. Also, having grown the crop, they're sort of obligated to use it, which makes seasonal eating that much easier.

I still think gardening in the earth, on the ground, is most inviting - container and balcony and roof gardening doesn't appeal much to me, partly because I haven't ever had a sunny exposure and/or accessible flat roof in my apartment, and if you're going to travel to garden, you might as well try to get into community garden. And it shares a problem with the community garden in that you have to go there. Ideally, at least by our current standards, you don't have to travel to your garden because you live there, or you're there naturally, all the time. Under normal circumstances, I do think this is ideal, and it certainly makes it easier to do a little weeding or a little enjoying of your space without making it an event. I don't know many people who hang out on the roof enough so that gardening wouldn't be a separate activity. Of course that's not possible everywhere, and of course it's good to have plants in many places (as long as they're "good" plants - seeding your roof with kudzu would not be good. Although think about how horror-movie cool it would be to watch the building being consumed.)

It would be interesting to consider the environmental impact of something like this garden vs. growing under grow lights inside, especially with crops that can be raised under energy-friend fluorescents, like lettuce. There's probably no right answer - how to you calculate the pump power needed to get water up to the roof vs. the power to do fluorescent lights, or compare the tiny amount of mercury in a fluorescent to the additional steel beams needed to make a stronger roof? I imagine plastic breaks down faster outside, and more water is used. The soil probably contains more elements that need to be shipped (i.e. perlite). Still, it feels better outdoors, and no doubt the conditions - if you're growing the right crops - are much healthier. I think something like this garden in Chicago (above) might be even better - the roof is lower, reducing wind - I bet those extra stories make a big difference. Or maybe I just like sunflowers. Hmm.

But looking at these pictures, I get a strange sensation . . . and further google imaging proves it. The uniform for men doing rooftop gardening is khaki shorts and a white T-shirt. (Picture yoinked, then lost the url, but it's from a Canadian rooftop garden news article. I'm extrapolating that the gardener is not the guy in the tie.)

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